Periyar Bhim Vemula
Another Dalit scholar has committed suicide, this time in Jawaharlal Nehru University. Muthukrishnan (27), a self-made student, who travelled all the way to Delhi from Salem was pushed to this state by this society, this empire called India. What are the reasons for his suicide?
Muthukrishnan had written a small post on Facebook a couple of days before his death, in the post, he wrote how inequality prevailed in JNU, in its admission process and in the viva-voce. The University was “denying the education for the marginals,” he wrote.
When I read Muthukrishnan’s post, I was immediately reminded of the suicide note left by Rohith Vemula. “My birth is my fatal accident,” lamented Rohith in his suicide note last year before he ended his life on his university campus. Rohith was a scholar in science, he wanted to peer into the stars and study the universe, just like the American scientist Carl Sagan did. His dreams, and those of Muthukrishnan, were killed by inequality.
“Equality may be a fiction but nonetheless one must accept it as a governing principle,” wrote Babasaheb Ambedkar. A life without equality is a life without dignity — it is a difficult life. Dalits have been living such a life surrounded by inequality for thousands of years and according to the Constitution, it is the duty of the State to protect the right to equality of its citizens. This State, however, has failed Dalits miserably.
Inequality is rife in India. Dalits are denied education and the privileges associated with it for generations despite a progressive Constitution. Those Dalits that make use of the tools provided legally for their upliftment like reservation to obtain education and jobs are chided by the savarnas and they are expected to live and progress without these benefits. Living in such an unequal, Brahminic society is indeed difficult for Dalits like Muthukrishnan.
For these suicides to end, inequality must end! There is no other way. The Savarna society has imposed unnecessary standards on Dalits. Some savarnas expect Dalits to forever be below them in stature and privilege. They oppose reservation and their points of view are clear. There are, however, other savarnas, who claim to fight on the Dalits’ side. However, they think reservation is their gift to the Dalits and expect all Dalits who have obtained these benefits to turn into social activists under their supremacy. Don’t Dalits have other things to do in their lives? Can’t Dalits dream of becoming lawyers, doctors, teachers, engineers or scientists like the savarnas do? Isn’t this a kind of inequality too?
The savarnas have also placed many conditions on the progress and assimilation of the Dalits. Food, clothing and every other aspect of Dalit culture is subject to intense scrutiny by the savarnas. A Dalit who eats beef is anti-national, Dalits who can’t speak good English have “simple language,” those Dalits who have obtained education and jobs through reservation are work-shy. These are common terms you hear from the savarnas and this is another ugly face of inequality.
Muthukrishnan’s death is a fruit of such inequality that stems from caste discrimination. Like Rohith wrote, this unequal society has reduced the worth of a man to an immediate identity and the nearest possibility. Only when this society is annihilated and replaced by the society Babasaheb dreamt of – a society with liberty, equality and fraternity – will such suicides cease.
Periyar Bhim Vemula is the pseudonym of a journalist based out of Bengaluru, who was a student of Communication at St Joseph’s College in the city. Periyar Bhim Vemula is passionate about propagating Dr Ambedkar’s dream of a society based on the ideals of liberty, equality and fraternity.