The demise of Rohith Vemula and his poetic suicide note made history, and they continue to disturb our minds. As an Indian citizen, as a member of a Bahujan community, as a research student, I am obliged to express my deepest condolences over his demise and to protest against the university authorities and the state: both were equally responsible for the institutional murder of Rohith Vemula, who hanged himself in the university accommodation on the 17th of January 2016. This article does not seek to unequivocally explain Hindutva politics as the root cause behind Rohith’s suicide, considering the fact that Rohith’s case is nothing new: he is a victim of ongoing caste discrimination in the Indian universities in general and the Hyderabad Central University (HCU) in particular. Higher education centers in India were historically Brahminical, causing Dalit students to face ill-treatment, harassment and discrimination from tutors and fellow students (Rege, 2010). As per the report of Hindustan Times (2016), “Members of the Ambedkar Students Association (ASA) claim that as many as 12 students belonging to scheduled castes have ended their lives since the central university came into existence in the early 1970s, largely due to caste prejudices that many say are omnipresent”.
Rohith’s case is just one example of persistent caste discrimination since time-immemorial. However, the antecedents and aftermaths of Rohith’s institutional murder cannot be explored without taking into account his struggles against the politics of Hindutva. Rohith left us with many issues differently from the other cases of suicide: his explicit and radical reactions to Hindutva forces, imposition of Brahminical values and caste discrimination on the HCU campus; his pro-Muslim steps and alliance with Muslim organizations. These factors need to be critically discussed in connection with the antecedents and aftermaths of his institutional murder. The ministry under the BJP government tried its ‘best’ to force the university to take disciplinary measures against Rohith. The ministry now continues to obfuscate the actual socio-political causes of Rohith’s suicide, reducing them to individual levels. I am sure that no ministry will ever dare to perpetrate such violence in the same way as the BJP ministry, especially when dealing with sensitive issues like caste.
Cabinet Minister Smriti Irani sent five letters to the university demanding action against Rohith and his friends in response to cabinet minister Dattathreya’s request. Consequently, Rohith’s revoked suspension was reinstated, despite police withdrawal of charges against Rohith and Susheel Kumar’s allegations against Rohith were proved to be forged; Rohith and his friends were ‘socially boycotted’ from campus accommodation as part of the disciplinary action (see, NDTV, 2016; Vadiamani, 2016).
Having considered these facts, this article raisesthe following questions in three sub-sections: drawing on Ambedkar’s (1944) perspective of Hindu society as a myth; Durkheim’s (1979) interpretations of absence of crime as pathology, suicide as social phenomenon; and Freire’s (2000) theme of ‘banking education as patronization’ to get a richer perspective of the reality.
• To what extent are Rohith’s protests against the ‘Hindutva’ politics mutually related to the socio-political factors leading to his suicide?
• To what extent does Rohith’s suicide become a social and political act beyond an individual act?
• To what extent does Kerala’s media discussion about Rohith and caste-exclusion itself contribute to exclusionary spaces and patronizing interventions?
1. Rohith’s struggle against Hindutva and the state’s reactions
BJP leaders increasingly propagate a myth that Dalit politics intends to detach Dalits and Adivasis from the Hindu community. Although Dalit and Adivasi communities today officially form a part of the Hindu community, especially since independence, the historical formation of Hindu community needs to be critically understood in relation to Hindutva politics. In his famous speech ‘Annihilation of Caste’, Ambedkar (1944:25) states:
The first and foremost thing that must be recognized is that Hindu society is a myth. The name Hindu is itself a foreign name. It was given by the Mohammedans to the natives for the purpose of distinguishing themselves [from them]. It does not occur in any Sanskrit work prior to the Mohammedan invasion. They did not feel the necessity of a common name, because they had no conception of their having constituted a community. Hindu society as such does not exist. It is only a collection of castes. Each caste is conscious of its existence. Its survival is the be-all and end-all of its existence. Castes do not even form a federation. A caste has no feeling that it is affiliated to other castes, except when there is a Hindu-Muslim riot. On all other occasions each caste endeavours to segregate itself and to distinguish itself from other castes.
