Who killed Rohith Vemula?

All those who are mute spectators of the processes under way to restore supremacist Brahmanic rule are responsible for his death

Written by Anand Teltumbde | Published:January 26, 2016 12:09 am
Protests in Hyderabad, Wednesday. (Source: AP) Protests in Hyderabad, Wednesday. (AP Photo)

Rohith Vemula, a 26-year-old Dalit PhD scholar at the Hyderabad Central University (HCU), in his suicide note, blamed none, friend or foe, providing the feed to his killers to claim their innocence. An aspirant to write one day like Carl Sagan exploring the universe with his flight of imagination, he was driven to the depths of his inner self, the torn self of a Dalit, in this caste-ridden land, by his tormentors, to conclude the futility of existing. His death should make it clear that suicide is not the killing of oneself; it is death by situation, which comprises of traditions, customs and institutions, that provide cover to the murderers.

Rohith’s situation survives in the form of a makeshift tent erected in an open arena of his university campus, in which he lived for 12 days along with four of his comrades after having been expelled from the hostel, and their struggle for self-respect that outlives him. It is depicted by his stinging letter of December 18 to the vice chancellor of the university, his lament to his friends that he did not have any money to treat them on his 27th birthday, which was a few days away, never to dawn, and his last call to his mother, which was ominously cut by him abruptly. This is enough to tear the veils, expose the murderous situation and possibly the murderers.

The details of the case are by now in the public domain. The alleged assault on one Nandanam Susheel Kumar, the president of the HCU unit of the ABVP, for which the five Dalit students, including Rohith, were punished, was never established. Rather, all the official inquiries, doctor’s testimony and the witnesses confirmed that it did not take place. Still, the Dalit students were punished. The curious flip-flop of the university administration that followed clearly indicates the full play of caste prejudices and the influence of extraneous forces, apart from the utter ineptitude of the administration.

The big twist to the incident came from a letter written by Bandaru Dattatreya, the minister of state for labour and employment in the Narendra Modi government, to Human Resource Development (HRD) Minister Smriti Irani, branding the HCU as “a den of casteist, extremist and anti-national politics” and demanding necessary action. In support, he wrote that the Ambedkar Students’ Association had protested against the hanging of Yakub Memon. The office of Irani, the controversial HRD minister, who perhaps assumed HRD to be “Hindutva resource development”, suggestively wrote to the VC as it did in response to an anonymous complaint against the Ambedkar Periyar Study Circle (APSC) at IIT Madras, which had led to its ban, triggering nationwide outrage. The manner in which it was followed up by as many as four letters from under secretary to joint secretary indicates the amount of pressure exerted on the VC for taking action against the students. It is this express support from the minister to the inherently casteist administration that led to the punishment, which was no less than capital punishment in the university context. How on earth can research scholars possibly exist without accessing hostels, administrative buildings, public places or talking to their fellow students? It did mean death to them as research scholars.

After their expulsion, the students lived in the open in the biting cold of Hyderabad and still the VC did not realise the gravity of his misdeed. On December 18, Rohith had written a stinging letter to him, accusing him of taking an unusual personal interest in the clash between the Dalit students and the ABVP. He sarcastically hinted at the plight of Dalit students at the HCU, asking the VC to provide poison and a rope to all Dalit students at the time of admission, and also make available a facility for euthanasia for students like him. The letter was alarming enough for any responsible person to take serious note of the state of mind of the student, who was driven to his wits’ end on account of continuing harassment and penury, as his stipend, with which he partly supported his mother and younger brother back home in Guntur, was stopped in July.

Curiously, on the one hand, the government is going gaga with the extravagant observation of the 125th birth anniversary of Babasaheb Ambedkar in one-upmanship with the Congress to woo Dalit votes. On the other, it seeks to curb the radical voices of Dalits on what Ambedkar stood for. Ambedkar risked emphasising higher education over elementary education because he saw that only the former can create critical thinking in people and moral strength to stand up against the free play of caste prejudices of dominant elements. The government is crushing these potential torch-bearers of Ambedkar in every possible manner while singing paeans to him.

As dissenting Muslim youth are easily branded as terrorists the world-over, Dalit-Adivasi youth are being stamped as extremists, casteists and anti-nationals. Indian jails are filled with such innocent youth incarcerated for years under vague charges like sedition and unlawful activities, etc. The BJP’s aggressive drive to saffronise institutions, particularly higher education institutions, portends that many more Rohiths will follow in the coming years.

