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Ram Puniyani | 29 JANUARY, 2016

Rohith Vemula: Of Hindutva Politics and the Dalit Question Today

Widespread protests by students


The death of Rohith Vemula’s death is primarily because he was a Dalit and an active member of the Ambedkar Students Association (ASA).

The ABVP, which nationally has become hyperactive since the Modi government came to power (May 2014) opposed all these issues as part of their Hindu nationalist agenda. The freedom of expression in the academic campuses is very basic in a democratic society. ABVP, the student’s wing of RSS, could not digest the Dalit students taking up issues related to secularism and democracy.

The cause of Vemula’s death becomes clear in the light of the issues raised by ASA. Rohith’s own understanding on these issues becomes clear from his facebook posts on these issues. For instance on the beef issue he wrote, “Eating beef and celebrating beef eating is an act of solidarity with all those who are getting murdered on this reason nationwide. If we fail to see the fact that the BJP-RSS-VHP scheme of anti-beef campaign is essentially a tool to persecute Muslim minorities in this country, we would regret for being the mute spectators of another mass unrest in OUR COUNTRY. The whole cow myth is less anti-Dalit today and more of anti-Muslim propaganda.”

His understanding of the deeper democratic politics, not being restricted to so-called dalit issues is more than obvious here. The issues of marginalized sections- dalits, Adivasis, women and workers and religious minorities are deeply interwoven with each other. He was right, that today the issue of beef eating is raised to an emotive pitch mainly to intimidate and target the Muslim minorities, irrespective of the fact that other sections of society also consume it in good measure.

The issue of Muzzafarnagar film is also related to Muslim minorities at one level. At a deeper level it is a part of the larger communal politics, that is directed towards polarising religious communities and imposing nationalism which is against the concept of rights as such.

At yet another level Rohith Vemula’s participation in the protest to oppose the death penalty to terrorism accused Yakub Memon is more from the angle of humanism, opposition to death penalty as such. There is a global movement to oppose capital punishment, irrespective of the nature of the crime.It was not an act of supporting terrorism in any way.

Annoyed by these secular democratic human positions taken by ASA, ABVP did come to clash with ASA at the ideological level. ABVP president Susheel Kumar complained that he was beaten up. According to the first committee which investigated this alleged physical assault the complaint was baseless. With the change of Vice Chancellor the matters started changing. The pressure of BJP central minister B.Dattatreya backed up by the authority of MHRD minister Smriti Irani, Rohith and his four friends were penalized; their scholarship was stopped and they were evicted from hostel.

From his letter to the present Vice Chancellor (VC) asking for dalit students being given poison and a rope, what comes to surface is that the VC with his authoritarian anti dalit orientation, deliberately ignored the letter, leading to this tragedy. The response to Rohith’s death from the ruling dispensation has been very revealing of the politics which they espouse. Mr. Dattatreya, in tandem with the local ABVP, termed the ASA activities as being ‘den of casteist, extremists and anti-national politics’. MHRD minister true to her mindset asserted that it is not a dalit issue while some others doubted Rohith being a dalit, as his mother was a dalit but father was OBC. This was to undermine the intense injustices due to which Rohith had to take his life. A small video, trying to create a sensation, is being circulated on the social media. This video is trying to present Rohith as being a supporter of terrorists’.

In the TV debates the RSS-BJP spokespersons are coming down heavily on the anti national; casteist politics. To cap it all the timing and nature of expression from Prime Minister says it all. PM Modi who generally is a very vocal person; he does not keep quiet on issues which expose his agenda of Hindutva. His earlier being quiet for long on the lynching of Mohammad Akhlaq is a case in point. In Rohith’s case also after five days of being quiet, he artificially tried to present a tear jerker, ‘Ma Bharati has lost a son’, while his party men, cabinet colleague, had been running a campaign calling the student anti national. This was PM Modi’s way of putting under the carpet the underlying issue of anti dalit atrocities, the anti dalit stance of the University administration, BJP M.P. Mr. Dattatreya, MHRD ministry and ABVP whose joint actions has caused this death.

In a way the whole issue shows the dilemma of Hindutva politics. On the one hand it is intensifying the activities aimed at opposing secular values, intensifying intimidation of dalits-minorities and opposing the voices standing for democratic values. RSS combine organizations have got a shot in the arm under this government. We have earlier seen the role of the Central Government in unsuccessfully banning Ambedkar Periyar Study Circle in IIT Madras. In most of the academic campuses the communal student groups have become more assertive, knowing full well that the authorities in charge are either pro Hindutva or they will buckle under the pressure from the top to implement BJP agenda.

Pursuing campaigns for social justice is being opposed very strongly. In the same direction the RSS progeny Samajik Samrasta Manch is now very active. What is being said is that they don’t believe in caste, all castes are equal! What it means is that they want to overlook the caste issue as they want to retain caste hierarchy by using more subtle expressions.

The Prime Minster in his Ambedkar University address, before moistening his eyes, was lecturing the students that they should emulate Ambedkar who endured insults and humiliation without complaint. Similar thing was stated by Home Minister Rajnath Singh also. One recalls that Prof. Y. Sudharshan Rao who was earlier the Chairman of ICHR, appointed by this Government also defended caste hierarchy by saying that nobody complained against it. So on one side there is an attempt to appropriate Ambedkar as a Hindutva icon, and on the other the Hindutva agenda of preserving caste hierarchy is being rolled out through concrete interventions by different affiliates of Hindu nationalism.

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