Rise of a New Radical Dalit Discourse: Rohith, Kanhaiya & more…
Rohith Vemula To Kanhaiya Kumar – it’s not yet over
Rohith Vemula’s death is not just an institutional murder; rather it is the systemic stratagem of a deadly design of caste within Indian educational institutions. His death has raised eyebrows of the entire world, as it is the continuum of the Hindutva assault on Dalit assertion. In many ways the radical Dalit politics espoused by groups like the Ambedkar Students Association (ASA) is diametrically opposite to that of Hindutva. Nothing else punctures the pompous claims about Hindu civilisation, culture, rashtra and rastrawad, as effectively as the radical Dalit politics. Ever since Phule-Ambedkar discourse, the radical Dalits have pointedly questioned the very existence of a Hindu society, culture and civilisation.
Rohith Vemula’s case has already attained immense national and international attentions. However the question of discrimination of Dalits and Adivasi students have not been adequately addressed in any of these efforts. Interestingly many studies and fact finding reports suggests that a large number of students who take their lives have strong academic achievements, and it is their claim to equal treatment that upsets the academic establishment, wherefrom stems the idea of discrimination and secondary treatment as they are categorised as ‘reserved’ and therefore do not meet the actual ‘merit.’
The idea of merit in Indian academic institutions and public spheres needs critical debates as to what does it actually mean. Social anthropologist Ajantha Subramanian of Harvard University points out that what is understood as merit in India’s educational institutions is only another name for the accumulated cultural capital of India’s upper-caste elites.
In the current debate of education, human right and institutional discrimination, one could see the emergence of a radical Dalit discourse in the country, which goes against the traditional pattern of engagement such as reservation, discrimination and conversion. The rise of ASA and Ambedkar Periyar Study Circle (APSC) raising critical questions of caste, ethnicity, class, patriarchy, religion, ecology and sexual orientation indicates the beginning of this discourse where there is a composite approach towards the crisis of humanity. Currently one could also observe a different set of Dalit youths analogous to that of the Dalit Panthers of Mumbai in early 90s. What is different and more radical is that while the Dalit Panthers remained confined to Mumbai and Maharashtra, the current discourse has crossed all state and even national boundaries that exists.
The Dilemma of Education and Academia
Education is the medium to attain the highest order of human wisdom. All education, including streams of pure and social sciences should mandatorily be non-discriminatory and accessible for all humans in all ways across the globe. As an institutional mechanism, education should directly or indirectly, serve the interest of furthering non-discriminatory practices, human rights, irrespective of class, caste, gender, race, ethnicity, religious or sexual orientation or physical or mental disability. Thus one could come to point that the purpose of all education is to sensitise, to humanise, to take humanity to higher levels of knowledge, awareness, freedom and social responsibility.
However, the story in most of the educational institutions is not this fanciful. Discrimination, humiliation, mistreatment and human rights violations with students from oppressed socio-cultural backgrounds have turned to be an integral part of academic institutions. Students from such background often meet with different unidentified patterns of discrimination, violence and violation of human rights. The disdain attitude has led to a large number of suicide deaths in Universities across the world. Here identity of the individual becomes the key factor. Whether it is the case of Dalits or Adivasis in India, or the blacks in different parts of the world, or the indigenous groups in Latin America, Africa, Australia and Europe, the end result remains the same. Discrimination and human rights violations in academic institutions are also found on the basis of one’s religious identity, gender, colour, race, class, linguistic aspects, regional dynamics, sexuality and sexual orientation. Such aspects are important areas of social science studies.
Adivasis are Betrayed of Constitutional Rights in the Campus – Sandilya
Priyanka Sandilya an Adivasi scholar doing MPhil-PhD from the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) has recently knocking the doors of all possible spaces within her reach along with other fellow Adivasi scholars. In a letter to the Minister of Tribal Affairs (MoTA) Jual Oram, Sandilya refers to the pattern of prohibiting Adivasi scholars from some particular institutions like TISS to apply for legitimate scholarship. With the removal of TISS from the UGC’s list, many Adivasi Scholars enrolled for doctoral studies at TISS have been left staggering without any support.
In her letter she mentions that all the four campuses of TISS (Mumbai, Tuljapur, Hydrabad and Gawhati) has been dropped from the national list, leaving them to loose their constitutional rights to avail scholarships. The fellowship original known as Rajeev Gandhi National Fellowship for ST students (RGNF) was renamed as National Fellowship for Higher Education of St Students (NFST) removed TISS from the eligibility list this year. According to the letter, ‘we have been deprived of applying under the UGC scheme… In the online application form of NFST, the name of Tata Institute of Social Sciences did not appear in the list of eligible universities, due to which, many ST students could not apply and some have applied leaving the Institute name blank in the online application form. As Adivasi Students, we are eligible to apply under this scheme, but we are being deprived of being considered for the award of the Fellowship.’
According to Sandilya, she had been consistently following it up with the Chairperson of the National Commission for Scheduled Tribes (NCST) Rameshwar Oraon, where he expressed his support with a promise to immediately rectify it, however, nothing happened till date. The online fellowship application was open for Adivasi scholars since September 23, till November 23, 2015. On a telephonic discussion Sandilya said, ‘since the application was open, I found the name of TISS was not on the list after which I checked up with the Social Protection Officer. As per his direction I called up the UGC office to know the reason why the name of TISS has disappeared. I was told that TISS does not fall under the 12B and 2F category of Deemed Universities and therefore scholars from TISS are not eligible to apply for this fellowship. Interestingly the Dalit, OBC, Minority students, single girl child category and differently abled from the institute were allowed to apply respectively in the same academic year, but why this selective discrimination when it comes to the question of Adivasi scholars. Since September last, I wrote to the Deputy Director, Dean and Director and other official of the institute. They have responded with their mails too. I wrote to the Chairperson NCST, Smriti Irani, MHRD, UGC and others too apart from MoTA. I was in regular telephonic touch with Rameshwar Oraon who promised me to check and rectify it. But the dates flew off without anything happening. We the Adivasi scholars of TISS feel extremely betrayed by the double standard and secondary treatment by the UGC. If it was a mistake then there was a time of two months, but it appears that they did not want to bring the institute name on the list. We fear that this would be replicated with other institutions in some form or other too.’
