Sunday, January 17, 2016

Dalit PhD student Rohith Vemula commits suicide, Hyderabad Central University students protest // Literary body condemns assault on Dalit writer

NB: This is a terrible tragedy. The political ideologues attempting to impose a totalitarian world-view upon educational institutions must bear their share of the responsibility for it. A Union Cabinet minister has no business intervening in campus politics and disciplinary issues. The arrogance of the BJP's ministers has crossed all limits. They have emerged as a massive disruptive force in Indian politics. Do they work for the Government of India or at the behests of the Sangh Parivar? Who gave them the right to decide who is 'national' and who 'anti-national'? Students, teachers and all concerned citizens must resist the regime of dictatorship in education. My heartfelt condolences to Rohith's family, friends and comrades. Rest in peace. DS

BJP must stop meddling with varsities, student politics
HRD ministry bleeding academia to death with 1,000 cuts


In August last year, the Ambedkar Students Association (ASA), along with Ambedkar Reading Group, University of Delhi, Ambedkar Periyar Study Circle, IIT Madras, ASA (TISS) in Mumbai and concerned students from IIT Bombay issued a joint statement condemning an Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) attack on screening of Muzaffarnagar Baaqi Hain. Later, ASA's University of Hyderabad chapter organised a protest demonstration.

According to Counter Currents, five dalit students were asked to vacate their accommodation and find different quarters for themselves. Their living spaces were locked by the hostel administration. One of the reasons cited for this was that the students opposed the death sentences awarded to Yakub Memon. The screening of Muzaffarnagar Baaqi Hain was stalled by the ABVP and according to the report on Counter Currents, derogatory remarks against ASA students were made on the Facebook page. When an apology was demanded, local BJP and RSS supporters pressurised the vice-chancellor of the university to expel the ASA leaders based on "false allegations".

This did not stick because of student protests. According to another report on Counter Currents on this issue, the students (Dontha Prashanth, Rohith Vemula, Vijay Kumar, Seshu Chemudugunta and Sunkanna) were also denied permission to participate in the student union elections. After the then VC's retirement, new chancellor — Apparao — was appointed. Apparao promptly dismissed the students after receiving a letter from the HRD ministry. The move was recommended by Bandaru Dattatreya, Secunderabad MP and Minister of Labour and Employment, who called the ASA group "casteist, extremist and anti-national". Read the letter here.

One of the students who was denied admission, 26-year-old Rohith Vemula, committed suicide on Sunday evening. Vemula was a second year PhD student. According to The New Indian Express report, Vemula was active in student politics, but had grown increasingly silent after the disciplinary action was initiated against him by the university. The Joint Action Committee (JAC) of various student groups said Rohith was highly depressed due to suspension and expulsion from the hostel. JAC said the student was hurt due to the social boycott. The research scholars were expelled from their hostel in December. They were denied access to hostels and other buildings on the campus except their classroom, library and conferences and workshops related to their subject of study. They were evicted from their rooms on January and since then they were forced to sleep in a makeshift tent on the campus.

Vemula, the UoH student who committed suicide by hanging himself on the university campus on Sunday; he used the blue banner of ASA for hanging. Vemula was known for his active participation in student politics. However, post the disciplinary action initiated against him by the varsity administration, he had grown extraordinarily silent. He along with four other suspended students had been staging protest on the campus for last 15 days. They were sleeping in open to protest expulsion from the hostel. On Sunday, Rohith left the camp to spend the day in NRS hostel room.

Pranay Rupani, a fellow PhD student who met with Vemula during the protests told Firstpost, "The University Administration could have handled this so much better and in the process saved the life of a young research scholar. The University is nothing like that, and the minister of labour and employment should be busy creating jobs not getting involved in a campus scuffles." Criticising the way the university administration is trying to stifle dissent among students, Rupani added, "If we cannot have a free opinion in an informed deliberative space like a University then what is the use of a democracy, what is the use of my vote."

