Across the aisle: ‘My birth is my fatal accident’

Just as “No one killed Jessica Lall”, no one Is — or will be held — responsible for the death of Rohith.

Written by P Chidambaram | Updated: February 1, 2016 2:12 pm
Rohith Vemula, Hyderabad University, Narendra Modi, Modi rohith vemula, Modi Dalit student, Smriti Irani Dalit student, P Chidambaram, sunday opinion, express opinion Artists from Moradabad pay tributes to Rohith Vemula, who committed suicide at the Hyderabad Central University, on Friday. (PTI Photo)

‘Reservation’ for the socially and educationally backward classes in schools and colleges brought Rohith Chakravarthi Vemula to the University of Hyderabad where he won a place in the general category as a PhD scholar in Life Sciences. ‘Preservation’ of the old social and economic order brought him death.

It is a miracle of our times that a Dalit, son of a security guard and a self-employed seamstress and instructor, could climb the ladder of education and be admitted as a scholar in a central university. On the way, he did not drop out. He was not pulled out by his parents to find low-paying work in order to bring a few rupees to support the family. He was not failed in school or college. He was not rusticated for some vague misdemeanour. He was not accused of a crime and thrown into prison. But he failed at the last hurdle.

Rohith and his friends held a protest against capital punishment and against the attack in Delhi on the screening of a documentary called Muzaffarnagar Baaqi Hai. The ABVP (student wing of the RSS/BJP) opposed the protest. Both groups were entitled to exercise their right to free speech as long as they were at a safe distance from each other. That is the essence of freedom and democracy in an open society.

What happened was the opposite. An ABVP leader, in his Facebook post, called the members of the Ambedkar Students Association (a Dalit body) “goons”. He was forced to apologise. He alleged that he had been beaten by some members of the ASA and the ABVP demanded action against them. It was a minor dispute between two groups that should have been resolved in the manner such minor disputes are resolved, but it was not.

Multiple authors of a script

Enter the Proctorial Board of the University. Enter the Minister who is also the local MP. Enter the Ministry of Human Resource Development. Enter the new Vice-Chancellor. Enter the Executive Council of the University. Enter the Police.

The ABVP complained to the Minister/local MP, the Minister wrote to the Ministry of Human Resource Development, and the Ministry wrote to the University and followed it up with five reminders! In quick succession the University instituted an inquiry, suspended five students (all Dalits) including Rohith, the Vice-Chancellor revoked the suspension temporarily and ordered another inquiry by a new committee, the next Vice-Chancellor scrapped the enquiry committee and ordered a fresh inquiry by a sub-committee of the Executive Council, the EC confirmed the suspension, and the students were directed to move out of the hostel. The script of a tragedy was being written by multiple authors, but none paused to reflect on the consequences of the action they had been pressured to take. The tragedy indeed occurred on January 17 when Rohith hanged himself.

Entitled vs disentitled

Who has the power to move a Minister/local MP to write a letter to the Minister of Human Resource Development alleging (based purely on hearsay) that the ASA was indulging in “casteist and anti-national activities”? Who has the power to move the Ministry to forward the letter to the University and write five reminders within a few weeks? Only the “entitled” can.

The history of India is the history of a struggle between the “entitled” and the “disentitled”. The ABVP, claiming to represent the Hindu society, is the entitled. The Dalits are the disentitled. The four-tier arrangement in Hindu society did not include the Dalits. If anyone defied the four-tier arrangement or its rules, punishment was swift: exclusion and expulsion.
The University of Hyderabad, under the new Vice-Chancellor, acted like Hindu society. It barred the students from all “non-academic and political activities on campus” (exclusion) and directed them to “move out of the hostel” (expulsion). A dean said that the University had taken a “lenient view”. If the University had decided to take a “stern view”, would the acharyas of the University have asked for the tongues of the Dalit students to still their voices of protest (as Dronacharya asked Ekalayva for his right thumb)?

The gathering storm

As a nation we do not seem to have grasped the enormity of the storm gathering across this land. The disentitled are gripped by fear, suspicious of governments, feel helpless and isolated, and unable to find support among the dominant social and political organisations. Historically disentitled groups include Dalits, religious minorities, scheduled tribes, women and gays.

Rohith seems to have got to the heart of the crisis that was, as far as he was concerned, existential. He captured it in a few words: “My birth is my fatal accident.”