The social structure of ‘Hindu community’ should be understood differently to how we understand Islam or Christianity. This is because Indian society had been historically known as a collection of distinguishable castes, not as a religion. Bayly (1998) argues that when reformers began to use the word ‘Hindu’ to describe themselves and their organizations, it had less to do with religion and more to do with forging a unified political constitution out of a divided people. This explains the reformers’ constant references to the ‘Hindu nation’ or the ‘Hindu race’. This political Hinduism later came to be called Hindutva. As the congress MLA in Kerala, Balram (2015) wrote on his Facebook wall, “the terms- Hindu-Hindutva should be understood politically but not etymologically in the way we perceive Man-manhood, father-fatherhood or mother-motherhood”. In other words, Hindutva is a political model coined and brought up by Sarvarkar (1963), the founding father of Sangh Parivar, in the late 50s. This political project upholds the slogan that ‘Hindutva is different from Hinduism and it is a way of life’ in order to veil the Brahminical ideology.
With the ideology of Hindutva, Sangh Parivar intends to constitute a pseudo-Hindu society with pseudo-tactics of unification. As Ramakrishnan (2015) said, fascism needs to be discussed in regard to neo-liberal policies, extreme national spirit and cultural invasion dressed in Brahminical values, nurtured by caste system. For a general conceptualization, every state executes its violence at two levels: ideological and repressive (Gramsci, 1971; Althusser, 1971). In the HCU campus, Vivekananda Jayanti celebrations and Ekatha Divas (to commemorate the national leader Vallabhai Patel) are patterns of Hindutva politics in its ideological level imposing Brahminism and national spirit. Rohith’s suicide and its antecedents need to be critically understood in relation to his anti-Hindutva campaign as a member of Ambedkar Students’ Association in Hyderabad. This is evident from his Facebook post on the 8th of January 2016.
Vivekananda is an apologist of the caste system, misogynist and a fake intellectual. He is an overrated, half-witted person who has no scientific references to his rants, there was no actual original idea or knowledge production from this guy. I am surprised and disappointed at the kind of institutionalized celebration of his birthday in HCU.
In his post, Rohith uploaded an image reflecting a casteist quote of Vivekananda: “Caste should not go; but should only be readjusted occasionally. Within the old structure is to be found life enough for the building of two hundred thousand new ones. It is sheer nonsense to desire the abolition of caste”. Rohith’s post reveals the extent to which he was a vehement critic of Vivekananda and Hindutva ideology.
Now the definition of Hindutva has been confined to incorporate pseudo-national spirit and culture intending to invade the unique existential lives of the oppressed community and thus make them develop an attitude of adhesion towards the dominant Brahminical ideology. On the one hand, it is the need of the Hindutva state to form pseudo-patriotic individuals and a pseudo-patriotic society. On the other hand, it is the need of the Hindutva state to dismiss, manipulate and turn all such critical interventions into anti-nationalism or terrorism. I wish to re-assure it is pseudo-patriotism, because the same Hindutva state who calls Godse (the advocate of Hindutva politics) a patriot assassinated Gandhi, whom a majority of Hindu nationals called ‘the father of nation’.
To maintain its status-quo, Hindutva ideology mainly has two slogans revolving around culture and national spirit. If there is an organized protest against moral policing, the Hindutva ideology will propagate that it is against the Indian culture. If there is a collective movement against caste-exclusion, especially if led by the Ambedkarites, the Hindutva ideology will propagate that it is against the nation, and the protesters will thus become ‘anti-nationalists’. In fact, the advocates of Hindutva ideology know well that the protesters are not against the nation, they are against the Hindutva ideology. Consequently, the Hindutva forces are compelled to turn all such critical interventions into anti-culture or anti-national ‘realities’. These are indeed upside-down realities.
For those who are blindly influenced by these ideological fogs and upside-down realities, consider this: what is being counted as culture/anti-culture; who are nationalists/anti-nationalists; and who defines these binary notions? When Hindutva ideology defines these binaries, then everything against Hindutva is anti-cultural or anti-national. This is the simple logic of how Hindutva ideology mythicizes empirical reality for its own sake. HCU and JNU campuses become anti-national spaces for Hindutva ideology because both have vehemently disturbed the Hindutva ideology. Disciplinary actions against Rohith and ASA and the circumstances leading to Rohith’s suicide have to be critically understood on these grounds. When the state finds their ideological intervention futile to impose Hindutva, they use repressive legislation or law. That is what happened in HCU: Smriti Irani’s frequent correspondence with the university in response to Dattathreya who demanded action against Rohith and other ASA activists. In order to stop people from being critical, the Hindutva state should persistently treat critical interventions as criminal activities.
