It is indeed strange that as a nation we do not learn from our past mistakes. This has been the bane of our society for ages, more so since independence in 1947. It is well known that the Mohammad Akhlaq murder that happened in December last year in Uttar Pradesh was blown out of proportion and politicised to the limit. Most political parties in opposition and media were the main culprits. The fact that their actions, or should we term them as mis-actions, brought shame to the nation nationally did not deter them from their selfish motives in projecting the case as if the whole nation was gripped with the fever of intolerance. The current episode of suicide by a Dalit research scholar, Rohith Vemula, in Hyderabad University too seems to be following the same route. On one hand political parties like Congress are trying to politicise the incident, on the other hand the media as usual is focussing on TRP ratings that will swell their profits now that the current financial year is in its last lap.
When a young and emerging life is lost it is always a sad occasion. But when this happens because of a suicide, it does raise some awkward questions related to the mental strength and balance of the individual as well as the circumstances that forced him to take such a drastic step. Life in general is harsh for most people – the reasons may vary but this reality cannot be disputed. In case of Rohith Vemula it is obvious that in his short span of about 27 years he had seen some very tough times and possibly was on the threshold of better times now that he was pursuing his PhD course. There is no doubt that he was possibly more blessed than most others in our country since he received full support from his parents and was given an opportunity by the system to reach this position in life. He was part of the lucky few who get an opportunity to study the courses of their choice at the highest level while being paid sufficiently to be rid of any worries in terms of course fees and other routine expenses. As per various reports and statements of friends and others, he was a bright individual and possibly above average in his abilities. In all probability his future looked bright given his academic background and the will to make a better life for himself in the future.
It is very doubtful if the incident in Hyderabad was a case of Dalit suppression or mistreatment. First and foremost any one in our nation who is working as a research scholar and is pursuing a doctorate degree, in an all paid mode, can hardly be classified as belonging to the less fortunate strata of society. Without a doubt they belong to the more fortunate part of the society which is a very small percentage in our nation of 1.27 billion people. If the nation did not suppress the aspiration of an individual in his journey from the primary school to the highest levels of education in the country, it is obvious that his Dalit origins never came in the way of his advancement. Therefore it is unfortunate that after his death his Dalit origins are taking centre stage and being exploited by others for their selfish motives. Such machinations need to be curbed and people responsible for the same taken to task.
It is public knowledge that Rohith was one of the key figures in the demonstration staged against the hanging of known terrorist Yakub Memon. Any sane person would admit that such acts are highly misplaced, objectionable and can be termed as anti-national since the decision was arrived at after a long and deliberate judicial process. Then there were the reported clashes between Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) and Ambedkar Students Association (ASA) within the University campus where once again Rohith was involved as part of ASA. These happenings do suggest that while Rohith may have been a good student, he did have a penchant towards being part of senseless sensationalism and activities bordering on being anti national and anti social. In such a scenario, it was obvious that sooner or later he would have to face some action from the university authorities just like anyone else in a similar situation. His being a Dalit had once again nothing to do with this. One must note that he was living within the hostel premises for years without any complaint of any bias from other students or authorities. In view of this the claims being made now that for last 15 days since his suspension he was facing discrimination from other students seem highly questionable. Surely the thought of being a Dalit came into focus only after the suspension came into force since in today’s environment it is a very potent tool to fight the establishment. In all fairness it does not speak well for an individual who was highly educated, who had come up the hard way with full support from the governmental system at all times to engage in such questionable activities. It is also surprising that such an educated and active social activist undertook such a drastic step within 15 days of his suspension. It is hard to believe this irrespective of what the media or any political party may say.
It is indeed a sad commentary on political leadership of most opposition political parties that this case is being used to derive political mileage. With Rahul Gandhi rushing to the already tense university campus, things can only go from bad to worse. Without a doubt the visit of the Congress Vice President has more to do with fishing in troubled waters than a sincere concern for the deceased. Such political initiatives smack of opportunism and only add fuel to fire. One has to give credit to the Human Resource Minster in the way she handled and responded to the media questioning on the suicide incident. She not only avoided any loaded controversial statement but also refused to politicise the same. All one can wish is that other parties too showed the same maturity. The Akhlaq incident was a prime example of such political activism where a minor incident went out of hand and resulted in avoidable damage on many fronts. In a nation that is crying for development and good governance we have all opposition parties pursuing a single agenda of running down the party in power, cost to the nation notwithstanding. Political games are played and will always be played, but when they start pulling the nation down, it is imperative that the leadership comes down with a heavy hand to put a stop to the same. Unfortunately today in India, in their quest for power, most of the political leadership seems to be oblivious of their responsibilities.
Dr Ambedkar had proposed reservations for the less fortunate sections of the society for 10 years when our constitution was being written. It was obvious that he thought that if part of one generation of these less fortunate people were given a special opportunities to break age old social barriers and advance in life, it will open doors for others too in the future and hopefully all barriers would fall by the way side in the years to come. Unfortunately he did not take into account the horrendous vote bank politics and the narrow minded selfish approach of future politicians of the nation. Maybe the nation is right in not apportioning too much blame in this regard to Dr Ambedkar as the real culprits are politicians and their parties who have ensured that the less fortunate continue to remain where they were since their backwardness ensures handsome dividends to them at hustings. The only people who openly talk about caste or religion of their fellow Indians are either politicians or media anchors on television, a common man has neither the time nor the need to go into all this. The incident of Akhlaq lynching was projected as an issue of intolerance of Muslims by Hindus by politicians and media. It is once again being repeated in case of Rohith’s suicide. The only difference is that this time it is being termed as an atrocity towards Dalits by the so called upper classes.
If the Union Labour Minister, Mr Dattatreya, did write to the HRD Ministry asking it to investigate if the University of Hyderabad campus was becoming a place for anti-national or other anti-social activities, there was certainly no harm in the same. One may also recall that Mr Dattatreya is an MP from the same region where the university is located. It is obvious he did not mention any specific names or highlight any activity in particular or recommend that the authorities take action against Rohith or others for any particular act. On the question of why the University authorities revised the quantum of punishment, it is best left to the concerned authorities to explain and the HRD Minister is certainly not part of that.
It is no secret that some of our educational institutions, particularly of higher learning, have become dens and bases for some overly eager activists and self styled reactionaries to operate from with impunity. We have students well past the normal age, who carry on being enrolled in such campuses for years without pursuing any serious education. The campus life offers them many advantages to pursue some of their nefarious activities in terms of secure hostels to live that are invariably located in some of the best parts of the city along with an extensive administrative backup required for a day to day life at a very nominal cost. Over a period of time most also develop political patronage that gets them out of trouble when required and also helps them to keep the university authorities at bay. JNU in Delhi is a prime example of this as are some other such institutions across the country and one can be sure that the University of Hyderabad certainly falls in the same category. Student activism seems to be on the rise on the back of political patronage which is not a desirable trend since it interferes with the administration and functioning of the institutions. Having multitudes of student bodies and organisations on the campus can only be counterproductive as past experience shows and it is time to do some rethinking on the role and scope of such organisations. Keeping institutions of learning away from politics is the least that should be done to ensure that students focus on education instead of veering off towards other unproductive activities.