Sandilya hails from the state of Chhattisgarh and has been fighting for her Constitutional Rights, against the double standards and the betrayal by the UGC. In the meantime the TISS administration has also followed up the matter with the Director, Registrar, Deputy Director (Research), the Student Union of TISS writing to the UGC highlighting this error in the online form but no action has been taken by the officials to rectify the error. In fact TISS does not need 12B and 2F certification since it is already certified under Allocation of Business Rules, MHRD, 1967. The TISS is a fully funded Deemed University by the UGC. Instead of rectifying such flaws, the concerned officials went on to interpret it differently.
NFST would provide a monthly fellowship amount of 25000 rupees to the scholars if selected under this programme. This is one of the largest affirmative measures under reservation policy under the Tribal Sub-Plan (TSP). Recently many RTIs have come up with statistical evidences of how the budgetary allocations under TSP have been underspent by the concerned ministries.
Rohith’s Death and After
Rohith’s death sparked off hundreds of protests across the India as well as different parts of the world, where people came on to the streets demanding justice for Rohith and end to caste discrimination in all spheres of life. This gave a new synergy to the suppressed voices of Dalits and Adivasis in Universities and other public spaces. Far from efforts to deliver justice to the Dalit scholar, Rohith abettors have received promotions to honorary positions, shielded from judicial scrutiny and defended beyond logic while these very forces have consistently questioned the identity of Rohith and his Dalitness.
While there is condemnation on institutional murder of Rohith from various sections of students, faculties, social organisations, mass movements, networks and other administrative sections of the society, the ruling government has taken it upon itself to divert the attention of the people towards another institution of higher education, JNU, by declaring it ‘anti-national’ on the basis of fabricated intelligence reports, sensationalised news coverage and blatant conspiracy by the RSS led BJP-ABVP combine. The Sanghi sponsored newspapers and TV channel have turned part of the conspiracy theory floating new definitions of ‘cultural nationalism’ based on the fundamentals of Hindutva. Behaving like military generals TV reports and anchors have been manipulating the shows by not listening to dissenting opinions of the representatives.
Protesting students were consistently lathicharged, shot teargas shells during the past month and they were literally threatened by Sanghi outfits. The lastest in this story comes the arrest of Kanhaiyya Kumar – the President of the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) student’s union as well as an activist of the All India Students Federation (AISF) –over a week ago under sections of sedition, criminal conspiracy and war against the state. Since then the agitators have gone more aggressive. Incidentally, while his friends, supporters and comrades went to the court on two different dates of his hearing, they were met with severe physical violence under the leadership of the BJP MP and other Sanghi outfits. Even the media persons were not left off in this attack. On both the occasions, Kumar was brutally assaulted in the presence of police and force and now fears for his life.
Those who came in support of Kumar included students, professors, faculty members and retired professors. They were also not left off the violent fray. There remains a state of complete impunity not only in Delhi but also across all universities across the entire nation. Thus the Dalit students’ movement has been in the transformation to become a movement of students against all forms of injustice, tyranny, oppression and repression. At present it is not just a students’ movement but at large it has turned out to be a mass movement.
Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh, and MHRD Minister Smriti Irani virtually declare war on universities as spaces for dissent and debate. The undeclared emergency and the dramatic escalation of the undeclared war by Narendra Modi government and Sangh Parivar is to wage a war of Hindutva against the culture of democratic dissent in India. The incident that triggered the arrest was the alleged chanting of ‘anti-national’ slogans by persons unknown at an event on the university campus. Rajnath Singh announced on Twitter that he had ordered the Delhi police to ‘take strong action against the anti-India elements.’
Apart from its raid on JNU, the police has also filed sedition charges in a second case stemming from another meeting in Delhi to commemorate the hanging of Afzal Guru where ‘anti-national slogans’ were apparently raised. Now, whether the home minister likes it or not, there is no law which bans speech that is ‘anti-national.’ The crime of sedition still remains on the statute books. However, as the courts in India have repeatedly ruled, slogans and speech, however distasteful and odious they may be, cannot be considered seditious under Section 124 of the IPC unless they involve the direct and imminent incitement of violence against the government established by law.
Interestingly Nathuram Ghodse, the killer of Gandhi has been thoroughly eulogised and there is no action against such cliques. Such elements are provided state protection, police escort, elevation of stature, provided with lalbatti cars, and their hooliganism is justified as ‘nationalism’ by all ways and means. Thus come a new form of nationalism of violence, war, killings, arrogance, aggression and legal entanglement of those who do not adhere to the jingoism of Hindutva Nationalism.
In this entire drama, one thing that one could observe is that the question of caste discrimination against Dalit and Adivasis is also slowly taking a backseat. While the earlier aggression was against Rohith, now the focus has turned to Kanhaiyya. The government has slowed down its attack on Rohith and his identity; the current row of hostility is on JNU students, the faculties and others who support the movement. Police diktats surface every new day in a fresh incarnation while the Indian Central Ministers has been defending its outrageous violence spitting deadly venom against the agitation populace. Diluting the Dalit-Adivasi uprising is very much on the cards of the fascist government as they still observe them as decisive vote banks for mission 2019.