Vemula: A tale of suppression and caste crucification
The story of Rohith Vemula is a chilling narrative that unfolds the passively aggressive caste system undergoing in our educational institutions hidden behind the carefully constructed facade of equality. Ironically enough, these are the same institutions that are entrusted with shaping the young minds with a sense of perception, to distinguish between the right and wrong as well as trotting the line between them with good judgement and a strong rationale. Rationality though, seems bleak when age-old ideologies appear rampant, creating an adept breeding ground for caste prejudice to creep in and dominate, resulting in an atmosphere of indifference in the education system.
A man of scientific temper and a poet by disposition, one may consider it Vemula’s childish folly to actually believe that the pangs of caste prejudice were past him when he left his residence behind at Savitribai Nagar in Guntur to earn a PhD seat (Science, Technology and Social Studies) in the University of Hyderabad. He had dreams of becoming a writer of Science, his inspiration being Carl Sagan, but at the end he was left with little to say.
“The value of a man was reduced to his immediate identity and nearest possibility. To a vote. To a thing…never as a mind”. It is deeply saddening that the only words the aspiring writer could write were on his suicide note. Starting from July 2015, he stopped receiving his fellowship of Rupees Twenty Five thousand per month from the University because of his association with the Ambedkar Students Association (ASA), which was raising their voice on certain issues.
On the 3 August, 2015 Rohith and four other students (Dontha Prashanth, Pedapudi Vijay Kumar, Sheshaiah Chemudugunta and Vepula Sunkanna) demonstrated against the death penalty for Yakub Memon, and condemned the ABVP attack on the screening of the documentary ‘Muzaffarnagar Baaqi Hai’ in Delhi University. In response, ABVP’s local leader Nandanam Susheel Kumar called them “goons,” and confronted Kumar in his hostel room. While, the ASA activists agree that Kumar might have been slapped a few times, and pushed around, the ABVP leader reiterates that he had been brutally attacked by a mob of twenty, which led to the triggering of his appendicitis. While my knowledge of the human biology, which stands rudimentary, finds this counter argument jocular it was the aftermath of this incident that set in motion a set of actions, which would end up resulting into the terrible aftermath of Vemula’s suicide.
The ABVP wrote a letter to Union Minister Bandaru Dattatreya, alleging that the ASA members were indulging in ‘casteist’ and ‘anti-national’ activities The letter was forwarded to Union HRD Minister Smriti Irani and, and then to the university’s Vice-Chancellor professor P. Appa Rao, after which Rohith Vemula and four other ASA-members were suspended and barred from entering their hostel, the mess, the administrative building and interactive freely with the faculty. It was more of a social boycott, ensuring the complete isolation and disdain from all directions.
Had the scuffle or clash in the dorm room at Hyderabad Central University been serious enough, police action, media coverage and expulsions would have followed in 48 hours. But defending the university’s belated action of suspending and expelling only one group of students, the NDA government has tied itself in knots.
As Rohith’s bright smiling face appears on various magazine covers while simultaneously being flashed on television screens, it won’t be long before the issue becomes a fertile ground to inculcate vote bank politics. It is a sad reality though, that the nation won’t be able to read its very own Carl Sagan.