Rohith Vemula and the holy cow

The Dalit scholar’s death exposed the inability of the casteist Hindu to be modern, as Ambedkar had suspected.

Written by Suryakant Waghmore | Updated: January 28, 2016 3:31 am
rohith vemula suicide, rohit vemula death, hyderabad dalit suicide, hyderabad dalit death, dalit suicide, rohit dali suicide, india dalit Illustration by C R Sasikumar

As the nation celebrates the 125th birth anniversary of B.R. Ambedkar, Rohith Vemula’s suicide is a reminder of the void between Ambedkarite aspirations and Indian modernity — more precisely, Hindu modernity. Rohith was an Ambedkarite. To add to his woes, he gained admission under the “general” category.

If political interference and aggressive Hindutva intrusion on campus had not led to Rohith’s suicide, maybe Ambedkar did. The practice of Ambedkarism calls for a sincere challenging of caste, patriarchy and religious bigotry — some of these remain the essence of being a modern Hindu in present times. What is ironic is that elements of Hindu practices that are regressive continue to be celebrated and these get worse when hindutva ideologues link such practices to the ideals of nationalism and nationalist sentiments.

If one digs beyond the farcical surface of Ambedkarite rhetoric in the BJP/ RSS circles, both Ambedkar and the Ambedkar Students’ Association (ASA) at the Hyderabad Central University seem to be anti-national to Hindutva groups. Bandaru Dattatreya’s letters to the HRD ministry show us how Hindutva naturally portrays Ambedkarism as anti-national. Arun Shourie was rather aggressive about calling Ambedkar a stooge of the British — someone who was also anti-Hindu and never participated in the so-called independence struggle.

The problem facing the present regime is that they want to use Ambedkar selectively — more out of compulsion. Aspects of Ambedkar that show him as anti-Muslim, vegetarian, or cast him as a Hindu, are cooked up and circulated. Ambedkar declared as early as 1935 that he will not die a Hindu although it was his misfortune to be born one. Ambedkar’s nationalism was about internal repair — a revolution from within. Ambedkar was suspicious of a Hindu becoming modern. His reading was based less on prejudice and more on sociological analysis.

For a Hindu, his caste is his public identity, said Ambedkar. And caste continues to be a monster, affecting the private and public lives of modern Hindus. The burden of bearing the brunt of Hinduism’s ugliness invariably falls on Dalits and women. “Caste has killed public spirit. Caste has destroyed the sense of public charity. Caste has made public opinion impossible,” he declared in the Annihilation of Caste.

The Hyderabad university is among the few campuses in India where Ambedkar and his ideas had not been confined to Dalits. The ASA is not a Dalit student body as there are students across caste, gender and regions supporting it. To make matters worse, Ambedkarism has been taken up in assertive forms. The ASA was in the news in March 2015 for celebrating a beef festival after beef was banned in Maharashtra. The purity of the cow and the impurity of the untouchable continue to be perceived as normative and are connected sentiments for most non-Dalits. Not that food and vegetarian ideology don’t dominate campuses any more, but to assume that all Dalits will give in to celebrating cow-protection as nationalism is misplaced optimism.

Vegetarianism and the celebration of purity are themselves becoming more gendered — with men eating non-vegetarian meals outside home while the women keep the kitchen pure by not eating and not cooking non-vegetarian food. Increasingly, urban, educated and working women also self-regulate their entry to the kitchen and temples during their menstrual cycles.

Such vegetarianism and purity rituals are based on exclusion and not void of violent orientations. The worst symptoms of the violence caused by vegetarianism can be seen in Gujarati society. Gujarat may be the most vegetarian state in principle, but Gujarati society is also amongst the most violent against Dalits and Muslims. Not surprisingly, in 2007, Narendra Modi, wrote in a controversial book titled Karmayog that Valmikis do scavenging as an exercise in “spirituality”.

