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Here’s the smell of the blood still…

Here’s the smell of the blood still…

rohith vemula 1


Dr. N. Sukumar

Here’s the smell of the blood still; All the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand.1

On April 8, 1929, Bhagat Singh and B.K. Dutt threw a bomb in the Central Legislative Assembly “to make the deaf hear”2 as their leaflet described the reason for their act. The bomb, deliberately of low intensity, was thrown to protest the repressive Public Safety Bill and Trades Dispute Bill and the arrest of 31 labour leaders in March 1929. Rewind to 2015, the independent Indian State is willing to march step by step with the colonial state when it comes to the brutal repression of people’s rights. When Yakub Memon was executed on July 30, 2015, there were murmurs about a possible miscarriage of justice. The Ambedkar Students Association (ASA) in Hyderabad University took out a protest march against the judicial execution.

rohith vemula 1

In any ‘free’ country, protests symbolize a ‘healthy and functioning’ democracy, however under the current political dispensation, the message is bold and clear, ‘if you are not with us, you are against us‘. Like Bush Junior’s famous axis of evil, the list of anti-national elements is ever expanding- Dalits, Muslims, Christians, Maoists, Writers, RTI activists, beefeaters, anyone who voices a ‘different’ opinion. The public sphere is neatly demarcated by the Hindutva/nationalist ideologues who label anyone they dislike with opprobrious epithets, the most powerful being-anti-national. Once you are stuck with such a label, the fascists enjoy the power of judge, jury and executioner over the hapless targets.

The self-styled guardian of ‘national interests’ in many educational institutions is the ABVP, the student wing of the BJP. It’s a foregone conclusion that their natural enemies would be all the sections listed above who do not conform to their idea of a nation. The ASA and ABVP clashed in Hyderabad University after the protests against Yakub Memon’s judicial execution and the derogatory comments by the ABVP President.

As the ABVP can boast of support from their political masters, the sitting MP and Union Labour Minister, Bandaru Dattatreya shot off a letter to the MHRD Minister, Ms. Smriti Irani that Hyderabad University has become a den of anti-national elements. Based on just one letter, Madam Irani cracked the whip. One should recall that MHRD acted with alacrity when a similar complaint was lodged against the Ambedkar-Periyar Study Circle at IIT Chennai. It is bewildering that any discourse on Periyar or Ambedkar can constitute a national threat. Any idea that challenges the brahmanical hegemony and strives to construct a more egalitarian society is bound to be ‘dangerous’ and ‘anti-national’ for the Hindutva brigade.

To make matters worse for the ‘anti-national’ students of HCU was the appointment of Prof. Appa Rao as the Vice-Chancellor. The VCship was a reward for him as it was under his tenure as Chief Warden in 20023 that 10 Dalit students were rusticated from the campus. Hence, it is amply clear that he would please his casteist political bosses. For them, dalits should remain perpetual hewers of wood and drawers of water. Needless to say, five students of ASA were rusticated for indulging in a scuffle. When MHRD said jump, the HCU VC happily asked how high?

The five students were kicked out from their hostel rooms and spent 15 days near the shopping complex in a tent; after all there was no MP sympathetic enough to plead their case. The HCU administration formed a fact finding committee which gave very diverse reports and action was swiftly taken to punish the dalit students, while letting the other group escape any punishment. The dalit students had no political influence to plead their case apart from some sympathetic dalit teachers who sought to reason with the administration but to no avail. Interestingly, official positions like the Dean Students Welfare, Controller of Examinations, NSS Chief and Chief Warden of the Hostels are manned by amenable Dalits. These positions are directly related with students’ everyday concerns in the University. For them, the ‘chair’ is more important than safeguarding the self-respect of the students.

The brahmanical modus operandi works very smoothly: by presenting a ‘moderate’ face against the ‘dalit’ revolutionaries like Rohith Vemula, the brahmanical administration escapes any sense of responsibility for its sins of omission. If Bandaru Dattatreya and the VC represent the cultural fascists, how does one make sense of the deliberate betrayal of the dalit students by the stooges who represent the upper caste interests? Interestingly, even in 2002 when 10 Dalit students were rusticated from HCU, one of the concerned hostel wardens was a dalit who was appropriately awarded by his upper caste masters.The thundering silence of these collaborators and the so-called progressive liberal intellectuals speak volumes of the acquiescence of the current power structure.

Even in the past, dalit students have committed suicides in HCU and the fact finding committee reports are gathering dust in various offices. It just reflects that dalit lives are very cheap and easily dispensable. It causes immense shame that we are unable to protect the lives of the bright students of the marginalized groups who would be in the vanguard of social transformation. Rohith’s suicide note is a protest against the social hierarchy which sapped his intellectual growth and a plea for assistance from his fellow beings to actualize his sense of ‘freedom’. Unfortunately, his death will be in vain as MHRD and University committees will give reports, the ‘moderate’ office bearers will be adequately compensated and the story goes on from Senthil Kumar to Rohith. Not all the perfumes of Arabia can wash the blood stains of HCU. The real losers are his family which permanently lost a hope for a better future. 

In an ICSSR sponsored study (currently being conducted by the researcher) on Exclusion and Discrimination in Higher Learning Institutions in India of which HCU is one sample, the preliminary data reveals very disturbing information. The dalit student testimonies reflect a deep sense of fear, stigma and exclusion by the upper caste teachers, administrative officials and the peer group.

How does one make sense of the fact that the state is celebrating 125 years of Ambedkar’s birth anniversary and simultaneously targeting a student association which seeks to further his legacy? A saffronised Ambedkar is acceptable but not a revolutionary Ambedkar. Rohith’s saga reflects the chameleon character of the institution which requires a sanitized Ambedkar who is projected as an anti-Muslim, anti-communist, samriddhavadi (prosperous) Ambedkar, a social reformer of Hinduism. A saffron Ambedkar is being erected. It is our responsibility that we project what he actually was, a radical Ambedkar. Only a radical Ambedkar can give us mukti4 . As Rohith’s poignant letter to the VC wherein he pleads that it’s better to offer poison or ropes to dalit students to kill themselves as the institution will never protect their welfare is reminiscent of Ambedkar’s ideals, “Lost rights are never regained by appeals to the conscience of the usurpers, but by relentless struggle…. Goats are used for sacrificial offerings and not lions.”5

The fact finding committees will come up with innovative reasons for Rohiths’ suicide. One could locate his suicide as protest; however, it is extremely important to establish the ‘politics of presence’, which would ensure that subaltern bodies need not always dismember themselves when confronted by the Agraharas.



[1]. William Shakespeare (1564–1616). The Tragedy of Macbeth. The Harvard Classics. 1909–14., Act V, Scene 1,, accessed 18/1/2016, 10.30 pm.

[2].The Trial of Bhagat Singh,, accessed 18/1/2016 10.30 pm 

[3]. For details about the social capital represented by these students refer,, accessed 18/1/2016, 11. pm.

[4]., accessed 19/1/2016, 12.15 am

[5]., accessed 19/1/2016, 12.47am



Prof. N. Sukumar teaches Political Science at Delhi University. His email is