Wednesday 8 February 2023
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ViewsArticleNobody Tried To Save Rohith

Nobody Tried To Save Rohith

[dropcap]P[/dropcap]olitics is a lucrative profession. It stands on 3 conflicts — religious, caste and economic. This is universally true with the first 2 conflicts varying in degree, depending on the socio-religious-cultural framework of the country. In India, the way democracy has shaped up, politics has come to rest on 3 pegs: conflict largely between Hindus and Muslims, caste wars where multiple factors interact varying from one geography to another and latent but most critical conflict between the haves and the have nots.

Rohith Vemula exposed all of these — through his suicide, an acknowledgment of his acceptance of defeat in the face of adverse circumstances and through the suicide note he left. “The value of a man was reduced to his immediate identity and nearest possibility,” he wrote, “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.” How correctly did he predict the scenario that unfolded after his daring or desperate act?

It became a political spectacle. All descended there in sympathy after Rohith put an end to the discourse. But that was as far as he was concerned. For others it was a new beginning, a new opportunity. It was time for gathering votes. So there was Rahul Gandhi who cannot even count the various castes and contemplate on their varying equations. Arvind Kejriwal who never misses a chance to be in the news. Smriti Irani joined from Delhi sensing a chance to project her combatant image. Caste is an important leg of the tripod on which politics rests.

Caste played a critical role in economic oppression in India. Some say it began from the times of Aryans settling down here. More appropriate perhaps will be to accept that this evolved over time due to the interplay of many factors maintaining the hegemony of the ruling elites being an important one. The composition of such elites varied from time to time, among geographies, due to insular cultures of the kingdoms and clashes among different interest groups. But primarily this helped the more powerful privileged class to subjugate the less and keep them in tether. Rohith Vemula is one such person living at the receiving end of the chain.

Rohith had the opportunity to break free. He nearly did. With a scholarship as a PhD student, he could have earned a middle-class existence and lived happily thereafter. What came in the way is his anger towards the system that had put obstacles at every stage. Can you imagine that he was not even paid for 7 months; he had apparently borrowed money from somebody called Ramji. On top of it, he was facing expulsion due to hot headed activism he was embroiled in on the campus.

Struggling from his childhood, Rohith was a lonely soul. He outpoured his frustration in the suicide note. “My birth is my fatal accident. I can never recover from my childhood loneliness. The unappreciated child from my past. May be I was wrong, all the while, in understanding world. In understanding love, pain, life, death. There was no urgency. But I always was rushing. Desperate to start a life. All the while, some people, for them, life itself is curse… I am not hurt at this moment. I am not sad. I am just empty. Unconcerned about myself. That’s pathetic.”

Clearly, the unsympathetic, selfish world had nobody to counsel a sensitive soul. He realised that “anything and everything exist for their own sake. Seldom the interest of a person and this organisation match”. Rohith struck out this part of his note. After all, the groups he mentioned had introduced him to “wonderful literature and people”. But this does not mean one can keep his eyes closed on the utter lack of empathy in our institutions — educational or political. Here was a sensitive soul keen to do well in life, but angry since life had not treated him well. This frustration builds anger, which leads him to groups antagonistic to the established system. Naturally the rebel in him finds solace in their presence. This makes him take up causes that are viewed anti-national by others. But where was the alternative available to Rohith? Did anybody ever try to counsel him? Was his PhD guide a true guide who could win his confidence? He was not.

What did the university authorities do? Was there an effort to build bridges with the students, to bring them to the discussion table? They were too busy being nice to the new political dispensation. Hence, they courted the ABVP, ’s student wing. But why must 2 groups of students clash over something extraneous to their academic life? Is it not the role of the academic administrators to ponder and resolve the same amicably? Imagine not paying stipend due to a student coming from poor background for 7 long months! This is criminal negligence.

Then comes the political string pulling. A novice minister keen to ensure her position turns extra zealous in following up on a complaint sent by her senior party member. The university authorities, too eager to please the minister, take an unilateral action. The minister alarmed at the turn of events makes a spectacle of herself in a press conference. The manner of handling of the incident is an example of political naïveté on the part of the ruling party and of utter selfishness by her detractors.

Our Prime Minister Narendra Modi thinks out of the box. To prove that the same is not a mere publicity stunt, he needs to bring in empathy in our educational institutions. Bring the of guru-shishya parampara into our educational institutions; bring in love, compassion, offer free atmosphere for excelling in academics. If, in the process, they indulge in views not exactly liked by the ruling coterie, let it be.

Impress the impressionable, show them the merit in counterarguments. Punishment must be the last instrument. We are dealing with students, not potential criminals. More important, we must not allow our educational institutions to be a fishing pond for politicians.

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Sugato Hazra
Sugato Hazra
Public policy analyst based in Delhi


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