Being a caste conscious Dalit does not fare well into the Brahminical Hindu society. Carrying Ambedkar as a guiding principle costs your life. Rohith Vemula is the proof for caste bias in Indian society. It is evidence of an intolerant and emaciated non-human Indian mentality, a face-off for deniers of caste discrimination. Education as a modicum of liberation remains constrained as Brahminical adage goes with the horrid mentality of genuflection towards teachers who, revered as godlike characters, can decide the fate of students all through their life. In Hindu society replicas of Dronacharyas roam freely.
Rohith represents every Dalit student. His experiences of trauma and humiliation are not dissimilar to ours. He epitomises us in every way possible. Dalit students attending university-level education have confronted similar issues. Caste remains the order of the day.
Dalit students are unashamedly reduced to the pittance of reservation and scholarships. The experience of being a scholarship holder comes with no pride. So much so that, many Dalit students refrain from applying to avoid the casteist remarks hurled at them. Until it is really required, which it is for many of us, we don’t dare apply for one.
The process of getting a scholarship is rather pathetic too. It is beneath human dignity at each level of operation where a scholarship holder has to bear the terrorising gaze of the prejudiced casteist forces who hunger to wretch the Dalit’s existence. Besides, scholarships are not given in time and there are maleficent bureaucratic delays imposed by the agents of government. Along with this, the people in charge continue to invent ways to frustrate the students.
Dalit students live on the edge of rejection and acceptance, fear and accusation, care and ignorance, life and death. Never knowing what will fall into our basket that flows through arbitrary judgement of the privileged in power.
Antagonists argue that Dalits are now well off and that they do not deserve ‘lavish’ treatment from state coffers. They should dare go and see our shacks with rain running through the cracks. Rohith’s house represents that of any other aspiring Dalit scholars’. His mother working through home trying to make ends meet and the father toils away as a security guard at a private company.
The peer support one yearns for in the scholarly years is denied to a Dalit. Instead new plots are enforced to impose miseries on the psyche of the Dalit child forcing him to opt for self sacrifice as a last resort. Ostracisation and social boycott are among the few methods deployed to underestimate the development of a Dalit scholar. Dalit students time and again are constantly reminded of their inability — or ‘lack of merit’ — to be in the academic space and that their presence is due to the munificence and ill-spending of the government.
This pathological mindset has indeed transcended across isles and oceans wherever privileged castes have camped. I remember in the early months of my stay in the UK, fellow Indian students, after investigating into my caste, continued to passively aggravate and exclude me from social gatherings. Time and again they would argue about Dalits being freeloaders, snatching away their opportunities and enjoying over their hard paid taxes. What is more abysmal than thinking of a creative self being as a worthless naught even across the seven seas?
Caste Hindus must be reminded that Dalit and Tribal students come with zero and frequently indebted social, cultural and economic capital. Their birth amounts to free unpaid labour of the landowners across states. A Dalit child is imagined as a reservoir for the privileged caste’s profligacies.
To make something valuable out of a tamed body, Dalit students look up to Ambedkar and choose for higher education. Most of these are first generation educators. Their parents are distantly aware of their children’s educational progress. Even if they tried to understand they would have hard time in making sense of the complicated education their child is undertaking. After all it doctoral research. They are just proud that their efforts and immeasurable sacrifices are coming true.
The rubric of a Dalit scholar starts with limited familial academic guidance. Dalit parents who could not go to school to get matriculation cannot mentor their children like other parents. Dalit parents cannot comment on their drafts, suggest further readings and discuss critical pedagogy of new knowledge with their children. They cannot even pronounce the type of courses we are taking for our credits, let alone locate the city and understand complex university spaces. For Dalit parents, once their child has escaped the serfdom in villages and ghettos, the university opens up the path to emancipation.
Our parents cannot fathom the extent of the academic prowess we possess. My mom, for example, is not aware of Harvard. She enquired about it once, and later gave up due to the difficulty of pronouncing it.
If one reads this with a certain degree of culpability, then there would be a chance to discern how difficult it is to come out of the buried ground and aim for the summit. Rohith’s interest in global geo-politics, dissent against capital punishment, refusal of extrovert state interventionism, western imperialism, gendered politics, Zionist colonialism and massacre of Palestine, Carl Sagan, Hitchens, Rumi and idealized Ambedkarism informs location of Dalit identity in a planetary spatial justice struggle.
Rohith’s death has highlighted social injustices of Dalit students/scholars. It is an epochal moment where #DalitLivesMatter becomes a priority and #CasteMustFall reiterates our commitment to the Indian constitution which we rampantly quote. By the time this article was written, four Dalit atrocities were reported, including a nine-year-old Dalit child being thrown into a crusher in UP blasted my conscious. Casteist India is becoming for Dalits what Western Europe was for Jews during the great wars. It is the moment when the privileged recognises their fault and immediately start working towards fixing it. Structural and attitudinal change would augur the efforts in incorporating marginally ignored citizens of Indian habitus. Unequal control of a few privileged castes on every machinery of Indian society will be questioned and rebalancing of demographic representation will be called for. If not, civil unrest will meet India’s potentates. India as a nation will turn into ashes should the youth discover the covert injustice.
Rohith Vemula will inspire an Indian Spring. Jai Bhim!