All those who have been mute spectators of these vile processes under way to decimate the pluralistic structure of our country and restore supremacist Brahmanic rule are responsible along with the dramatis personae directly involved in this case.

Teltumbde is a writer and civil rights activist with the Committee for Protection of Democratic Rights, Mumbai

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  1. J
    Jai Kumar
    Jan 26, 2016 at 7:03 pm
    We won't even let a person death go unpunished. Make as much political mileage out of as you can. Who says vultures are getting extinct in India. Additionally these people are doing to Hindus what English did to us divide and rule.
    Reply
    1. S
      Sivaraman.S
      Jan 26, 2016 at 5:09 pm
      Brahmins.
      Reply
      1. I
        Ill.em
        Jan 26, 2016 at 5:19 pm
        It is not without any reason that the adage says: "Find a brahmin and a snake? just leave the poor snake, it is not as poisonous as a brahmin and do what you would do for your survival"
        Reply
        1. N
          Nesha
          Jan 26, 2016 at 5:15 pm
          Even though brahmins have been quarantined(themselves) for 68 years, have you heared of any brahmin committing suicide. No, they won't because they are strong in their mind not to commit murder on themselves BUT ENSURE THAT ALL OTHERS INCLUDING HINDUS AND HINDUISM ARE SACRIFICED FOR THEIR NON-EXISTENT EGO.
          Reply
          1. B
            Brahmins.achievement
            Jan 26, 2016 at 5:45 pm
            Brahmins have been doing such soft murders for 3000 years. Nobody should forget C.P. Ramaswami Iyer who murdered 1000s of unarmed people in the Punnapra-Vayalar revolt. That brahmin connived with the British and on their orders macred 1000s.
            Reply
            1. E
              Eklavya
              Jan 26, 2016 at 8:38 am
              Kudos to Anand for exposing the Brahmanical forces underlying the dangerous and diabolical saffronization government. Ambedkar would have surely endorsed Rohit and his comrades for their brave struggle against the castiest RSS government. Eklavya
              Reply
              1. H
                Haradhan Mandal
                Jan 26, 2016 at 12:07 pm
                The real eye-openers are the comments from their core caste-base supporters. But heartening is the outpouring from the people in general from various cross-section of the society. Their 'supremacism' is much in their own imagination, much in their false dream about their 'past'. Many of their comments are very 'condescending' . And they resorted to all kinds of falsehood at different points of time - from (being a Dalit PHD Student of Life Science thru QUOTA ) 'unworthy' , 'undeserving', coming thru 'QUOTA' - to 'he is not DALIT, He is a BC'- SIMILARLY - 'terrorist ', 'ANTI-NATIONAL' to FINALLY a 'painful' admission that he is a 'Son of Bharat Matha'. They exposed themselves and none to blame for that.
                Reply
                1. J
                  Jim
                  Jan 26, 2016 at 12:06 pm
                  He was not a Dalit He was wasting tax payer money by pretending to a research student He couldnt handle the dirty political activities, got disillusioned and took his own life What is there for others to do? Maybe his ASA friends failed to take him for a psychiatric counselling, maybe they were no longer friends
                  Reply
                  1. I
                    IndianWellWisher
                    Jan 26, 2016 at 5:55 pm
                    If the status of SC/ST, dalits and OBCs are still as bad as claimed, why not remove reservations? Get rid of the word caste and religion from consution.
                    Reply
                    1. I
                      IndianWellWisher
                      Jan 26, 2016 at 6:01 pm
                      There are 110 million BJP members. How many brahmins are there in India? That should keep the author busy. If you are given the pen, write some sense, something constructive, not poke people in the eye.
                      Reply
                      1. S
                        Srividya Jayaraman
                        Jan 26, 2016 at 5:47 pm
                        Great reply to that shut that mouth of Meena.
                        Reply
                        1. M
                          Murali
                          Jan 26, 2016 at 11:24 am
                          He killed himself. There was no doubt about it. No one did any thing. Get it right. DO NOT waste TAX PAYERS MONEY by protesting and stopping other students from going to cles. ABVP is a legitimate students union and so is SFI. The standoff in which the weak accepted defeat. He is a weak person do not make a hero out of him
                          Reply
                          1. R
                            Raja
                            Jan 26, 2016 at 4:55 pm
                            Author is driven by pure political motives and is spewing paranoid venom. Author should try to integrate the society and not divide it.
                            Reply
                            1. R
                              Raja
                              Jan 26, 2016 at 6:35 pm
                              To Indian Express: Whsy are you helping spread venom in India's polity and society. The newspaper, it seems, is going rogue.