The present-day inter-caste marriages in cities continue to carry caste biases and disgust against Dalits and Adivasis. Hindus, although appearing modern, lack a sense of trust towards Dalits — all they harbour is contempt and no sympathy. Ambedkar had argued Hinduism is a religion of rules and not principles. An interesting case of Hindu prejudice against Dalits in charitable giving is pointed out by scholars Ashwini Deshpande and Dean Spears in a recent article. They suggest that caste Hindus prefer to do charity to the anonymous poor — once they get to know that those benefiting are untouchables, their desire to donate is affected.

Reservations are considered by Hindus as the obvious manifestation of the caste problem. Ambedkar, however, instituted a local form of forced liberalism on caste Hindus. Whatever little Dalit middle-class exists in India, is due to constitutional compulsions. Had Ambedkar left it to Gandhian/ Hindu benevolence, Dalits would have been busy seeking spiritual satisfaction — the Gujarati way.

An autonomous, intelligent and assertive Dalit seems like an aberration in the eyes of a modern Hindu. In rural areas, assertive Dalits are violated, mutilated and eliminated. Cases are registered, but killers and violators mostly escape punishment like Rama escaped the consequences of killing Shambuka. In universities, Dalits on the other hand have to self-immolate — at times because they are not able to meet the Hindu merit standards. Or, like Rohith, they simple do not agree with Hindu life standards.

Mobile, middle-class Dalits, at times, give in to the present pressures of Hindu purity and modernity — by changing their surnames, hiding their caste, becoming vegetarian, or by aggressively participating in anti-Muslim Indian-ness. For Dalits to be citizens and part of the nation, they have to mimic the pure and privileged.

Rohith, like several other Ambedkarites, did not play to the gallery of Hindu modernity and hyper-nationalism. Nor was he too patient with the normality of Hindu madness. Following Ambedkar, he did not spare Rama, Krishna, Sardar Patel, Gandhi, Vivekananda and the holy cow. He believed in politicking truth till the end. Should there be space for such dissent or should it be

called anti-national?

Perhaps it is time to realise that caste has become a (bad?) Hindu habit. Rohith may have forgiven those involved in abetting his suicide. But will those involved in the daily grooming of the caste monster and mindless nationalism wake up and introspect?

 

Waghmore, associate professor at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai, is the author of ‘Civility against Caste’.

