I had always chosen to be a left liberal in my life. Never did I understand as to why, the Dalit political reading was so important in a nation, like India. And, like a majority of the left liberals, I believed, that discussing caste politics, would only lead to intensified classification of people and to the largest, a chaos. Now, being a little more politically aware, and better exposed to the atrocities faced by the Dalits in the nation, I think, it’s time for me to apologise, for being so naïve, all my life.
As I said, I had been exposed to many examples of Dalits being abused, especially in university spaces. My best friend, who happens to be an Assistant Professor in one of the very famous central universities in India, was harassed by a security officer of the campus, in the name of the scheduled caste he belongs to. Another friend of mine, was publicly called “karimbhootham”, which is a very derogatory and scornful term that can be roughly translated to a ghost/demon in black colour, just because she is dark skinned and hefty. I read about much more of such serious incidents, on social and personal media. The last and the most serious one among them, is the suicide (or murder?) of the Dalit research scholar Rohith Vemula, in the University of Hyderabad.
Though one could argue that it is a mere student – student, student – administration, party – party rivalry, I would say that the argument is a conscious/unconscious attempt to “underwrite and naturalise, by the ‘humanism’, that presents it as politically neutral”, as analysed by Susie Tharu and Tejaswini Niranjana, though in the context of gender analysis. In other words, it is an ignorance of the fact that social inequalities such as caste, class and community exist. Instead, those who experience it on daily basis are forced to bracket it and behave like they are equals. Anybody who questions this system, (which claims to consider everybody as human beings rather than their religious or socio-political identities) is mercilessly penalized (Senthil, Gokulraj and Rohit are examples).
What lead to the suicide of Rohith Vemula? Examining closely, I think, the answer lies in the fact that social inequalities do exist in India, in a very heinous form.
Firstly, Rohith lead a very sorrowful life, back home. He experienced caste discrimination, right from his own house. He, his brother and his mother, lived a very oppressed life, because his mother belonged to the “Mala” caste, which her family (the family that bought her from the migrant labourers working for the railways) hid from her husband, who belonged to a higher caste. When he came to know it, Rohith’s mother was beaten up terribly and made to do all the works in the house, just like a servant. Even her kids were not spared. They were also treated like servants. Rohith and his brother were ashamed to tell this to anyone. (Rohith Vemula An Unfinished Portrait, Hindustan Times)
The support that Appa Rao gets from the centre, which helped him come back to the University of Hyderabad and take charge as the Vice Chancellor again, is nothing but the result of the caste system prevalent in India, supported by a casteist majoritarian government
Secondly, Rohit’s financial condition was very bad. He managed it by doing part time jobs, until he started receiving stipend after he joined for PhD. His brother narrates a story of starving for five days without any money to buy food.
Thirdly, being a Dalit student, and being prey to discrimination(s) for a whole life time, he became part of a political organisation, that held ideologies which showed a specific understanding of caste discrimination issues. This political party, not having a parent political organization, wasn’t strong enough to fight back the majoritarian Hindutva politics prevalent in the University of Hyderabad. He was suspended by the University and barred from his hostel, as per the letter written by the BJP MP Bandaru Dattatreya to the MHRD minister Smriti Irani, picturing him and his fellows as anti-nationals. What made the MP do so was the letter written to him by the ABVP member Nandanam Susheel Kumar, who had a fight with them, calling them “goons” and “anti-nationals”, for raising their opinion against the death sentence of Yakub Memon and the screening of the documentary film, “Muzaffarnagar Baaqi Hai.” Rohith was denied his fellowship, right from the beginning of the issue in the campus, ie, from August, 2015.
Thus, without a place to stay, without money to live, without anybody to recommend for him and without any social support, but with plenty of humiliations, misery and injustice done to him, Rohith Vemula chose to die, rather than to live.
What interest has the BJP got, in the whole issue? There could be two. The BJP, that has its foundation in hard core Brahmanism, had always been unfair and ignorant to the Dalits. They had always tried to suppress them, because, the Dalits have lesser influence and space in the whole of the societal set up of the nation, when compared to the high caste hindus , who are more powerful and politically influential.
The other reason could be the emergence of Dalit politics in India, that has threatened the party’s way of functioning. Dalits were portrayed as “anti-nationals”, and obviously, they were anti-nationals in the sense that they fought the Sangh Parivar’s Brahmanical idea of Hindu Nation. These could be reasons why Appa Rao is more important to the BJP, than Rohit Vemula.
Appa Rao, hailing from the “Kamma” Community, is far more important to the BJP, than Rohit Vemula, hailing from the “Mala” community, in every sense.
The Kamma Community, is one of the most politically and economically dominant castes in the Telugu states of Andhra and Telangana. The Telugu Desam Party leader Nandamuri Taraka Rama Rao (popularly known as NTR), the Urban Development Minister Venkaiah Naidu and the present Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh, N. Chandrababu Naidu, belongs to the Kamma caste. Apart from this, people belonging to the community, now holds the top most positions in academic institutions. They include, National Academy of Research Management, National Institute of Agricultural Extention Management, Indian Institute of Rice Research, Central Research Institute of Dryland Agriculture and the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology and finally, the University of Hyderabad (Kammas rule the roost in educational institutes, allege activists, Indian Voice, Shiva Shankar). There had been allegations, that these appointments are political and caste-based.
With the most Influential politicians hailing from this community and BJP having an alliance with TDP, it is difficult for the party to be against Appa Rao and in support of Rohith Vemula.
However, when there exists a game of power between castes, in university spaces, it is obvious that this would extend to all the functions happening within that space and there would definitely be issues of caste discrimination, with the lower castes being suppressed the most.
The support that Appa Rao gets from the centre, which helped him come back to the University of Hyderabad and take charge as the Vice Chancellor again, is nothing but the result of the caste system prevalent in India, supported by a casteist majoritarian government. The schedule leaked, prior to Appa Rao’s joining back in the University of Huderabad (UoH), that specifies the duties of the staffs who support him and the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) members of the University, is the most important evidence of it.
(The author is a post graduate in Mass Communications and Journalism and currently a freelancer)