Watch video: Delhi Police’s brutality on protesting students outside RSS head quarters

Just as “No one killed Jessica Lall”, no one Is — or will be held — responsible for the death of Rohith. Not the ABVP that exerted unrelenting pressure over a period of seven months. Not the Minister/MP who discovered the ASA’s “casteist and anti-national activities”. Not the Ministry of Human Resource Development that wrote five reminders in four months. Not the University that tossed the matter from one authority to another until a punishment satisfactory to the “entitled” was imposed.

Rohith Chakravarthi Vemula, who wanted to be a writer of science “like Carl Sagan”, has left us a letter (his only letter) that documents the precarious state of the nation. Read it, again and again.
Watch video: Suspended Dalit Hyderabad Student Hangs Himself: What Transpired

Website: pchidambaram.in @Pchidambaram_IN

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First Published on: January 24, 2016 12:00 am
  1. P
    PCKULKARNI
    Jan 24, 2016 at 7:54 am
    PC has given a factual account of what actually happened.Judicial commission will give the final verdict
    Reply
    1. L
      Logical Indian
      Jan 24, 2016 at 3:18 pm
      I think PC has written this article well.The w incident spiraled out of control since the punishment was one sided.Why was ABVP not reprimended for indulging in hate politics? And why do these non sense student Organisations like ABVP exist in the first place.I doubt if any sincere students really join them ? I haven't seen any useful contribution or interest from ABVP students in studies/science or medical seminars except for creation of ruckus in college campuses everywhere.student organisations like ABVP have introduced Mob culture in colleges and need to be stemmed to prevent the onset of violent behaviour in students
      Reply
      1. R
        Rational thought
        Jan 24, 2016 at 10:35 am
        The Reality is,may be PC haven't done any thing sc/st but congress gave reservation to sc/st and others required sects.Ambedkar sahab was given to write consution of india.... Congress is not all time correct but on issue of social order ....its fine
        Reply
        1. T
          TIHAEwale
          Jan 24, 2016 at 2:37 pm
          PC is a creeper where was he when students politics killed students in law college Chennai was he busy collecting booty from Karuna the money looted in Spectrum scandal
          Reply
          1. K
            K SHESHU
            Jan 24, 2016 at 6:07 am
            Rohith case is different from any other case. He should be compared to the dalits facing atrocities of upper caste/cl hegemony. Many attempts are being made to divert the issue. Policies to annihilate caste should be the priority and not dwell on caste ideny of a person.
            Reply
            1. M
              Mavala
              Jan 24, 2016 at 12:37 am
              Mr Chidambaram these maladies are your Govt's great results for 60 years. Reservations and the murders mentioned 2008 2007 etc.
              Reply
              1. A
                Apr
                Jan 24, 2016 at 2:51 pm
                "Man is born free but chained all along to the death" Birth is an accident but not life. One can choose to live or die, the way one wanted. Mr. Vemula taken his path but living ugly heads like Mr. Chidambaram has not changed from his way of life, political exploitation.
                Reply
                1. T
                  Think
                  Jan 24, 2016 at 12:07 am
                  Think for a moment. Most people who oppose caste based reservation do want caste based marriages only. So how will India ever have a casteless society? If you don't believe me, you can check the matrimonials of any newspaper. Is this not a double standard?
                  Reply
                  1. A
                    Anil Tandale
                    Jan 24, 2016 at 3:29 am
                    Birth is fatal accident for mes of India, except for being born into the families of Congress leadership.
                    Reply
                    1. A
                      An Indian
                      Jan 24, 2016 at 6:08 am
                      Thank you Chidhambaram Ayya for sharing your selective view. I am also one of the "miracle" from slum dog to a software engineer in USA. Thanks to Periyar (EVR) for his social cleanup Tamil Nadu, due to him i had mostly decent respected childhood/adulthood with my "Ideny". Though i am a MTech graduate (IIT Madras, got admission on merit/not quota), to live peacefully in metro cities of India, i had to hide my ideny to earn the respect from house owners, managers at work, colleagues, neighbors. I dont get respect based on my content/character mostly. Its our(Dalits) fate. We have to hide our ideny mostly. Even now, a 10 yr old boy non-dalit calls my father by name, in singular. It cant happen vise versa. There are lot of unreported incidents(ault on my people) happened in my village. We suppress silently for sometime. We have to cross each other form land next day. I dream, one day my g-g children will live in an equal society in India. All my best friends are Non-Dalits(who know I am a Dalit) helped me to achieve my goal in life.There are great souls(Non-Dhalits) who fight for Dalits, for their rights, dignity. Problem is Caste is there for 2000 years. Few EVR Periyars/Great Jotirao Phules, tried to eradicate this system for 100 yrs only. So, i firmly believe, my mother India would be a Great Nation one day with her all equal children. Till then...We have to tolerate and forgive.
                      Reply
