Friday, January 22, 2016

Casteism, suicide of a student and politics of death.

Hyderabad University student Rohith Vemula committed suicide, based on his suicide note and some previous letters it looks like he was unhappy with the education system or society in general because of some incidents in his life. Him being a dalit might have played some role in this frustration which resulted in lost of all hope of justice and in that frustration he might have taken this extreme step. These things may or may not be true and may not be the real reason behind his suicide, but this is what everyone is predicting based on events transpired before and after his death. In his suicide note he doesn't blame anyone in particular for his death but there are many hints to conclude that system's failure to make him believe that justice can be done with him might be one of the reasons for this extreme step. Actually casteism still exists in India in various forms, people suffer from it and it is really sad. There are many attempts from all quarters of society to remove this evil but somehow it still exists. It is a form of discrimination like racism in western societies, so it is very serious issue which doesn't get as much attention as it should.

Actually caste starts playing its role in person's life in India since their birth. School admissions depends on it, their college admission hence which field they can chose for their career also depends on it, during marriage many people are very rigid about caste criteria so chances are that choice of their life partner also depends on their caste and we all know that it is a very important factor in Indian politics. So no matter how much people deny it, the truth is that caste and casteism still very much exists in Indian society and plays major role in people's behavior. But one thing has definitely changed, the way this discrimination is practiced now is very different compared to fifty years back. Now there are no separate wells for dalits or they are not treated as untouchables publicly as they were in past but discrimination is practiced in very subtle way. One can feel it in people's behavior, one can feel it during elections but superficially everything looks very normal until something tragic like this happens. 

Maybe we will never know the real reason behind Rohith's suicide, but we know that caste based discrimination still exists. When I say caste based discrimination then I am not just talking about so called lower castes discriminated by so called upper castes but it happens other way round also. Discrimination is discrimination it doesn't matter who is a perpetrator and who is a victim, it should be treated with equal seriousness. Actually these castes are nothing but one crude criteria to measure social status of particular community. Every society has this system in some form of other, in some countries it is in form of social class, where rich and powerful occupy certain space and hold powerful positions, in India it took form of caste system. In its current form class system is less rigid compared to the caste system, but whatever system society adopts any type of discrimination can not be justified. But in this particular case instead of trying to find real reasons behind it very ugly politics is being played by every group involved in it. Death of one university student has become a big political capital, many parties are trying to reap as much political mileage as possible from this incident. University student organizations are involved in politics so some sort of political power play was expected but the way HRD minister tried to present wrong facts to cover up their mistakes and other political parties are trying to take advantage of this situation is really sickening. The press conference of HRD minister was one such horrible scenario where she herself said that this issue should not be looked as dalit vs non-dalit and then herself mentioned the word 'dalit' so many times in her statement. The fact is that a student committed suicide, one can definitely blame him for taking the easy route to quit the battle instead of fighting it till end but we need to ask was this tragedy preventable? Is current social, political and educational system in any way responsible for this? If they are then we need to look at the system and check what are the things that can be improved to avoid such incidents in future. Government should recognize their mistake and try to take corrective action rather than offering some lame excuses and trying to save few people. Student life is full of many passionate debates, discussions about various issues. Many times these debates are about very sensitive issues and there can be very sharp difference of opinions among various groups. In any progressive society there should be ample scope to express dissent against anything, if dissenting voices are crushed then it can result in something tragic incident like this.

After Rohith's death everyone from our PM, to ministers, to general public and even media seems to be concerned about his family and his problems but why no one bothered to look into his problems when he was still alive? Why university administration was so insensitive towards him? Why farmers, students or any common person becomes so important after their death? All concerned people need to give answers to all these questions. When Mandal commission report was implemented in 1990s I have seen violent protests by students against it. Caste based divide or politics can create very serious situations sometimes and I hope concerned authorities take all the necessary steps before this issue becomes that serious.

Thanks for reading and please share your views on this topic.

[Copyright : Vinay Thakur. Please contact the author for re-posting or publishing]

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