                              Reply
                              1. A
                                Aditya Gaiha
                                Jan 27, 2016 at 6:28 pm
                                The fact remains that his Rohith's death is a painful reminder of how dangerous politics is I educational insutions. Linking caste to discrimination cuts little ice in today' s age and time. There are umpteen examples of dalit and OBC success stories in business, politics and every field. India owing to its huge potion and limited development remains however a challenge for scripting success stories for anyone irrespective of caste or community. Let us also not use biased historical and social accounts of our antiquity to blame everything on caste and hinduism. The fact is caste was never a rigid binding on individual success stories. History tell us that there were Dalit emperor dynasties just as there were other castes who ruled the land at different points of time. Let us not mix issues with biased an outdated concepts and misdirected translations of ancient scriptures. No scripture or religion bars anyone from any profession or work...
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                                1. A
                                  ak dev
                                  Jan 26, 2016 at 12:13 pm
                                  Rohith's ociation with people having mindset similar to this author was responsible for his suicide. It seems Rohith didn't have friends who could have lifted his spirit to focus on his studies rather than play politics of hatred.
                                  Reply
                                  1. B
                                    Bhavadasan Veemboor Kadalayil
                                    Jan 27, 2016 at 2:15 am
                                    Rohith was not a Dalit. Still IE go on repeating the same to inject venom with bad intention. . The deleted part of his suicide note reveal who was responsible for the sad incident. “ASA, SFI, anything and everything exist for their own sake. Seldom the interest of a person and this organisation match. To get power, to become famous or to be important in between boundaries and to think we are up to changing the system. Very often we overestimate the acts and find solace in traits" Where was IE when 10 students, in the past , committed suicide? 1.Ashima dhavan 2006 2.Senthil kumar 2007 3.Keshava charry 2007 4.Balaraju 2008 5.Swathy Reddy 2010 6.Naresh Reddy 2011 7.Shoban Babu 2012 8.Mohini mishra 2013 9.Medari venkadesh 2014 10.Mallikarjun 2014 If IE believe that the readers are fools to believe paid ,DUMB HEADED media they are mistaken.
                                    Reply
                                    1. K
                                      Karunakaran
                                      Jan 26, 2016 at 1:54 am
                                      About 200 million Dalits will be voting against the BJP and the selfie-hunting joker at the next Lok Sabha elections in 2019. BJP was super lucky to receive 31% votes at the last Lok Sabha elections. At the next Lok Sabha election, BJP cannot get more than about 15% of the votes. No Muslim votes. No Dalit votes. No South India votes. No Delhi votes. No Bihar votes. And believe it or not, hardly any Gujarat votes! So get ready for Mr Nitish Kumar to be the next PM.
                                      Reply
                                      1. V
                                        Venkatraman Shenoy
                                        Jan 26, 2016 at 1:08 am
                                        This writer says "the facts" are in the public domain. What he hides, though, is the 'fact' that Rohit Vemula is NOT an SC and has falsely claimed the SC status, though he got his seat under merit category.
                                        Reply
                                        1. U
                                          uday
                                          Jan 28, 2016 at 12:57 pm
                                          Due to people like you (Politicians and Media). Many Incidents are happening. First you know what was happened completely and then write articles. Don't write with half knowledge. Don't create Instability in Government and in Society. Due to Media and Politicians Most of the people are leaving the country. Please don't do this kind of cheap tricks. If you know anything completely . Until that don't create Instability in society and Government.
                                          Reply
                                          1. D
                                            Datta Tembhekar
                                            Jan 26, 2016 at 8:54 am
                                            Waste of space. Why is Indian express lowering its standard? Nothing new in the article that has not been said hundred times. But I wonder how is it that HCU management acted against these so called Dalit scholars when nothing (like ault or fight) had happened on campus? Is the management so careless and foolish? I think it's time even Babasaheb Ambedkar would have demonstrated against reservations. Instead of Dalit upliftment, it has created more divisions. The system has created Brahmins (figuratively) within Dalits. What a pity!
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