Dalit scholar’s suicide sparks protests

They condemned the role of BJP leaders and ABVP at UoH for their role in initiating the expulsion of the Dalit Scholars, which allegedly led to the suicide.

January 19, 2016 12:00 am | Updated September 23, 2016 01:26 am IST

he suicide of Rohith Vemula, a second year PhD student at University of Hyderabad (UoH), saw protests by students of the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) on Monday.

The incident comes in the wake of the suspension of five Dalit PhD scholars of the Amnbedkar Students’ Association (ASA) at UoH, including Vemula, in August 2015. The suspensions followed scuffle between Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) and ASA.

As soon as the news of the suicide reached TISS, students gathered to condemn the incident on Sunday night. On Monday morning, they sat in protest, raised slogans and banners against the UoH administration.

“This is not a suicide; it is institutional murder,” MPhil student Yashwant Zagade told The Hindu . “This is a new kind of atrocity and casteism against Dalit, Bahujan and Adivasi students. These students are democratising university spaces, but Brahminical hegemonistic forces cannot tolerate it. Caste is the only reason behind this incident.”

Students at TISS boycotted classes, fieldwork and other academic engagements for the day. In the evening, around 300 of them marched from the campus gate to Ambedkar Garden in Chembur, shouting slogans against what they termed as “Brahminical government and its structures”. They condemned the role of BJP leaders and ABVP at UoH for their role in initiating the expulsion of the Dalit Scholars, which allegedly led to the suicide.

A Joint Action Committee of students’ groups at TISS demanded that the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act be invoked in the case, and students who were detained by the police for protesting at UoH be released and the expulsion of the Dalit scholars be revoked. Following Vemula’s suicide, the Hyderabad Police have registered a case of abetment to suicide under the Atrocities Act.

A statement issued by TISS students said: “The tragic death is yet another reminder that the marginalised in this country will be hunted down and killed until there is none left. The incident shocks, grieves and angers us. It brings to the fore the malicious and casteist role played by the Hindutva brigade led by the ABVP and BJP MLC Ramchandra Rao, who termed Dalits as ‘anti-national’, as well as the complicity of UoH administration through their inept handling of the situation.”

Nilesh Kumar, a PhD scholar at TISS, said, “This suicide is a consciously done act. It was chosen as a form of protest. From my observations of cases of marginalised students, suicide is always the last means of protest. It is not an act of weakness or failure. It is the strongest form of protest. The only difference in this case is that external elements [reference to BJP’s Union minister of state Bandaru Dattatreya] were involved, whereas usually issues crop up between students and university administration.” He voiced concerns over the shrinking of space for democratic dissent.

Though Vemula’s suicide invoked swift reactions from the student community, many said the incident was one among a series of suicides among Dalit and Advasi students, and a sign of a larger malaise in higher education.

“There are atrocities in villages, but on campuses, new kind of exploitative measures are being rolled out. For example, the scrapping of the non-NET fellowship which will affect the marginalised students the most,” Zagade said.

“Rohith’s suicide is a shock, but it is not new,” said Ajinkya Chandanshive, an MPhil student at TISS. “The continuous manner in which marginalised students are being tortured, makes their suicides acts of murder.”

The current BJP-led government at the Centre has seen many a campus protests against their decisions. Students’ groups across India have been protesting against the UGC’s decision to discontinue the non-NET fellowship scheme.

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