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  1. J
    Jai Kumar
    Jan 28, 2016 at 1:24 pm
    It takes generations for change to happen. It does not come with a magic wand. you cannot claim for equality while sitting in the cushy bus of Resevation . Even wonder why the general category might not want to befriend. the one who gets reservation . Should the reservation not be provided on the basis of economic backwardness to elevate them. India is tired of people playing the Dalit/OBC/minority card.
    Reply
    1. J
      Jai Kumar
      Jan 28, 2016 at 1:28 pm
      What unfairness are you talking about, currently they are sarkari damads.they get priority in education govt. service and promotions. Hat more do you want.
      Reply
      1. A
        Avi
        Jan 28, 2016 at 1:03 am
        As a modern Hindu as per your headline, I don't need a certificate from you to prove I am not 'casteist'. I grew up in Mumbai without knowing what others or even my own caste was and I can safely say so about all my friends too. You psedo secularists can see nothing right with the courtry and only look for opportunities to bash Hindus. It is only this religion which turns the other cheek to your stupid barbs. Try the same while bashing jews in Israel or Muslims in Muslim countries or even Christians in UK or USA.
        Reply
        1. M
          Motivated History
          Jan 28, 2016 at 5:27 am
          I think the author has spoken prematurely. The Dalit may be a Backward it seems. But in the land of Dalit politics where a Chief Justice would convert to avail th benefits of backwardness, anything is possible. Indians are original thinkers if I wont be a Dalit , Dalit will come to me. What is the big deal?
          Reply
          1. M
            Motivated History
            Jan 28, 2016 at 5:40 am
            It is only 2015 years It will happen after another 2015 years. All christians will convert the next day if they realize that Jesus was an Arab. But for pur sick minds Brahmins are easy targets , while we wallow in our own dirt.
            Reply
            1. M
              Motivated History
              Jan 28, 2016 at 5:46 am
              Suppose all Brahmins want to give all their great privileges today and want to convert enme to Dalit - is that allowed. Why not? Can someone organize a Dalit wapsi?
              Reply
              1. A
                Arsh
                Jan 30, 2016 at 5:16 pm
                You raised questions? just answer one question and we leave the rest you said right. from when did anti- BJP/RSS become anti-national. RSS didnt want beef, so when others consumed, they become anti-national. and as you have mentioned of social atmosphere not being good... who made the social atmosphere bad, and how? by not following norms of cleaniliness or by trying to make minority of tax payers in this country under someone's mercy?
                Reply
                1. B
                  Brahmins.r.despicable
                  Jan 28, 2016 at 11:29 pm
                  According to some brahmin Sons Of Brahmin, Rohith joined HU in the year 2006 when he was 16 years old. Can you believe those veinless bstrds who are doing brutal disinformation!!!
                  Reply
                  1. D
                    D. Patrel
                    Jan 28, 2016 at 8:31 pm
                    It seems that Marxism and Christianity have entered into a successful strategic partnership towards a common geopolitical objective to destabilize India by creating phantom stories of oppession of Dalits and Musims. India’s universities is seeing another strategic partnership between dalits and Minorities (read Muslims) and Owaisi is showing them how this partnership will work in electoral politics. We know that the Indian media and its repoters/writers are sold out to the foreign interests which want India to be Balkanized by using the Indian 'sepoys' like you. Rohit Vemula was a good and hard working student and was devout Hindu before he was brain washed by the Marixts/Muslims/Christian propaa against Hindus and Hinduism and got converted to Islam which has been completely supressed by the Indian media. Your w article smacks of Hindu phobia to such an extent that you have forgotten that a true journalist should be objective and present both sides of the case. Unfortunately, you have used the anti-India and anti-Hindu propaa to please your paying masters. Shame you and shame on the The Indian Express. If you don't like Hindu India, surely you are most welcome to go to stan or Saudi Arabia or Afghanistan where they will offer a royal treatment with seventy two virgin women in heaven.
                    Reply
                    1. H
                      Hindu
                      Jan 28, 2016 at 11:17 pm
                      Brahmins, eat SHT and DIE.
                      Reply
                      1. H
                        Haradhan Mandal
                        Jan 28, 2016 at 2:46 pm
                        That's it? what happened to 'Oh India, Don't forget, "Poor Indian (Daridra Bharatbasi) is your brother, Don't foist false police case on them, Don't hound them to take their own lives" '?
                        Reply
                        1. H
                          Haradhan Mandal
                          Jan 28, 2016 at 4:27 pm
                          I asked about about swami Vivekananda from you.
                          Reply
                          1. H
                            Haradhan Mandal
                            Jan 28, 2016 at 9:25 am
                            You should analyze an organization by its HARD core support base - the rank and file , the defender-warriors on the internet, by what its core support base say and do , comment and support, how they support on what ALL other various issues. AND not what its leader(s) (or Sangh Guru) pretends, preaches in Public, or WHAT he QUOTES from Noble men (like Swami Vivekananda) or Holy Book. That is pretending. INCESSANT talks in 'fake Communal language /agenda, fake nationalism and Patriotism, pro-"Hindu, Hindu" chants - ALL are smokescreen and diversionary tactics to DIVERT the attention from their REAL SWARUP (Image). This particular Incident (hounding of Rohith and ASA etc) is one of the exhibits of evidences.