                      1. A
                        Arun
                        Jan 24, 2016 at 1:52 pm
                        Caste system was introduced by Manu who is a forefather of the founders of RSS around 400 AD, much before the British or the Persians came to India. Indians were divided as Brahmin, Kshatrya, Vysya and Sudra. The Sudras were treated like animals and were never allowed to acquire knowledge through education. The present day Dalits belong to this division. Please read Ambedkar and Periyar's writings to understand more, if interested.
                        Reply
                        1. A
                          ashok
                          Jan 24, 2016 at 2:02 pm
                          Mr chidambaram is unfit to comment on this it is people like him who want to capitalize on death of an individual in the name of caste. Shame Mr chidambaram if not being a politician you would not have been given space to write the article
                          Reply
                          1. A
                            author
                            Jan 24, 2016 at 12:40 am
                            Your useless and corrupt previous Government is responsible for the Mod becoming PM with full majority. At the top you all are one and making thousands of crores and inciting the public by writing such stories and then going to have tea with the opposition in the subsidized canteen discussing how much raise you need next year 300 % or 400 % ? You forget that your son also abused power - when he got a person arrested for a FB post. I would say parliament democracy has failed India.
                            Reply
                            1. M
                              Malli
                              Jan 24, 2016 at 12:38 am
                              This is eating your own tail Chiddu - Yesteryears' murders/suicides shall need explanation from You and Pappu.
                              Reply
                              1. B
                                balu
                                Jan 24, 2016 at 5:23 am
                                If Rohith fight is for only copital punishment mean it is all right.But for Memon (P.C hide it ) mean hoe is it right?Of course he has in a bind.Weather this A.S.A took same atude during porliment case?
                                Reply
                                1. B
                                  Barb
                                  Jan 24, 2016 at 2:13 pm
                                  I cannot even pretend to empathize with what you have gone through. I salute your tenacity and sincerely hope that your dream is fulfilled.
                                  Reply
                                  1. K
                                    Karunakaran
                                    Jan 24, 2016 at 12:03 am
                                    Dalits must start demanding a dedicated Central University for the Dalits. That is the only way India can ensure the non-Dalit teachers will stop disrespecting India's original inhabitants. US has dedicated universities for the blacks.
                                    Reply
                                    1. K
                                      Karunakaran
                                      Jan 24, 2016 at 12:04 am
                                      Lower caste persons and Muslims cannot buy houses/flats in Gujarat where upper-castes and Jains live. Gujarat has the greatest intolerance against Lower caste persons and Muslims when compared against the w of India. A Gujjubhai PM will not easily understand that all Indians are equal. India needs to prepare for Mr Nitish Kumar as the next PM.
                                      Reply
                                      1. B
                                        Bala
                                        Jan 24, 2016 at 1:53 am
                                        Mr. Social Engineer, Chidambaram, castigates ABVP but never mentions that it was the Ambedkar students union headed by Rohit Vermula that was responsible for physically attacking the AVBP president. Rohit supported the freedom for a terrorist, who killed hundreds of people in the Bombay bomb blast. Chidambaram professes sympathy for the dalits whereas he gets his son married to a brahmin instead of a Dalit. Walk the talk Mr. Chidambaram before professing recommendation for others.
                                        Reply
                                        1. B
                                          Bush
                                          Jan 24, 2016 at 11:10 pm
                                          What did the Father of the Nation advise re the continuation of the Congress? Pandit ji and his heirs have exploited the name of the Party for far too long. It's about time they called it a day.
                                          Reply
                                          1. A
                                            Asok Chattopadhyay
                                            Jan 24, 2016 at 4:40 pm
                                            An interesting outburst comes out of the pen of Mr. P.Chidambaram. Thanks him. Eight more Dalit scholars have so far been prey of such a fate in this University in past. Does Mr P. Chidambaram approve his view for the said scholars with undivided leniency and sympathy? Why he was silent when Bidrohi,who died in recent past, was rusticated from the JNU for his political bias? What's his view of Chandrashekhar murdered a few years back?
                                            Reply
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