Updated: January 21, 2016 12:38:31 pm
Dr. Ambedkar famously argued that a village was paradigmatic of the oppressive social system in India, because it represented “a kind of colonialism… (within which dominant castes)…exploit(ed) the Untouchables”. Even today, prejudice against dalits, minorities and tribals (among others) is learnt, taught and deliberately propagated across villages (as well as urban areas) throughout India which perpetually stunts the terms of engagement between low and high castes. The conduct of Hyderabad University’s administration and the Union government is reflective of this ugliness within, for not only have they acted like a kangaroo court, but also like a caste panchayat and reduced the “value of a man…to his immediate identity…to a thing”.
For any educational institution to summarily suspend students for expressing their views (even if they were on Yakub Menon or Muzaffarnagar) is against the very concept of a free and open dialectic, which arguably is the most effective mechanism for learning (or unlearning, as the case may be). In fact, the only aim of the original Platonic Academy (arguably the first model for the modern university system) was to establish truth from reasoned arguments (through a healthy discourse between people holding conflicting views).
In stark contrast, the Hyderabad University’s administration acted in an extremely authoritarian manner, and not only murdered the penultimate goal of an educational institution, but also did grave injustice to its own motto of sā vidya ya vimuktate (Education Results in Liberation). Even if Rohith Vemula was making anti-national and fundamentalist statements (as the BJP has claimed to obfuscate its murky role in the matter), why did the university suspend him? Ideally, if there was genuine wrong doing on Rohith’s part, the police and the judiciary would have been the right agencies to direct any complaints, not the university. The sole criterion for the university to gauge him would have been a) his behaviour on campus with fellow students and teachers and b) his academic track record. All evidence suggests that he was an exemplary student, and the university had no rationale for suspending him.
In fact, he was suspended only because the university buckled to sustained (and unwarranted) pressure from the NDA government. Reportedly, the proctorial board had let off the five students of the Ambedkar Students’ Association (ASA) and Mr. Susheel Kumar (the ABVP activist engaged in the altercation with ASA) with a stern warning. However, the proctorial board abruptly changed its stand and suspended only the five ASA students. It is noteworthy that the university consciously did not take any action against the ABVP activist who not only posted incendiary remarks on social media (which is a statutory offence as per the SC/ST Prevention of Atrocities Act) but who chose to lodge a fabricated complaint with the police. It has now emerged that he was admitted in hospital for appendicitis, and not for suffering injuries from an assault!
If the university authorities genuinely felt that the ASA students deserved to be suspended and their research stipends withheld merely for raising their voice in a peaceful manner against something that hurt their beliefs (something which mind you, right wing activists have killed for in Dadri etc.), why didn’t they also suspend Mr. Kumar who posted an extremely inflammatory statement first? Was this inaction because Mr. Kumar is from the ABVP, or because his family members are senior leaders in the BJP, or because two Union ministers intervened on his behalf or because he is from an upper caste? Or is it all of the above? Given the sociological reality of castes and casteism in India, the university’s selective targeting of the ASA students is especially problematic. Instead of handling this issue in an even handed and sensitive manner, the University acted by the same regressive laws with which a caste panchayat metes out (in) justice.
This brings us to the other equally objectionable issue in this horrific episode. What business did the HRD Minister and the Labour Minister have in interfering in the internal affairs of an educational institution? The intrusion by Bandaru Dattatreya and Smriti Irani (at the behest of a student activist, no less) was clearly an unjustified diktat. Does the job description of NDA’s union ministers include interfering in an altercation between students in an educational institution? To all those bhakts who have viciously attacked anyone protesting this dastardly intrusion, this is not an isolated incident. Earlier, Irani’s ministry clamped down on the Ambedkar Periyar Study Circle at IIT Madras (again only for expressing their views). Similarly, the RSS’ Panchajanya has attacked JNU for being an ‘anti-national den’ while various BJP governments have set the police loose on students from FTII, and in Delhi for raising their voices against unjust policies. The BJP has evidently been cracking down in a concerted manner against anyone who speaks their mind, and dissents from what its ideological imperatives are.
Even the BJP’s response to Rohith’s suicide has been shockingly petty and insensitive. In attempting to tarnish his image, they have released videos showing Rohith expressing views contrary to the BJP’s, to not only justify their completely unacceptable role in this episode, but also the trajectory of events (including his unfortunate suicide). How can anyone (let alone a party in government) stoop to this level? And more importantly, as pointed out earlier, isn’t the purpose of our education system to produce aware, thinking and conscientious minds? If so, that Rohith was questioning the beef bans, the death penalty in India and communal violence is evidence of all those qualities, and he needed to be celebrated! India has lost a fine mind, and the sad reality is that the BJP doesn’t even understand this.
What the BJP forced the Hyderabad University administration to do (and which the university so spinelessly succumbed to) was nothing short of government sponsored social terrorism. No matter what Rohith Vemula said or believed in, he should not have been penalised for his views. Every citizen has the constitutionally guaranteed right to free speech, and Rohith was well within his rights to question the state for its decisions. He was not crossing the constitutionally mandated lakshman rekha on free speech and he did not take the law into his hands. It is high time that the BJP inculcate the idea, however antithetical it may be to their very being, that they need to not just endure conflicting views and ways of life, but also celebrate them. It is only then that the promise of this country will be accorded to all Indians, regardless of their caste or ideological inclination.
📣 The Indian Express is now on Telegram. Click here to join our channel (@indianexpress) and stay updated with the latest headlines
- The Indian Express website has been rated GREEN for its credibility and trustworthiness by Newsguard, a global service that rates news sources for their journalistic standards.