Rohith Vemula: Hindutva Politics and Dalit Question Today
The death of Rohith Vemula has been projected as suicide by some and murder by others, depending on their political orientation. Rohith’s being dalit and his participation in Ambedkar Students Association (ASA) and active contribution to this politically vibrant dalit group is the major cause of his death. Apart from issues directly related to dalits, this association did raise the issues related to democratic rights which are relevant today, like beef eating, opposition to death penalty; as was given to Mumbai blast accuses Yakub Memon and went on to screen the film Muzzafarnagar Baki hai. This film on Muzzafarnangar violence (2013) exposes the role of communal forces.
The ABVP, which nationally has become hyperactive since the Modi Sarkar came to power (May 2014) opposed all these issues as a 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 group 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 face book posts on these issues. For example let’s see what he wrote on beef issue, “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 is very right that today the issue of beef eating is raised on 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 Muzzafar nagar film is also related to Muslim minorities at one level. At deeper level it is a part of communal politics, which wants to polarize the community along religious lines to impose Hindu nationalism which is against the concept of rights as such. At yet another level his 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 the death penalty irrespective of the nature of crime and those with deeper humane values worldwide and in India do support the abolition of death penalty. 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 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.Dattatrey 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 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 Minster says it all. Mr. 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, have been calling him anti national. This was 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 Hidnutva politics. On 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. With Modi sarkar coming to power all the RSS combine organizations have got a shot in the arms. They are getting a strong political patronage to oppose other political tendencies. We have earlier seen the role of Central Government in unsuccessfully banning Ambedkar Periya 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 the campaigns for social justice is being opposed very strongly. In the same direction their; RSS progeny Samajik Samrasta Manch; is 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 in newer situation by using more subtle expressions. Those who want to eradicate a particular disease; first recognize it so that it can be dealt with, ignoring caste issues or keeping quiet about it means that they want the present caste equations to continue.
Mr. 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 Mr. Rajnath Singh also. One recalls that Prof. Y. Sudarshan 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 Hindutva icon, and on the other Hindutva agenda of preserving caste hierarchy is being rolled out through the concrete interventions by different affiliates of Hindu nationalism.