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The Suicide of a Hero

M C Raj

The suicide of Rohit Vemula has stirred the nation’s conscience and develop new paradigms of inclusive ‘development’. His suicide has brought a grim reminder to the rulers that they cannot develop India excluding Adijans (Dalits) from the portals of development. He has generated a new national discourse on the act of suicide forcing even the Prime Minister to call this as a loss to Mother India. However political this statement may be, that the PM has been compelled to make such a public statement speaks of the level of protest and new assertion on the part of the Adijans in India. I must confess that I know Rohit personally. During my visit to Hyderabad University a few years ago to address the Ambedkar Students Association that was still in the offing, Rohit was one of the young students who was in the leadership along with my friend Prem to make arrangements for my lecture. I do not dare to delve deep into the psyche of Rohit and imagine what would have gone on in his mind paving the path to his ultimate decision to kill himself.

That it is his decision is what has brought the Adijan politics in India live in an unprecedented manner. Even those who generally condemn suicide as a cowardly act are compelled now to sit back and re-examine their assumptions. Thus, Rohit is maintaining his role alive even after death. His role was to challenge the oppressive system of which he had become an ultimate victim and he is still challenging conventional assumptions. Only some in history can do this.

He remains a living challenge to the caste system and its agents in India who have ‘developed’ a sickening hatred to Adijans. Such an attitude is deeply ensconced in the systems of education in India. But then this is nothing new to a country that has a myth of their prime role model, Rama, chopping off the head of Shambuka, a Shudra, only because he dared to be educated. The caste forces in India would wish much that the rest of the world believed that caste discrimination is their past glory. Rohit’s ‘institutional murder’, as my friends call it, has brought to the fore very powerfully that caste discrimination is alive and kicking in India.

This suicide has reasserted what Manmohan Singh said immediately after assuming the office the PM that caste discrimination was worse than the Apartheid in South Africa. In his death, Rohit has become alive to remind the international community all over the world that it has a prime responsibility to abolish all such bigotry, intolerance and apartheid in India.

India has the queer ploy of escaping into legalism when issues of discrimination are raised in the UN and other International forums. It takes shelter under the easy excuse of enactment of laws. Rohit’s suicide is reminding the world alive that the recent enactment of the SC/ST Prevention of Atrocities Act of 2015 replacing the same Act of 1989 can only be a farce. The agents of implementation of such laws are the same who want caste discrimination to continue and actively exercise caste discrimination in the institutions to which they belong.

Rohit is a victim of such institutions and their agents. That this country will take a long time to come to its senses is evident from the way Manusmriti Irani went about legitimizing the illegal steps of the immoral VC and Hostel Warden of the Hyderabad University. It is the strange combination that Rohit has brought to light in his suicide that the illegal and the immoral dwell together when it comes to caste in India. What belongs to the so-called legal institutions also belong to the immoral upholders of caste. This makes it impossible for international communities to understand the quagmire of caste in India. Even if they understand, it is not possible for them to act as they have no time and power to extricate the illegal from the immoral.

In his suicide, Rohit has brought alive the dormant upsurge among the Adijans and their supporters that waited for such a ‘chance’ to come out. This is one of the greatest achievements of this hero that his death brought alive the latent strength of the student community. Their protests have made him become the son of Mother India in his death from being an ‘antinational’ when he was alive. If Adijan leadership goes into a snooze from here, as it usually does, it will not be able to sustain the tempo of being the sons of Mother India. It should continuously keep the rulers on their toe without waiting for the murder or suicide of another Rohit.

This will demand development of new discourses from where Rohit has left. Rohit has withdrawn from life. It’s a grim reminder to the living Adijans that reacting to the system is not adequate. Rohit has explicitly state that he wants to reach the stars. There is a deeper meaning to this statement than meets the eyes. It has something to do with indigenous cultures all over the world. New Adijan discourses have to be developed not as a reaction to anything but as spontaneous eruptions of the history and culture of Adijans. It will mean development of new philosophical paradigms. It will mean delving deep into the cultural intricacies of the Adijans and posing them as meaningful alternatives to caste system. This is what research is all about.

Such research will not be effective if they are done within the premises and parameters of the institutions that uphold caste system. The arena of battle has to shift to demanding Adijan Research institutions to he headed and guided by Adijans. Such a step would be a fitting tribute to the research scholar who could not be a living witness to the utter uselessness of caste institutions and of the Brahminic education system in India. His suicide will serve as a living reminder that Adijans should take a new institutional path. When this is done they will become not just ‘Mother India’s sons’ but will be worthy children of their ancestors who are perched as starts in the limitless sky.