                            Reply
                            1. H
                              Haradhan Mandal
                              Jan 28, 2016 at 5:03 am
                              This is the most hard hitting article on this issue (of 'murder' of a Dalit Reaserch Scholar Student) that bares /bared 'Hindutva CLOAKED Caste-ism and caste-hegemony' - IT exposed their fake rhetoric of bizarre 'Nationalism' and 'Hindutva' cloaked caste agenda. "celebrating cow-protection as nationalism", "Narendra Modi, .....that Valmikis do scavenging as an exercise in “spirituality” ". "Had Ambedkar left it to hian/ Hindu benevolence, Dalits would have been busy seeking spiritual satisfaction — the Gujarati way". Nothing more need to be said.
                              Reply
                              1. I
                                Ishwariprasad
                                Jan 28, 2016 at 6:37 am
                                Author presumption is. Very clear we have to bring a change in our out look if we really are true Indian if u see maurya and Ashoka there was no such thinking if u really a true Hindu u must bring change so all ta accept and exit in a society
                                Reply
                                1. J
                                  Jay
                                  Jan 28, 2016 at 8:25 pm
                                  One more pressute trying to twist the facts and create confusion and communal hatred. Strangely these Pressutes call themselves as "secular" while they are really the most venomous communal elements. Three girl students have committed suicide in Tamil Nadu, look the corrupt media, Congress, Communists, "intellectuals", Award Vapsis - all are completely silent? Where is Kejriwal, Rahul, Sonia, and self styled intellectuals.
                                  Reply
                                  1. R
                                    Ram
                                    Apr 15, 2016 at 1:40 am
                                    Can you be clear, which state authorized atrocities against other castes. The British and Muslim rulers? So England and Islamic countries should provide reservations to all Indians for the crimes they have committed during the last 1000 years.
                                    Reply
                                    1. K
                                      Kanu Patel
                                      Jan 28, 2016 at 5:55 am
                                      How long the authors will sing the same song. India has changed a lot from those days when Ambedkar lived. The author has miss concept for situation of Dalits in Gujarat. In cities of Gujarat , Dalits enjoy all benifits of freedom with all respects . Some time they use the atrocity act as a weapon to create fear among their non Dalit opponents. Some small and isolated villages have some problems for Dalits. The problem is not regarding their social status . Problem is similar to a rich and poor or strong and weak or criminal and straight. Terming Gujarati people as violent ,the author miss guided the readers. Muslims in Gujarat are safe and enjoy all freedom . On the ground of religion they have created violence all over. Gujarat will not allow such violence. MODIJI in his book said that whatever work a man do with devotion,he get the spiritual benefits. Please do not miss guide the mes.
                                      Reply
                                      1. S
                                        Srividya Jayaraman
                                        Jan 28, 2016 at 1:20 pm
                                        Well said. It is a fact that these Ambedkar students and the SC/ ST union themselves will not agree for the removal of reservation which will encourage Caste state.
                                        Reply
                                        1. K
                                          Kiran
                                          Jan 28, 2016 at 4:58 am
                                          I would rate this article around 2.5 stars. Although he writer has presented few incorrect information. the article makes some good points regarding the shortcomings of Hindu modernity. The Indian society is divided hopelessly. The Author is right when he says modern education has not removed the caste prejudice. Human psychology is such that every human want to feel better or superior in a group and caste ideny for upper castes comes naturally without any effort and they would always use it. To add to the complexity, The centuries of inbreeding among castes has created sufficient gap in terms of IQ, Skin Color and features and it kind of works in their favor. I frankly dont know the solution for this problem, but solution has to be found. But all said and done, it is hilarious to link Modi to this situation and somehow infer that he is responsible for these caste divisions. He himself is from lower caste and he is the first PM who is not ashamed to yield a broom. Whatever he has mentioned in karmayog maybe related to another context. Also, there are sufficient facts to prove Rohit was not an SC nor he took seat in general category. Atleast it has not been conclusively proved otherwise. But he would have definitely faced prejudice and it is sad he committed suicide. Your article also carefully omits the fact that he opposed Memon's hanging and organized a protest inside campus with slogans like he will prepare Yakub Memon's in every house.
                                          Reply
                                          1. K
                                            Kiran Krishna
                                            Jan 28, 2016 at 3:11 am
                                            Stupid article. Rphith was a terorist supoorter and he had a dogs detah hahaha
                                            Reply
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