Condemning Caste Discrimination in Higher Education Centres that led to Rohith’s Untimely Death
Students of Delhi School of Economics, Delhi University
We, the students of Delhi School of Economics organised a protest meeting in solidarity with the Joint Action Committee for Social Justice, University of Hyderabad. It was joined in by students from other departments of the university as well.
The discussion revolved around the presence of caste based discrimination within university campuses and the deadly silence on the matter. It was recognised that Rohith’s investment in progressive politics was crucial in him and others in Ambedkar Students Association being victimised. And the present gathering affirmed its investment in that politics and striving for the kind of change Rohith also aspired for.
We resolved to continue our struggle against saffronisation of campuses and the communal, caste-ist and misogynist core of this political project. We extended our solidarity to the struggles of all marginalised groups and recognised all these struggles to be interlinked. A passage from DR B R Ambedkar’s ‘Annihilation of Caste’ was read out to conclude the event.
We also reaffirmed this statement:
The suicide of Rohith Vemula, a young research scholar in the University of Hyderabad, has caused the spilling over of questions that have been simmering for a long time. It has shown the failure of our institutions in addressing systems of social power and inequality; in fact what is out in the open is the way in which these institutions themselves operate and build upon these systems. Related to this is the question of how individuals within these institutions experience these inequalities: some benefitting from them and others suffering within them. In supposed democratic institutions, like universities, where individuals are ideally brought together as equals to pursue higher goals of learning and knowledge, we are in fact divided and placed in hierarchies by imaginary lines of caste, gender, ‘merit’, etc which are all too real and powerful.
Rohith’s suicide is the most recent in the shameful list of suicides by Dalit students in institutions of higher education (it is estimated that 18 Dalit students killed themselves between 2007-2011). While many in the university have never known the feeling of being discriminated against or excluded, for many others it is what shapes their experience of the university. Rohith’s suicide raises questions for all us because we continue to live in and reproduce conditions that made living unbearable for him. While it is unwarranted to claim to know or judge the reasons for someone ending her/ his life, the atmosphere at the University of Hyderabad preceding his death points to an institutionalised targeting of him and his friends. Rohith’s scholarship had been blocked for months when he and his friends were suspended by the university on trumped up charges of assault. Denied entry into public spaces in the university, forced to vacate their hostel rooms, faced with an institutional boycott: they were not being punished so much as they were being ‘taught a lesson’. This aggressive stance of the administration reflects exclusion and boycott which are essential to the way caste is practised in the most regressive of social setups- the exact opposite of universities!
In excluding these students, the university administration and certain political outfits proclaimed them to be ‘anti-national’ because of their political activism. And after Rohith’s death, the same set of administrators and political figures are oscillating between ‘feeling the pain’ to questioning whether he actually was Dalit! Ranged against these desperate attempts at damage control by university administration and the government is a tide which has been building up for far too long –Rohith Vemula was a part of it. If there is anything we know about him, it is the deep and powerful critique he had of the Hindu nationalist ideology, communalism and casteism that this government embodies.
While many have expressed their condemnation of the role of the University of Hyderabad administration and representatives of government, there is another kind of probing and questioning that we as university students need to do. Casteism exists not only in its most obvious appearances but also in its many silent, invisible and everyday forms. As a poet recently remarked, “The suicide of a Dalit student is not just an individual exit strategy, it is a shaming of society that has failed him or her”. As students inhabiting an academic as well as a social space, the experience of caste is reflected in what we read and research on, how we think of ‘merit’, where we stand on the question of reservations, who we make friends with, what we make of others’ backgrounds and if caste is even a question for us.
As a community of students, we are in the thick of a crucial churning. And we must collectively think and act upon it. The struggle being spearheaded by the All India Joint Action Committee for Social Justice must be made stronger against the tide of counter-revolution that is spreading around us. With this, the demands put forward by the committee are being reiterated here:
1. Punish the culprits under the SC/ ST atrocity act.
a. Bandaru Dattatreya, Union Cabinet Minister of State for Labour and Employment.
b. P. Appa Rao, Vice Chancellor (University of Hyderabad)
c. Prof. Alok Pandey, Chief Proctor
d. Susheel Kumar, ABVP President
e. Ramchandra Rao, MLC
2. Remove P. Appa Rao from the post of Vice Chancellor.
3. Sack the MHRD minister Smriti Irani.
4. Introduce and implement Rohith Act that provides legislative protection to students from marginalised communities in higher education.
5. University of Hyderabad administration must employ a family member of Rohith Vemula and give his family 50 lakhs as compensation.
6. Drop the false police cases filed on five Dalit research scholars immediately and unconditionally.