From Rohith Vemula to Najeeb: universities and structural violence against the oppressed

“5 Dalit students are “socially boycotted” from campus spaces. Donald Trump will be a lilliput in front of you. By seeing your commitment, I am tempted to give two suggestions as a token of banality.

1. Please serve 10mg Sodium Azide to all the Dalit students at the time of admission. With direction to use when they feel like reading Ambedkar.
2. Supply a nice rope to the rooms of all Dalit students from your companion, the great Chief Warden.
As we, the scholars, PhD students have already passed that stage and already members of Dalit Self-Respect movement unfortunately, we here are left with no easy exit, it seems.

Hence, I request your highness to make preparations for the facility “EUTHANASIA” for students like me. And I wish you and the campus rest in peace forever”. –

—wrote Rohith Vemula, exactly a year ago, to Appa Rao. But even this could not make Appa Rao take back the unjust, humiliating punishments that was inflicted on Rohith and four other dalit research scholars, all of whom are also activists of Ambedkar Students’ Association in the University of Hyderabad. The five socially boycotted research scholars were spending nights out in the cold, debarred from library, evicted from hostel, scholarships stalled– for the crime of being politically active students. Ambedkarite activists whorefused to suffer in silence and dared to raise their voice against the Brahmanical sanghi agenda, screened Muzzaffarnagar Baki hai as a protest against ABVP hooliganism in Delhi against the film; critiqued judicial murder of Yakub Memon; confronted Sushil Kumar, a known sanghi lumpen. These activities earned them the wrath of RSS and their puppets in the universities. Bandaru Dattatreya and Smriti Irani two central Ministers of NDA directly intervened to put pressure on the UoH VC to penalise these students. And what punishment other than the casteist social boycott is more effective for Dalits – the same “punishments” that the dominant castes and feudal forces inflict on Dalits across the country who dares to raise their voices, refuse to be submissive, weak recipients of this excruciatingly violent and discriminatory system.

A month later, Rohith was forced to end his life. The Appa Rao led UoH administration did not provide him the rope, but craftily created the context in which his institutional murder was executed. His last journey from the shadows to the stars was witnessed by the blue flag that bore his struggle for assertion and self-respect.This is the ruthlessness with which brahminism has operated for centuries. At times, it kills with direct spectacle of violence as in Bathani Tola, Laxmanpur Bathe, Khairlanji and Tsunduru. On other occasions, it creates the conditions in which death becomes the only option, for the oppressed.

Today, it is a year since Rohith wrote the above words. In another month, it will be a year since his institutional murder. In these days and months gone by, all progressive and democratic forces have been out on the streets demanding those responsible for Rohith’s death be brought to book. Also that the conditions that forced Rohith to end his life be changed. Across universities, the struggle for social justice and campus democracy has only intensified. But far from bringing Rohith’s killers to book, far from removing them from the posts they hold, far from enacting Rohith Act, what the students have got in return are lathis, water cannons, more police cases and an ever increasing hostility and counter-offensive of the Brahmanical Hindutva fascist ruling classes.

Rohith’s mother Radhika Vemula and her struggle in life has been repeatedly publicly humiliated by saying that she and her son are not Dalits. Roopanwal commission that was constituted by the MHRD in the aftermath of Rohith’s death pronounced an atrocious report that went far beyond the terms of its reference to once again give official legitimacy to the ruling class lie that Rohith was not a dalit. It brazenly justified all the actions of UoH VC and BJP leaders and went to the extent of once again personally attacking Radhika Vemula exemplifying its Brahmanical Patriarchal agenda.

In our university too, we have seen this counter-offensive of the BJP led NDA government going on relentlessly. Just around the time Rohith wrote the above words, the mouthpiece of the RSS had an entire cover story on JNU where much like the profiling of UoH, ASA and Rohith, JNU too was called a den of “anti-nationals and terrorists”. A couple of months later, the new VC Jagadesh Kumar was appointed to unleash in JNU the same process that took Rohith’s life in UoH. In this year gone by, there have been arrests, police raids, repeated administrative punishments on political activists, a racist dossier, criminalization of dissent, greater surveillance, attack on our democratic spaces and now the enforced disappearance of Najeeb Ahmed for more than two months.

The feudal lord that is Jagadesh Kumar at the same time has given complete impunity to his henchmen – ABVP lumpens – to go around terrorizing and unleashing violence on students coming from deprived backgrounds, oppressed castes and religious minorities.
The express agenda of the present government and its agents and henchmen in the universities by turning universities into war-zones is to brutally suppress all voices of protests, push out the students coming from oppressed backgrounds and make universities into Brahmanical Gurukuls. The process had started during the previous government itself which started it by opening up higher education to corporate sector. But what was business as usual for the previous government is also a deeply ideological project for the BJP led NDA government. These present day progeny of Manu despise the presence of students from oppressed backgrounds and religious minorities. The sheer presence of Dalits, muslims, adivasis, women, north-eastern and Kashmiri students destabilises their Brahmanical world-outlook. Far from being a “scuffle” as this casteist communal JNU administration is making it out to be, it is in this context that we need to see the attack on Najeeb Ahmed. Najeeb Ahmad, a Muslim student who had just joined the university, was made target of group violence, subjected to communal abuse and simply made to disappear. Najeeb could not even leave us a note. But his disappearance is a message that exceeds inflicting violence on an individual. It is a message to each and every Muslim student enrolled in universities, that they are vulnerable and not welcome in this domain of higher education, which is historically a fiefdom of dominant castes.