Durkheim (2014) argues that crime is normal; whereas the absence of crime is pathology. When a society is free from individual crimes, this means there is no freedom for individuals because society commits crime where democracy ceases to exist. Similarly, the Hindutva state wants to create such pathological spaces to build up an apolitical society where critical interventions are less possible. Therefore, such society is ‘healthy’ for the Hindutva forces but pathological for the victims of Hindutva. It is in this context that the protests against Yakub Memon’s and Afzal guru’s capital punishment, and ASA and its allied students’ wings become ‘anti-national’ interventions.
Additionally, it is the need of the Hindutva state to suspend the solidarity of victims having critical voices. As Freire (2000) emphasizes, the oppressor always fears solidarity, protest, and the unity of the oppressed. Consequently, they wish every citizen to have a submerged Brahminical consciousness and they try to unite each distinct caste and tribal group into the political label of ‘Hindu’. It is not their attempt to annihilate caste, but rather to reinforce caste in new forms at the ideological level. The left wing in India, especially led by the CPM in Kerala, failed to interrogate Hindutva. Besides, they are compelled to take over the ideological apparatus of Sangh Parivar. On the one hand, they take leadership in various Hindu cultural practices and art forms, including Durgashtami, Viplavathiruvathira (a false radical claim over traditional Savarna dance) and Sri krishna Jayanthi in Kerala, for the sake of electoral politics. On the other hand, left activists simultaneously refer to Althusser or Gramsci on various current debates in their attempts to expose their theoretical stand .This is a paradoxical and apolitical stand, dishonoring the critics of cultural hegemony and legitimizing Hindutva but nothing more. Although the CPM activists sometimes critique Hindutva, their criticism is limited to addressing Hindutva as communalism, but not much as a matter of caste. Communal violence needs to be differentiated from caste violence; caste violence should not be generalized as communalism. So-called political parties, including CPM and Congress, failed to differentiate between communalism and caste or deliberately excluded the ideological intervention of caste in connection with Hindutva from which they too benefit, although less than the BJP.
Communalism needs to be understood globally as a narrow feeling: “Communalism implies thinking and working on narrow religious basis. It is also characterized by a feeling of group loyalty and solidarity on the one hand and a feeling of hatred for the other groups on the other hand” (Aggarwal, 2007: 263). On the contrary, caste needs to be understood politically in the unique Indian context and in its relationships with the ideological violence of Hindutva. Therefore, it becomes dangerous if caste and communalism are rendered synonymous. In contrast to the left-sponsored ideological campaigns legitimizing Hindutva, Rohith and ASA unambiguously addressed the real face of Hindutva, making them ultimate enemies of the BJP, RSS and Sangh Parivar. Rohith and ASA disturbed the Hindutva ideology: that had not been done effectively by any radical movements within the country. Consequently, the Hindutva ideology is petrified of Rohith and ASA more than any reformist movements.
Moreover, the left increasingly criticizes self-financing higher education centers with the advent of commercialization and privatization; however, they pay little attention to how teachers and students become apolitical, and how classrooms produce exclusionary spaces with commercialization of education. Professional courses only provide students with capital sufficient for employment but rarely politicize students or campuses. Most of the Dalit students who committed suicide in the HCU, including Rohith, were science students. Science students are less political and less critical than humanities students, especially when the learning process is increasingly mechanized. Hindutva becomes the most exchangeable and valuable commodity in such apolitical spaces. Science students, like Rohith, become political with additional access to the humanities disciplines; Rohith’s involvement with Ambedkar politics is unexpected for such apolitical spaces that by no means are likely to hamper Hindutva. This relation between such apolitical non-humanitarian academic spaces and Rohith’s political interventions should not be neglected when discussing the antecedents and aftermaths of Rohith’s suicide.
2. Suicide is not an individual act, it is a social and political act
This section draws on critical insights from Durkheim (1979) to explore suicide as a social phenomenon although his theory may have limitations in a different time and space. Durkheim evolved his theory of suicide in 1897, and his fieldwork was mainly among Catholics and Protestants in French society. As discussed later, Durkheim’s theory is inadequate to identify suicide as a political act particularly in regard to its aftermaths. A different conceptual framework is yet to emerge to deeply explore the political dimensions of Rohith’s suicide.
