The ‘Indian’ universities and epistemic violence: Rohith’s Vemula’s institutional murder

Prasheel Anand Banpur

The author is a Research Scholar at Dept. of Communication. University of Hyderabad.

Rohit Vemula’s death is not just a sign of one person’s anguish at having been institutionally ostracized and resorting to what the dominant social order would call an extreme step. This is also symbolic of punishment meted out to curtail, pin down, and dissolve the growing assertions the oppressed have made to existing knowledge systems and the norms producing them. Behind this violence survives the grand Brahmanic design trying to promote a Karmic order through Dharmic rituals of passage – which is to decide the contours of an individual’s capacities based on their birth in a community. This parasitic design has its centres of militia when it comes to propagating ‘their order’ as ‘the order’ – the political system, the bureaucracy, the judiciary, and the primary and higher education systems. While tragic deaths of the oppressed are not uncommon in all these sectors, the Indian Universities top the list when it comes to scheming murderous plots against aspiring students from the Bahujan composite i.e. the Dalit, Adivasi, OBC, and Minority communities. Some reported figures and a glimpse of this phenomenon until 2011 can be found here and here.

The oppressed have for centuries shouldered this violence from the oppressive Castes who claim ownership over life, limb, and land. At times the oppressed had to surrender. Most times, they fought back and became martyrs of their communities. This has been the untold history of the Bahujans; a history of injustice; a history of struggle! For centuries these assertions where embodied in various forms, and sometimes, by killing the self to symbolize their right over their body and loosen the oppressor’s control and tutelage.

In this journey from emaciation to emancipation education played a critical role for the oppressed in pursuing livelihoods that were deemed by Brahmanical agents as ‘unlike’ them. The oppressed pursued nevertheless, taking giant strides as they explored, challenged conventional and conservative ideas, and produced new knowledge systems not just for them, but even for the oppressors. The most scientific, social, and just ideas of cohabitation and cooperation have emerged from the Bahujans’ experience and teleology. While the Brahmanic is meant to oppress the Bahujan is meant to liberate.

Recall the Phules, who resisted the feudal Hindu order and pursued their journey towards achieving a just social order through their writings. Recall Ambedkar, the most erudite scholar whose thirst for new knowledge was unparalleled. And his life and writings, most incisive and irreplaceable! It is his writings which have brought about an immense change in the way the oppressed have asserted themselves in the past and continue to do so even more consistently. Over the last two decades Dalit students across the country have organized themselves with a Phule-Ambedkarite ideology and have made significant advances in resisting casteist institutional structures while addressing larger concerns that have emerged from Brahmanic myth making about the country and its people.

Recall Rohit Vemula, two-time fellowship awardee from UGC and CSIR, the brilliant scholar who ‘loved Science’ and was working for his PhD from the Centre for Science & Technology Studies at the University of Hyderabad. The difference his doctoral thesis and further intellectual pursuits would have made has now been turned to ash.