Student at Symbiosis School of Liberal Arts, Pune
20 June 2016, CST, Mumbai : Attending this protest meet made me think of a beloved professor’s comment: a student must be able to look at the world and recognize the inertia present between the two imbalances of theory and reality. Vemula’s institutional murder sent brief yet powerful shudders across the university space. The imperceptible caste-based discrimination that even so, jarringly stares us in the face was given a new symbol- a visual manifestation that lay bare the horrors of a system of divinely ordained oppression. Not that we haven’t seen other victims of a society conditioned by a Brahminical morality that expressed an alarming disinterest in the cases of Delta Meghwal and Jisha.
The institutional murder of Rohith Vemula exposed the strange (yet predictable) allegiance that the Human & Resource Development ministry pays to the Akhil Bharitya Vidyarthi Parishad. The student wing belongs to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, the ideological parent of the Bhartiya Janta Party that is devoted to the cause of establishing a Hindu India. The protest comes in five months after the suicide, a few days after TSR Subramanian panel’s report wishing to do away with campus politics was released, one day after the suspension of Dr. KY Ratnam and Dr. Tataghata Sengupta was revoked, and a few days after the junior HRD minister Ram Shanker Katheira pompously proclaims that saffronisation of education will happen for the betterment of the nation. It is surely worth looking into what the state considers will aid the betterment of the nation and what it believes will be detrimental for the same.
A student association that speaks against the death penalty of Yakub Menon and wishes to screen a documentary on the Muzaffarnagar riots is harmful to the project of nation-building. Scheduled caste students demanding an apology from the ABVP president for posting defamatory comments on a social media platform is clearly unfavorable to the nation. For on pursuing said apology, the students will be labeled anti-national and found to have abused and manhandled said president by a curious committee that notices physical assault after a security officer who witnessed the incident states that there was no use of force. Furthermore, they will be expelled and deprived of hostel and mess facilities and lose their sole source of earning. There will be no action taken against the man who posted the defamatory comments as BJP ministers will go on to sit on a dharna for him. The HRD minister will ultimately shed tears over the politicization of the university space and a student whose body was intentionally not taken to the hospital to raise controversy.
When student protesters point a finger at the Vice Chancellor who loyally followed the HRD ministry’s orders, they will be jailed and beaten. And when professors attempt to stop the police from beating the students, they will be jailed too. The Vice Chancellor will follow instructions and suspend the aforementioned professors only to revoke the order after the professors, like Vemula raise their voice.
Perhaps, we should turn our eyes towards another famous anti-national who dared to criticize the Indian National Movement and upon meeting the Mahatma even proclaimed that “Gandhiji, I have no Homeland. No Dalit worth the name will be proud of this land”. Babasheb revealed how the imagination of India as a nation was an exclusive entity that had no place for the depressed classes from the Independence movement itself. Yet, he relentlessly worked to make a place for the impure, lesser humans that were born into the lower positions of the hierarchy because of their past deeds. It is no surprise that Rohith would later ask the Vice Chancellor to provide Dalit students with a rope or poison when they wish to read Ambedkar.
All of this has been noted, written, and spoken about time and again. The protests however, refuse to fizzle out. My view to the student protests that have taken over the university space has been primarily through the virtual domain. Consequently, when I found myself witnessing the protests before my eyes and hearing impassioned activists and students raising their voice against brahmanvad, manuvad, ABVP, fascism, and the attack on universities, I felt with a great sense of déjà vu that I was inside a YouTube video. The event was also the first time I saw a gathering of police officers staring at the protesters. A constable was recording the entire protest on a handycam (perhaps to submit as evidence in case of police intervention). The protesters could not secure permission for the event as the state has time and again proudly communicated its fear over dissent and freedom of expression.
As a student of sociology of inequality, I have studied how the largest democracy in the world that constitutionally works on the principles of liberty, fraternity, and equality has a social environment conditioned by caste barriers that seek to perpetuate social exclusion. Student protests raising demands for social justice in the institutional murder of Rohith Vemula correctly identify the inertia between the two imbalances of theory and reality. They raise their voice to ask questions about the curious nature of their surroundings and perhaps it is these questions that are the most detrimental to the progress of the nation.