However, Durkheim’s theory of suicide is useful to understand suicide as a social fact. Durkheim is cited in order to invalidate the arguments raised by the BJP leaders: they argue that any individual or institution has not been referred to in Rohith’s note. The anti-human and anti-democratic connotations of this argument should not be ignored because Smriti Irani and the HCU authorities together reduce this incident to an individual level to veil this institutional and political murder they have committed.
Rohith’s last writing is not in fact a suicide note, because the term suicide needs to be redefined. Durkheim (1979) claims that triggers of suicide should not be reduced to an individual or psychological level. On the contrary, suicide is a structurally conditioned social fact. Before Durkheim, suicide had been generally considered at its individual or psychological level. It was Durkheim who first scientifically studied suicide as a social fact. Durkheim identifies four types of suicide: egoistic, altruistic, anomic and fatalistic. Egoistic suicide normally happens due to low integration, when social structure fails to integrate individuals sufficiently, for example, suicide among unmarried people; here, individuals are not adequately represented in various events of society. Altruistic suicide occurs due to high integration, when individuals are integrated into social structure more than necessary, and consequently show extreme loyalty or responsibility to their fellow-members and the society. Examples: the captain of a sinking ship will go down with his vessel; soldiers commit suicide when leader got killed in the war.
The other two types of suicide are mainly related to levels of regulation. Anomie is a condition where society fails to regulate their individuals with norms; here, individuals are less likely to be influenced by collective, socially-formed consciousness. In this case, an individual commits suicide when he finds a gap between himself and collective consciousness; this is due to the fact the collective consciousness curbs independent thinking and a quest for innovative thinking. Individuals cannot cope with institutional values, intervention and sudden changes. This situation worsens during the 19th century; Durkheim (1979: 262) states that:
One man kills himself in the midst of affluence, another in the lap of poverty; one was unhappy in his home, and another had just ended by divorce a marriage which was making him unhappy. In one case a soldier ends his life after having been punished for an offense he did not commit; in another, a criminal whose crime has remained unpunished kills himself.
While presenting these contradictory episodes of suicide Durkheim illustrates that none of these reasons is responsible for the immediate act of suicide. Suicide is not motivated by personal causes, even though the individual thinks it is. Durkheim also presents that when individuals are overly regulated by norms, fatalistic suicide occurs: for example, the suicide of a slave when he is unable to tolerate his master’s orders.
My attempt is not to tie up the case of Rohith Vemula with the Durkheimian cases. Despite having many potential commonalities, Rohith also raises political questions. Additionally, it is doubtful to what extent Durkheim’s theories can be used to explore suicide as a political act or a systemic crime. For example, committing Sati has been increasingly considered an altruistic act in the Indian context. However, Sati brings up more serious political questions regarding patriarchy, male power and Brahmanism beyond an altruistic level. Sati needs to be considered as an institutional crime committed by a patriarchal and Brahminical social system.
As the state repeatedly argues, Rohith has specifically mentioned not to disturb even his enemies as he takes responsibility for his own act. This shows Rohith’s honesty and humility, which cannot be taken for granted by the state machinery or the university authorities. However, reading between the lines, let them deduce what conditions made Rohith commit that shocking act. Rohith wrote: ‘I feel a growing gap between my soul and my body. And I have become a monster’ (17.01. 2016). It is implicit in these sentences that the politics he got entangled with created this gap between mind and soul, as Bhattacharjee (2016) wrote. Therefore, we need to assess the surrounding social factors. What made him immediately break his emotions, his feelings, his passions, his ambitions, and so on? What reminded him of his childhood memories? What we need to realize is that Rohith’s politics was against existing Brahminical discourses.