Shortly after the news of his suicide broke, various student activist groups have expressed their solidarity and support.  According to this NDTV report, a group of students sat with Vemula's body all night and refused to allow a funeral unless the university authorities gave them a listen. A police team arrived later and took the body and eight students were arrested. Speaking to Firstpost, Rupani felt that the university was being heartless the way they even announced Vemula's passing away to the students.

In his suicide letter, Vemula wrote that he "always wanted to be a writer. A writer of science, like Carl Sagan. At last, this is the only letter I am getting to write...Our feelings are second handed. Our love is constructed. Our beliefs colored. Our originality valid through artificial art. It has become truly difficult to love without getting hurt. 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." 

Read the entire letter here.
“Good morning,
I would not be around when you read this letter. Don’t get angry on me. I know some of you truly cared for me, loved me and treated me very well. I have no complaints on anyone. It was always with myself I had problems. I feel a growing gap between my soul and my body. And I have become a monster. I always wanted to be a writer. A writer of science, like Carl Sagan. At last, this is the only letter I am getting to write.

I loved Science, Stars, Nature, but then I loved people without knowing that people have long since divorced from nature. Our feelings are second handed. Our love is constructed. Our beliefs colored. Our originality valid through artificial art. It has become truly difficult to love without getting hurt.

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 very field, in studies, in streets, in politics, and in dying and living.

I am writing this kind of letter for the first time. My first time of a final letter. Forgive me if I fail to make sense.

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. My birth is my fatal accident. I can never recover from my childhood loneliness. The unappreciated child from my past.

I am not hurt at this moment. I am not sad. I am just empty. Unconcerned about myself. That’s pathetic. And that’s why I am doing this.

People may dub me as a coward. And selfish, or stupid once I am gone. I am not bothered about what I am called. I don’t believe in after-death stories, ghosts, or spirits. If there is anything at all I believe, I believe that I can travel to the stars. And know about the other worlds.

If you, who is reading this letter can do anything for me, I have to get 7 months of my fellowship, one lakh and seventy five thousand rupees. Please see to it that my family is paid that. I have to give some 40 thousand to Ramji. He never asked them back. But please pay that to him from that.

Let my funeral be silent and smooth. Behave like I just appeared and gone. Do not shed tears for me. Know that I am happy dead than being alive.
'From shadows to the stars.'
Uma anna, sorry for using your room for this thing.

To ASA [Ambedkar Students Association] family, sorry for disappointing all of you. You loved me very much. I wish all the very best for the future.

For one last time,
Jai Bheem

A literary body comprising leading writers Nayantara Sahgal, K Satchidanandan and Romila Thapar among others on Friday strongly condemned the attack on Dalit writer-activist Huchangi Prasad for his "anti-Hindu" writings. "The Indian Writers' Forum strongly condemns the attack on a young Dalit writer, Huchangi Prasad, for his writings against the caste system," the body said.

Prasad, a 23-year-old journalism student in Davanagere, Karnataka and author of a book 'Odala Kichchu' which speaks against the caste system, alleged that he was assaulted on Wednesday and was threatened that his fingers would be cut for writing against Hinduism. "If this is how disagreement is to be expressed, how can we call India a democracy? The recent writers' protests, and the setting up of a forum that will support all writers and other cultural practitioners, is precisely to resist such attempt to muzzle the voices of all writers, whichever community or region they come from, and whichever language they write in," the statement said.

Prasad alleged that on 21 October night, "a group of eight to nine persons came to SC/ST hostel where I reside and told me that my mother was unwell." "Worried I followed them. They took me to a place and started threatening and assaulting me for writing against Hinduism and caste system," he told PTI. Prasad said he received some minor injuries in the attack, adding, "They (the attackers) said I'm born as Dalit, because of sins I had committed in my previous life."

A case has been registered against unidentified persons in this regard. Police said they are on a lookout for the suspects. Indian Writers' Forum's statement signed by Githa Hariharan, Satchidanandan, Thapar and Sahgal said, "It's a sign of hope that Prasad has said categorically that he will continue to write. The Forum, and all citizens of conscience, salute him."