Who wants to break this unity?
Massive protests are going on nationwide against the institutional murder of Rohith Vemula, a Dalit research scholar and a great political being from the Central University of Hyderabad. These protests are not for a single student or against a single incident. They are against a system, which has been tactically killing Dalit and marginalised students in the university systems in India. Right from the very start, these systems were inaccessible to a majority of students from the oppressed communities; now, in an era where the number of universities and colleges are rising and more students are coming into them, the effort is to find various ways to preserve the ‘purity’ of the Brahminical academia. This agenda of the oppressors is strongly backed by the current government at the centre, led by the biggest Brahminical party in India.
The incidents that lead to Rohith’s death date back to the days he decided to become active in campus politics. A Dalit student who is ideologically Marxist and fluent in language is an immediate threat to the ABVP. During the Vignesh Chathurthi of 2014, Rohith posted a poem by the Telugu revolutionary poet Sri Sri on Facebook, mocking the Brahminical nature of such celebrations. Nandanam Vishnu Dutt, a BJYM leader from Lingampally and brother of Nandanam Susheel Kumar, filed a case against this Facebook post. That evening, the police took away Rohith for questioning; he was later released after his comrades protested at the police station.
A few months later, a photo was posted on Facebook along with allegations that Rohith had torn ABVP banners. Rohith posted a clarification note on Facebook describing the actual sequence of events where he was surrounded and abused by the ABVP members. The most recent row, which culminated in a false case against five Dalit scholars including Rohith, was similarly bogus. Even the Hyderabad Police Commissioner had stated in an affidavit that the case was cooked up and the alleged assault or attack did not take place.
The incidents that lead to Rohith’s death date back to the days he decided to become active in campus politics. A Dalit student who is ideologically Marxist and fluent in language is an immediate threat to the ABVP. During the Vignesh Chathurthi of 2014, Rohith posted a poem by the Telugu revolutionary poet Sri Sri on Facebook, mocking the Brahminical nature of such celebrations.
After two weeks of this affidavit, the university administration and executive council decided to expel the five students without considering any proof or evidence presented by them. For this purpose, they found a suitable Proctor – Alok Pandey – who is an RSS pracharak on the social media. The pressure from the MHRD, the local MLC Ramachandra Rao and the central minister Bandaru Dattatreya was also clearly visible. Despite this clear and evident meddling, the MHRD minister Smriti Irani now shamelessly claims that her government cannot interfere in the ‘autonomy’ of a Central University.
It is not for the first time that UoH is bending over backwards to keep the BJP placated. One year ago, during Sukoon, the annual cultural fest in UoH, an ABVP leader broke a wall of the Men’s Hostel–H. After a long protest by the SFI, the administration released the expulsion order. But miraculously, after one week, the punishment was diluted to just a hostel rustication. It appeared clear that pressure from MHRD played a role there too. By then, it had become obvious that the MHRD and the central government were willing to go to any extent to save the ABVP cadre, who on their behalf were instigating religious and fundamental politics all over India at the cost of the lives of the marginalized and the minorities. In fact, it is known that the BJP’s very ascendancy to power has been paved by bloodshed, riots and massacres. And it is Rohith’s speaking out against one such communal riot - which broke out in Muzzafarnagar, UP, in the run up to the 2014 elections - that led to the events that culminated in his death.
So, it is clear to us that the prolonged torture by the state (through the university administration) and the Sangh’s fundamental politics were the factors that led to the circumstances leading up to Rohith taking his life. This is the reason why we are seeing an unparalleled united student movement today so that these kinds of institutional murders can be prevented. The unprecedented solidarity across student movements that we are witnessing today must be seen in this context.
This post is also a clarification to an article published by Hindustan Times on January 22, titled “Lal Salaam to Jai Bhim: Why Rohith Vemula Left Indian Marxists” written by Jashwanth Jessie. The article says:
“His disillusionment with the communists happened when he discovered that the boys and girls who had given up faith in god could not bring themselves up to abandon their faith in the caste system. He quit the SFI after he was discriminated for his caste by the so-called comrades who he hoped would deliver him and his people from this wretched social order. The treatment meted out to Rohith is public knowledge and even Dheeraj Paleri, the leader of SFI’s Hyderabad university wing, admits that he was ill-treated by a few cadre because of which he had to leave the organisation.”
Nowhere have I mentioned that Rohith faced caste discrimination in the SFI. What I had written in a Facebook post was that there was one individual in the organization who had issues with him, with me and with many of us for a variety of reasons. This person was a dominant leader, who many of us felt was autocratic. Owing to the dissent of many comrades, he was later expelled from the SFI state committee. This happened as part of routine organizational procedures within the SFI, which allows for dissent and scope for corrective measures.
"BJP’s very ascendancy to power has been paved by bloodshed, riots and massacres. And it is Rohith’s speaking out against one such communal riot - which broke out in Muzzafarnagar, UP, in the run up to the 2014 elections - that led to the events that culminated in his death."
The fact is that Rohith maintained very good relationship with all of us in the SFI even after he joined the Ambedkar Student's Association. Rohith was a sensible critic. He kept a critical position in all the organizations he worked with, a quality I believe is exemplary in an activist. He studied and applied dialectics in his world view.
I suspect that the intention of Jashwant Jessie's article is to keep the SFI and ASA-HCU at two poles. The two organizations have contested and won in UoH students’ Union elections three times in alliance, and such an alliance is possible in the future too. When Rohith left SFI, the President of SFI-HCU was a Dalit and one of Rohith’s close friends. There have been healthy debates between the SFI and ASA, and it would not be apt to see the two as political enemies. Both organizations, however, do have a common political enemy: the ABVP. The two organisations together have played an important role in ending the decades’ long ABVP rule in UoH. Both organisations have found themselves at the receiving end of the ABVP’s vicious attacks, including physical attacks on its members.
From the very beginning of this protest, SFI has supported ASA and has been a part of the protest to revoke the suspension. The day after the first incident (August 3, 2014) the police picked up the then Union President Vincent Benny, former president Dontha Prashanth and ASA leader Ashok in connection with the fake complaint booked by ABVP leader Susheel Kumar. SFI was part of the protest demanding the immediate release of the leaders, when students occupied the VC’s chamber. The Joint Action Committee for Social Justice -UoH formed by fourteen organizations in the campus to revoke the illegitimate action against five Dalit scholars includes active members from SFI too, including the present students Union President Zuhail KP. SFI had won the last election in alliance with Tribal Students Forum and Dalit Students Union.
Having laid out the role and actions of the SFI in the events that have unfolded at the UoH, I come back to the Hindustan Times article, which makes false claims on why Rohith Vemula left the SFI; it is on this basis that the article goes on to make larger claims on the position of the Left vis-a-vis caste. I am curious to know the intent behind such an article. This comes at a crucial juncture, when a plethora of progressive forces are coming together to demand justice for Rohith. As a part of this movement, I wonder whether such discussions can lead us anywhere in what I see as a battle against the institutional murder of marginalized students in our campuses.
Jai Bhim Lal Salaam
(PS: Originally sent to Hindustan Times in reply)