Rohith had previously written to the university’s vice-chancellor: 1. “Please serve 10mg of Sodium Azide at the time of admission. With dire to use when they feel like reading Ambedkar. 2. Supply a nice rope to the rooms of all Dalit students from your companion, the great chief Wardern”(18.12.2015)
This shows how concerned Rohith was about the marginalized lives of his fellow students, how critical Rohith was against caste-exclusion on campus with his Ambedkarite politics. As discussed earlier, Rohith’s Facebook post against the casteist Vivekananda is another instance of his critical intervention. Rohith’s and ASA’s involvement in screening the documentary ‘Muazzafarnagar abhi baaki hai’ and their protests against Yakub Memon’s hanging were another antecedence (Bhattacharjee 2016). These incidents annoyed the Hinutva politicians. The BJP leaders tried to mark Rohith and his friends as terrorists and anti-nationalists. Again, Rohith’s suicide needs to be examined addressing the ‘critical’ link between his protests against the politics of Hindutva and the violence that the Hindutva state perpetrated against him in return. Rohith’s political battle against these incidents, his wounded emotions, his lost passions, along with his survival questions after suspension and social boycott, need to be interpreted and contextualized in regard to his anti-Hindutva politics. Consider his sentence: ‘The value of a man was reduced to his immediate identity and nearest possibility: To a vote. To a number.To a thing. Never was a man treated as a mind. As a glorious thing made up of star dust.In every field, in studies, in streets, in politics, and in dying and living” (17.01.2016)
Furthermore, the political environment after Rohith’s death also needs to be addressed regarding Hindutva violence: Due to ongoing protests by the ASA movement on campus, the police were compelled to register a case against the culprits:
We have registered cases against them based on a complaint from some students. FIR was registered under IPC section 306 (abetment of suicide) and SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act. (Union Minister) Bandaru Dattatreya, Vice Chancellor Appa Rao, MLC Ramachandra Rao, and students Susheel Kumar and Rama Krishna have been named in the FIR,” Gachibowli Inspector J Ramesh Kumar told PTI. (PTI, Indian Express, 2016)
In order to protect themselves from being sued under the Scheduled Caste/Scheduled Tribe (SC/ST) act, the BJP ministry claims that Rohith does not belong to the Scheduled Caste, providing technical reasons. In fact, Rohith was born to an inter-caste married couple-Radhika and Vemula Manikumar. Ayesha Minhaz (2016) writes of the controversy around Rohith’s scheduled caste identity:
Radhika and her husband Vemula Mani Kumar were separated in 1990, when she was a young woman in her early 20s. The fights and abuse became worse after Mani discovered his wife was actually an adopted child, belonging to Mala – a scheduled caste – community by birth and was not a Vaddera as him – classified as Other Backward Classes, or OBC – as he had thought her to be.
Rohith and his brother were brought up by their maternal Dalit family. Without considering these facts, a video (depicting Rohith as a Vaddera, not a Scheduled Caste) is being circulated on Facebook. How are these incidents not a caste atrocity, even if Rohith were an OBC? What does the ministry aim for? Do they think that the factors that caused him to commit suicide can be ignored and he should be killed if he were a Vaddera community (OBC)? Other students who were suspended along with Rohith belong to the Dalit community. Is the ministry waiting for another suicide? Will they bring up new stories to claim the rest of these students also belong to the OBC?
In contrast to other suicides, Rohith’s suicide raises many political questions. Protesters did not hand over Rohith’s body to the police for many hours after he was found hanging in his friend’s room and was declared dead by the university doctor. The police cremated his body straight away. The comment of a researcher, who was a colleague of Rohith at HCU, deeply reflects the way suicide can be political not only in terms of the act of suicide itself but also its aftermath.
Rohith’s mother and brother live in a rented accommodation in Uppal. The cops had difficulties in bringing Rohith’s body over to his home village. They knew that Rohith’s body would become political on its arrival there considering potential protests by the villagers and activities as they similarly faced on campus; consequently, the protests would have been then transformed into a different level of politics. The police tried to prevent this at any cost; they threatened the house owner and secretly cremated his body only with the presence of his close relatives. (Telephone conversation, 24-01-2016)
These activities raise serious political issues: Rohith’s act of suicide becomes political; the room where he committed suicide becomes political; his dead body becomes political; his funeral becomes political. Furthermore, Kerala media debates after his death become political, as discussed next. Again, Durkheim’s theory of suicide is insufficient to explore these political dimensions.
