Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Rohith Vemula - What We Have Made of a Dead Man's Last Wish

So with great alacrity and care, everyone from the Union Home Minister to the Education Minister to all sorts of high powers have established that Rohith is not a Dalit (apparently intelligence reports have reached them!). I don't know if his family should celebrate this elevation given by the government - something they might have liked it to do, even if it a symbol of equality, when he was alive. The powers that be, the media have also found out that his mother is a liar (though she claims otherwise that she is a Dalit). That Rohith himself could be a liar (for having claimed SC as his caste) which is a much smaller offense than the other things they have found out. That he is also anti-national and is casteist (all concerns shown by esteemed ministers).

(a fine report by Sudipto Mondal, someone who made the effort to go beyond and find out more)

So thanks to the government's ceaseless efforts, all of us are now absolved - it is not a Dalit suicide! Especially those who may have faced repercussions if Rohith was established to be a Dalit. All efforts have been made and will be made to ensure he is not a Dalit. (Surprisingly now he is not a Dalit, does he still have to bear the 'casteist' sigma or will that be expunged from the record?)

So what does that make him? A non-Dalit?


More importantly what does it make us, whom he left behind?


What it does make him is someone who is not a Dalit, as per the government. But whatever little I have read about his life is not different from one. He came from a broken home (hopefully no contention on that), who struggled through his life and achieved what he did with high ideals and surely effort (hopefully no contention on that because he seems to have got the admission on his own).


He somehow seems to have believed that he was a Dalit which is sad because now the government says he is not Dalit. He did not secure admission by using that now 'privileged' card. And certainly he seems to be a Dalit sympathiser being part of the ASA (Ambedkar Sudents Union, which is nowhere as fashionable as ABVP or any other student bodies because this simply represents 'those' unfashionable people). So this boy who believed he was a Dalit died perhaps for being a Dalit sympathiser which seems to be bad enough to warrant it.

So who owns Rohith? The non-Dalits? The ones who were quick to point out that he is not a Dalit? If a non-Dalit died then, should they not be mourning that a bit more? Or is their hatred towards the sympathy Dalits were getting in the ensuing political frenzy even more than the mourning they must do for one of their own?


Truth is no one will now own Rohith. Perhaps the Dalits will own him even if it is proven that he is not a Dalit. After all he did more for their cause than anyone else's. Than his own certainly.

What have our authorities done in their quest for the truth? They have shredded and torn and maligned the gentle, almost fearful words that Rohith wrote in his last letter. It was almost an apology cum a plea to leave his friends and enemies alone. Unfortunately he forgot to include himself and his family in the list of people to be left alone. Look what we have done for that careless mistake young man - we have just ripped your whole life apart - in your death.

So the memory of the boy with no caste (taken away by the government and a higher status deemed perhaps), now remains that of an anti national because he protested against Yakub Memon's hanging. Is there a law against that? (I wonder what then happens to all those people in Bollywood and outside who show great sympathy to Sanjay Dutt? To those who have deals with Dawood and the like? Are they also anti national?)


To say we, as a society, operate in an ocean of hypocrisy would be an understatement. But we have climbed another rung lower now. That we have no respect for the living is a known fact. But we have lost all our respect for the dead as well. There is little hope for a society if its leaders cannot put things into perspective. If it cannot be kind and understanding of its own children. If it has no qualms in dancing over the graves of those who could not bear it any longer.

My friend said - he does not deserve to be there. If he is so weak he should not get into activism. He should study.

How harsh is that. How hard. What have we become?

Let's consider another scenario.

Forget for a moment that two groups fight on the campus and one of them ends up getting bruised. Let's say two boys within the ABVP had fought among themselves. Would the Minister have taken up the issue and written to the Education Ministry? Would the education ministry have written to the VC? Would the VC have banned those?

Not likely.

In the end - if one were to take the government stand - it is a case where a non-Dalit boy died because he sympathised with Dalits perhaps. He probably had other reasons leading to his suicide (someone suggested that surely). Meanwhile the honorable and esteemed ministers and vice chancellors were merely writing routine letters to one another accusing students and campuses 'routinely' of having become dens harbouring anti nationals and casteist groups. And since it is not a Dalit versus non-Dalit issue, we are fine. (But if anyone talks in support of the other viewpoint we may include you in the anti-national and casteist list too.)

Rohith was very close to the truth when he said we are reduced to a vote. He got no justice while alive. Worse, even when dead. Whatever identity he claimed (do we have any charges that we can press against the family for that?) has now been taken away. Now he belongs neither here nor there. Like Manto's Tek Singh, Rohith dies in no man's land. Hopefully now, he will find peace there. His family has been stripped of whatever dignity they had and have been branded as liars and what not.

This is what we have achieved in the end. Other than the VC going on leave. And the acting VC going on leave.

This is what we can do to our youth if they open a dissenting thought.

This is what Avirook Sen calls - how India looks from the ground. Surprisingly in starkly different ways the cases of Rohith and Aarushi Talwar are also similar - of bias, incompetence and inefficiency. Of not respecting the dead.

In retrospect, the 'anti national' young man displayed far more grace, responsibility and forgiveness in his death note than what the collective powers are doing. It does not paint a pretty picture at all.

There is a universal principle however that we cannot escape from - what we give, we get. So beware our actions, our thoughts and our intent. They will come back to bite.

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