Wednesday, January 20, 2016
The Death of Rohith Vemula: Post Colonial Angst and the State
A look at the world of politics, statecraft, diplomacy and books The value of a man was reduced to his immediate identity and nearest possibility. To a vote. To a number. To a thing. Never was a man treated as a mind. As a glorious thing made up of star dust. In every field, in studies, in streets, in politics, and in dying and living On the night of January 17th 2016, a young, highly talented student of Hyderabad Central University killed himself leaving behind a note from which I have excerpted the lines given above. The death of Rohit Vemula is the 11 suicide on the Campus of the University and in none of the earlier cases was there any show of concern. In 2008, Senthil Kumar a former student of Pondicherry University who was pursuing his Ph D in Physics killed himself. His complaint was that even after 2 years a Research Supervisor was not allocated to him. In sheer frustration he killed himself. In that instance there was clear and valid grounds for holding the University accountable for neglecting deliberately or otherwise, its academic function. However the Congress was in power then and the whole controversy was hushed up. I am only pointing out to the fact that public outrage in India is getting more and more selective with political parties jumping into the fray and milking the tragedies for their own narrow partisan political ends. Since the tragedy,HCU has seen a steady spate of high profile visitors including the heir apparent of the dynastic fascist party. As someone associated with Higher Education and one who has successfully guided three scholars from the SC community for their Ph D, I think I have something to say. SC people have been discriminated and there is absolutely no feeling in the University circles of harming their interests. In fact, I have had to hold special classes in order to bridge certain shortfall particularly in the skill of academic writing and all the three Ph D scholars are teaching in Universities and colleges. SC students are sensitive and so one must not and should not draw attention to their caste in any manner. Unfortunately in the identity marinated post colonial theoretical formulations that pass off as Social Sciences, Identity is not only valorized and "foregrounded" but students are socialized to believe that there can be no justice and their efforts are doomed. The Academic Community, particularly the post colonial Social Scientists are adept at creating a miasma of hopelessness which SC students find extremely disconcerting and they start embracing identity based politics in the hope that it would deliver a better world. Unfortunately, identity politics as we now know only leads to violence and death and it is unfortunate that Rohit Vemula died and his suicide note rightly draws attention to the futility of identity politics: A man reduced to his immediate identity. The University Administration has mishandled the whole tragic affair. From published Newspaper accounts it is clear that there was a scuffle between Rohit and his Ambedkar Student Association and the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad. The issue at hand was the alleged namaz offered by Rohit and his friends to Yakub Menmon, the terrorist who was executed for his role in the Bombay Blasts that killed 185 people. The constant need to take adversarial positions in the name of fighting "majoritariaism" is a sine qua non of Campus politics of the sort HCU is now acquiring a global reputation. By no stretch of the imagination is protest against the execution of a convicted terrorist a right of a student. Even so, the University could have been more circumspect. Since the Vice Chancellor, one Sharma was laying down office and a new one, Appa Rao was to take charge, the matter was kept pending. In the meanwhile the ABVP student who was allegedly roughed up, underwent a surgery which was probably related to if not triggered by the result of the assault. The Union Labour Minster Shri Datatreya was approached and he wrote a letter in which he drew attention to the protest organized by ASA against the hanging of Yakub. His letter in no way can be construed as an interference in the University as he only sought information about the action taken. If the University had just written saying that an Inquiry was constituted and the guilty were identified and punished, the matter would have ended there. Instead, the University just sat on the letters by not replying and in late September 2015, one Appa Rao, at the behest of Shri Venkaiah Naidu was appointed. If there is anyone individual to be blamed it was this man. Unfortunately, the BJP as a Party and the Central Government are being dragged into this mess because of the stupidity of this one man, Appa Rao. Instead of just saying that the students have been suspended he again sat on the letters from the Ministry. Meanwhile as is routine MHRD kept sending letters and each was escalating the level of official response. Appa Rao constituted yet another Inquiry and decided to rusticate 5 students including Rohit Vemula. The legitimacy for this course of action was given by the so called Proctorial Board. Appa Rao mis handled the situation and has created a huge crisis for the BJP and the Central Government. When earlier the stdents were suspended, now they were thrown out of the Hostle and their fellowship cut. This ignorant vice chancellor did not allow himself any escape route and is now dragging the Hon'ble Minister of Education into the mess he has created. The student Rohit Vemula identified himself as an SC belonging to the Malla caste to which his mother belonged. His father was from another caste. His identity as an SC student is clearly proved by the certificate he produced and so to evade accountability by bringing in the caste of his father is both cruel and unnecessary. His father had deserted the family very early in life and the mother had brought him up. Now the scholarship is important because every SC student that I have taught sends a major chunk of the fellowship to the family back home. Obviously Appa Rao was unaware of the implications of his decisions and he like most University administrators had a thick skin and head. It will not help to muddy the waters by now claiming that Rohit was not an SC. I do not use the term dalit ans it creates more confusion. SC and ST are legal and constitutional terms, not dalit. Dalit identity is a constructed identity not a natural one as Rohit realized just before his death. HCU has had a history of discriminating against SC students and this is clearly established by the fact that out of the 11 suicides over as many years 10 belonged to the SC category and one Muslim. Unfortunately the hegemonic post colonial discourse in Indian Universities will rob SC people of the ability to understand and conceptualize the existential situation they face and even deprive them of the ability to fight back claiming the legal protection given by the State. The post colonial trash bags in the form of social scientists who promote their individual agenda in Universities are essentially to be blamed.