Like all of us, Rohith Vemula was a human first. Multiple factors may have driven him to take the unfortunate fatal step. However, poverty and his caste heritage – both which anyone has limited control over – perhaps constantly reminded him of his social location. He was deprived of his research scholarship for the past 7 months, then barred from his hostel and cafeteria – where else did we see such discriminatory behaviour in the past?
Remember the movie Mangal Pandey? There was a sign which said “Dogs and Indians not allowed”. That was when Indians were not free politically and under the British Rule.
Who are we ruled by now?
How can someone be barred from a University campus for belonging to a students political group? Aren’t students belonging to the ABVP NOT political?
Are we all NOT political?
Hardened criminals are ordered out-of-bounds, made tadipaar and have to report to local police stations. What was Rohith’s crime? What anti-national activity was he alleged of? Isn’t it a serious crime to allege anybody as being an ‘Anti-National’ baselessly and thereby socially outcast him rendering him homeless? What was the intent and expected outcome of his social exclusion from his hostel and campus canteen? Isn’t it for he courts to decide if he had committed any crime? Is there a formal complaint or an FIR against the ASA or ABVP students? If the ABVP students allege that they were attacked, was an FIR filed about the incident? The ABVP student’s medical report who was allegedly assaulted by the ASA students alludes to a farce already. Wasn’t that the basis for withholding Rohith’s JRF scholarship? Isn’t it amazing that he survived 7 months without his fellowship – the only source of income for a poor student? For most folks here, can we imagine living without income for seven months?
Is poverty and belong to a ‘lower’ caste a crime in today’s India?
Our currently beloved Prime Minister Narendra Modi is an OBC. Is he any less capable due to his caste heritage? Aren’t we proud of him? Earlier he was sneered at as being a ‘chai wallah’ nevertheless he proved himself and is our PM now. Just imagine what could have Rohith become. Perhaps a scientist as Dr. Kalam or a nameless professor who taught our daughters and sons Physics at college/university, similar to countless dalits who are nameless and faceless yet an important support system for most working families.
We all love to see films like Eak Duje Ke Liye but when it comes to reality, its as simple as, ‘its great in films but marriages should take place within certain castes’. Of-course there are exceptions.
Although we all like to have a few ‘friends’ who are from different socio-cultural-ethnic-religious backgrounds – perhaps just to satisfy our own subconscious guilt – with whom we occasionally wine and dine, just to convince ourselves that we are not indifferent towards ‘Others’. However, how genuinely do we mutually respect each others differences?
Not convinced? One look at our matrimonial columns in newspapers reveal that we are still looking for brides and grooms from within certain castes/communities?
“Hey but that them! We don’t believe in that anymore” some may say.
I agree, most of us are now on Facebook so we consider ourselves to be secular, caste-less, class-less, educated. Yet, how many of us genuinely felt empathy for the mother of #Rohith who lost her brilliant ambitious son while she was getting by teaching embroidery? How many of us clicked the ‘like’ or ‘share’ button on Facebook posts supporting Rohith’s ultimate means of dalit protest. Most couldn’t even emotionally connect with his fate let alone support him on social media. He ended his life in protest precisely against this social exclusion. His use of the blue banner of the Ambedkar Student Association to hang himself is symbolic.
Yet, how many of us flipped channels and changed topics brushing it off thinking – “its not about us?” Doesn’t this reveal that we all have reservations about reservations?
Lets not forget, all of us are in this together.
We all disappointed Rohith Vemula. We also disappointed his poor mother, the four other expelled students of Ambedkar Student Association, even those ABVP students. We are all responsible for their actions and their aspirations. What goes around, comes around. Its very easy to make someone a ‘hero’ posthumously. I hope we learn from this and strive to make this world a better place. Can we see each other as humans first and not through the lens of caste.