3. Rohith in Kerala media in the beginning: patronizing approach and debate
Rohith’s suicide brought another controversy: Kerala media discussed Rohith’s death differently from the national media. Representation and exclusion issues were raised by various Dalit Keralite students in HCU campus. The media always approached a dominant, left-leaning, savarna celebrity. In the beginning, Kerala media ignored Dalit Malayali students, especially those belonging to the ASA movement. Moreover, they ignored Dalit students including Vaikhari, Prameela and Agnes who were active participants in the fasting strike. Praveena Thaali (2016), a writer, activist and researcher at HCU wrote on Facebook that people should avoid patronizing voices when raising a Dalit question. Examples include: What do Dalits want? What do Dalits wish to have? These questions were raised in connection with Rohith’s suicide and the struggle of Dalits against Hindutva politics in a special discussion on one channel. Praveena (2016) added: ‘our struggle is against patronization too’. Praveena (2015:01) raises dangers of patronization in a newspaper report:
The Hyderabad University Union election has already become a topic of discussion at varying levels. The SFI – DSU – TSF – TVV alliance achieved a remarkable victory. However, the title of the story in the Hindu newspaper (published on 10th October 2015) is ‘Sweeping victory for SFI’. (Translation)
Praveena criticizes that although the alliance was detailed in the text this title reflects the way media obscure the agency of subaltern Dalit movements. Praveena’s criticism is important when issues of patronization and neglect still persist when media reports the critical involvements of Dalit students in HCU campus.
The visibility and celebrity status of certain people undoubtedly supplements the commercial significance of a media program. The absence of Malayali Dalit scholars needs to be condemned at any cost, it is unfortunate that platforms for discussing caste-exclusion themselves contribute to exclusionary spaces, no matter how justifiable or how unintentional the causes are. This argument is not raised to negate the right of a non-Dalit to discuss the existential questions of a Dalit. Sanal Mohan (2015:21) writes in Mathrubhumi Weekly:
When democracy is well rooted in our social lives and inequality shrinking in the economic sphere, I do not find anything wrong in the representation of Dalits by non-Dalits. What need to be opposed are kindhearted and compassionate approaches.
Non-Dalits should be in solidarity with Dalits without intruding on their interests. Moreover, non-Dalits should take some precautions when raising a Dalit question. Certain interventions can be unintentionally patronizing despite taking all precautions. Freire (2000:45) writes in ‘Pedagogy of the Oppressed’:
Who are better prepared than the oppressed to understand the terrible significance of an oppressive society? Who suffer the effects of oppression more than the oppressed? Who can better understand the necessity of liberation?
Freire argues that the oppressed can discuss their existential lives better than the oppressor. If social movements and community development projects do not adequately reflect the views of the target groups, they will only justify the oppressor’s interests and contribute to invasion or patronization. Freire argues that banking education is the cradle of patronizing values. The teacher deposits knowledge that s/he considers knowledgeable and the students receive and store such deposits uncritically. The teacher pretends that s/he knows everything but his/her students nothing; the teacher positions him/herself as the absolute authority of knowledge but the students on the other hand are passive recipients of knowledge.
This teacher-student dichotomy plays a significant role in the way discussions and meetings are held for Dalits. Teachers, doctors, husbands, government officials, employers, managers, etc. are ‘well versed’ in silencing the voices and thoughts of their counterparts. Patronizing is not simply an approach or behaviour; it is rather a mindset that needs to be broken down eventually. Otherwise, any critical interventions would descend into patronization or invasion. Despite all limitations, Freire suggests education outside of school, what he called problem-posing education, reflecting students’ unique existential lives; the teacher should negotiate their views considering the fact that students have a mutual role in knowledge production.
Patronization may occur even at a theoretical or methodological level; so people should re-invent or generate their own theories or methodologies in negotiation with different empirical contexts of oppression. Theories can be applied for social transformation, but, theories should be simultaneously transformed when they are applied for social transformation. Additionally, researchers and activists should take hold of the virtue of theories and the critical insights that they illuminate in different social contexts. Otherwise, theories will only bring invasive impacts, hardly making any transformations.Researchers and left wing activists should bear these critical ideas in mind when organizing events, protests or delivering speeches reflecting Dalit issues.