The attack on Najeeb was not the only incident where students coming from minority backgrounds or minority institutions were attacked. Just before 15th August, Jamia was subjected to a police raid supposedly as a “routine check”. It is not difficult to fathom the real intent behind it which once again was a clear message that institutions mostly attended by students from minority community are potential dens of “terrorists”. With the same logic AMU’s minority status was also attacked upon. The Sachar Committee report has already recognized the fact that socially and educationally Muslims are more backward than even the Dalits. The continuous persecution of Muslim students therefore is another effective means to ensure their further marginalisation. The criminalisation of Najeeb as an “accused” rather than recognizing the violence that was inflicted on him reeks of the silent criminal persecution of all Muslim students and even minority institutions like Jamia and AMU.

Ever since the disappearance of Najeeb, we have seen how his disappearance rather than being a matter of concern for the JNU administration has become a means to further its anti-student agenda. The same JNU administration which had suspended 8 students in February, without even hearing from them and then pronounced punishments ranging from rustications and exorbitant fines has in the case of Najeeb given complete protection to his assaulters from ABVP. After more than 50 days, it came out with its punishment for ABVP – hostel transfer and warning – making a mockery of any semblance of justice. At the same time, it has simultaneously begun the witch-hunt of 20 known left activists of this campus accusing them of being part of “illegal confinement” of the VC. The parking space around the Ad-Block has been grilled and if that was not enough, through notices erected around Ad-Block, Jagadesh Kumar led JNU administration has banned protests in and around Ad-Block.

The JNU VC is the new feudal landlord, encroaching and taking over public spaces. The same place in JNU which saw hundreds and thousands assembling again and again demanding Justice For Rohith, Justice for Najeeb and against countless injustices in the campus and the country has now been made out of bounds for the students of this campus.But the question that confronts us is that are we going to sit back and see the complete take over of our democratic spaces in front of our eyes. It has been almost a week since the grills were erected and the notices put up banning protests at Ad-Block but still our students’ union has not initiated a protest let alone a movement to fight it back. It is extremely unfortunate that despite repeated reminders from the student community, the JNUSU that was elected with the mandate to fight back such saffron-fascist attacks is displaying such a capitulationist approach.

We once again demand the students’ union to immediately lead a movement to fight back such a take-over of our spaces that are nothing but a desperate bid by the administration and the powers that be to break the solidarity and rage over its actions and inactions in the disappearance of Najeeb. The same has happened in University of Hyderabad which has been made out of bounds for activists from outside in to prevent the solidarity amongst students and democratic forces for Justice For Rohith. We cannot allow our universities to be turned into prison-houses and the cage erected by Jagadesh Kumar must fall through our collective fight back.

By punishing Rohith and pushing him to his death, Appa Rao-Smriti Irani-Modi wanted to make an example out of him. They wanted studentsto remember the wrath that can be unleashed on them if they speak out against injustice. An example, Rohith did become but one of a different kind. His life and his death has become an inspiration for all of us and we have kept him alive in our refusal to become cogs in the wheels of this Brahmanical system and struggles to democratise higher education and the society at large. Rohith emphasized that Dalits who are politically and socially conscious and are fighting for their self-respect, have no easy exit. Such is true for all students who are coming from marginalized and oppressed communities. This brahminical, casteist, communal, racist and patriarchal society lashes back at these aspirants of higher education with disdain, discrimination and even violence. Their sheer presence destabilises the status quo and their political activism seeks to break the same. Docile submission is the only form in which these students are acceptable. Politically active and assertive students from marginalized communities are seen as most ‘dangerous’ who need to be ‘cleansed’ and pushed out.

BASO in solidarity with the Rohith’s comrades is observing 18th December – the day Rohith wrote the first letter to Appa Rao – as a day of rage. A day when we don’t just remember his persecution, but also a day when we strengthen our resolve to fight against all injustices – most urgently right now the injustice meted out to Najeeb. Because to fight for #JusticeForRohith is to fight for #JusticeForNajeeb and vice versa. It is these struggles that will pave the way for the unity of the oppressed. We appeal to the students to join the effigy burning of Appa Rao-Jagadesh Kumar-RSS tonight at Sabarmati Dhaba at 9.30 pm in large numbers.

Bhagat Singh Ambedkar Students Organisation (BASO), Jawaharlal Nehru University. Pamphlet shared by Umar Khalid on his facebook page.




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