So, non-Dalits should negotiate and form dialogue with the Dalit community to prevent themselves from the act of patronization; they should talk with Dalits rather than talking on behalf of Dalits; they should talk from the perspective of Dalits rather than imposing their own world views; they should not dictate preferences for Dalits, they should rather reflect on the preferences of Dalits; they should participate in Dalit discussions without hampering Dalit rights rather than organizing programs for Dalits or talking in the absence of Dalits; they should be on-going listeners or readers of Dalit intellectuals rather than delivering kindhearted lectures or speeches for Dalits. Differences between ‘taking over’ and ‘forming solidarity’ can be easily made on these grounds. Those who fail to differentiate between the two potentially reinforce patronization and alienate Dalits in their already-alienated social lives. Auto-ethnography (Tedlock, 1991) and reflectivity (Dewey, 1933; Bourdieu and Wacquant, 1992) are important methodological tools to learn these differences and to understand the need to break down one’s own habitualized patronizing mind-set.
Why did the media exclusively focus on one upper caste person when reporting incidents from HCU? This question raises a serious concern. While responding to criticisms over patronization, this upper caste person revealed that her experiences were distinct from those of Dalits and claimed that she tried to withdraw herself from her privileges over identities including caste, class and white complexion. Of course, an upper-caste man or woman will be potentially isolated from his/her family or community for attempts to become progressive and to moderate attitude towards the lower-castes or minorities. However, they need to seriously consider some questions when making claims about their tensions over identities.
Can upper caste people withdraw themselves from such ascribed identities in a real sense? Will they still not benefit from such privileges after removing certain identifies, for example, a privileged caste surname? Not at all, what they need to break down is their patronizing mindsets. As evident from Bourdieu (1986;1990), local society is a gathering of people with unequal capabilities, and such capabilities are socially and historically constructed or inherited regarding their capacity to achieve and exchange different forms of social, cultural and symbolic capital. These capitals are unequally distributed in a society with asymmetrical social structure. Ascribed identities will be a privilege for the upper castes to achieve and exchange different forms of capital no matter how anti-caste, how casteless, or how secular they are. On the other hand, caste identity never becomes an exchangeable form of capital for Dalits, and hence their circumstances are different from those of the privileged community.
Representation of the privileged community including the upper castes is more often higher than Dalits, although it is related to opportunities to generate social networks in the larger social context. It is unfortunate that we find Dalit scholars only in a media discussion over a particular Dalit issue but not over a non-Dalit issue. However, initially, Kerala media discussion about Rohith and related caste discrimination did not follow this democratic path. People criticize Dalits for raising the question of patronization without taking these facts into consideration.
A TV discussion in Kerala about Rohith surprised me because no person raising Dalit politics was found in this debate. Only Dalit leader who participated is an advocate of Hindutva politics. Yes, two non-Dalit participants raised their voices against the state and the university, but the absence of Dalit leaders raising Dalit politics was unfortunate, because their absence legitimizes the politics of Hindutva. This is evident from how BJP leaders defend their fascism in media discussions. Media activists put BJP leaders in an awkward position when discussing the fascist patterns of the government; In return, BJP leaders usually bring the fascist patterns of their opponents, for example, murder of TP Chandrashekharan and the ‘hand chopping’ of Professor Joseph. At the end of the day, media discussions will leave fascism as a general act of violence that everyone perpetrates across the country.
What would have happened if Dalit leaders had participated in such discussions raising questions against the Hindutva? To what extent could the Sangh pariwar leaders defend themselves or answer the questions raised by Dalit politics? I am raising these questions because Dalit politics had never been contaminated with fascism, and consequently it is impossible to find patterns of fascism in Dalit politics: that would certainly make the BJP leaders difficult to use their usual defensive tactics. Therefore, the absence of Dalit leaders raising Dalit politics cannot simply be understood with the logic of chathurvarna; on the contrary, their absence should be understood as a precarious circumstance contributing to spaces generalizing Hindutva fascism and thus annihilating critical voices.
It is an unambiguous fact that Rohith Vemula is a victim of both explicit and implicit forms of caste-exclusion that have been ongoing in the HCU. Rohit’s protest against the hindutvaization of the campus and subsequent violence perpetrated against him by the state and university should be simultaneously brought forward as the major antecedents of Rohith’s institutional murder. Suicide as a social and political act is the most remarkable theme that emerged as the aftermath of Rohith’s suicide.
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Syamprasad KV PhD Research scholar, Faculty of Education, University of Winchester, England.