“I always wanted to be a writer. A writer of science, like Carl Sagan. At last, this is the only letter I am getting to write.”
The suicides include that of Jaspreet Singh of Government Medical College, Chandigarh who was an extraordinary student and never failed even once. That was till he reached the final year of his graduation in medicine. The head of the department failed him then and threatened to do so over and over again. Unable to cope up with this torture, Jaspreet committed suicide blaming the head of department for his death. Yet, the police refused to lodge the First Information Report against the perpetrator. The trauma of losing him followed by this grave injustice was so severe for his sister, a student of Bachelor of Computer Application, that she also committed suicide,
The outrage over the suicides led to the intervention of the National Commission of Scheduled Castes (NCSC) which made a three-member team of senior professors re-evaluate his answer sheet. The team found that he had in fact passed the examination. It was only after NCSC's intervention that the police filed the FIR under SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act. Not all the Dalit students killed by the system were fortunate enough to get even this much; a semblance of justice of something being done against their murderers.
Despite the clear pattern of caste based discriminations leading to such ‘suicides’, there is something markedly different in Rohith’s case. He, unlike most of the other young Dalits murdered for their caste, was not killed behind the walls of educational institutions away from the public gaze. His case was not about bad grades, or getting deliberately failed by the rogue faculties. Neither was his case about years and years of such endless torture finally culminating in a suicide and the world getting to know of that only after the final act.
Rohith’s suicide-murder was not one of them. It unfolded under full public gaze, on television, in social media, a gaze that apparently failed to save him.
Recapping the incidents that led to Rohith’s suicide-murder may shed some light on the times to come by for the marginalised of the republic. His troubles started when ASA organised a protest march in August 2015 at the campus against the attack on the Montage Film Society in Delhi University by Akhil Bhartiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP). They were attacked for screening a documentary movie ‘Muzaffarnagar Baaqi Hai” that exposed the roles of Hindutva outfits in Muzaffarnagar riots in 2013. Local ABVP unit did not, of course, like the protests and its leader Susheel Kumar posted a comment on Facebook calling ASA members ‘goons’. He later submitted a written apology. Next morning, Susheel Kumar alleged that about 30 students belonging to the ASA had beaten him up and he had to be hospitalized.
The University’s Proctorial Board conducted an enquiry into the allegations with a medical examination which found no proof of injuries claimed by Susheel Kumar. The Board observed the following-
“The board could not get any hard evidence of beating of Mr. Susheel kumar either from Mr Krishna Chaitanya or from the reports submitted by Dr. Anupama. Dr. Anupama’s reports also could not link or suggest that the surgery of the Susheel Kumar is the direct result of the beating.”
Things started changing course soon afterwards. The new vice-chancellor Prof. P Apparao who took over from Prof. Sharma constituted no committee for a fresh enquiry and kept the suspended students in the dark until the Executive Council decided to suspend the students and expel them from their hostels. Self-evidently, Union Minister Bandaru Datttreya’s ‘intervention’ with the Ministry of Human Resources Development (MHRD) seems to have played an important role in the change in the university administration’s instance.
Mr. Datttreya, as it later came to be known, had intervened with the MHRD and urged it to discipline “casteist, extremist and anti-national’ elements like ASA. His primary reason for accusing ASA to be all this was simple- it had “held protests against the execution” (of Yakub Memon). Yes, he chose a reason which would turn many of the celebrated lawyers of the country including Anand Grover, Prashant Bhushan, Indira Jaisingh, Yug Choudhary, Nitya Ramakrishnan, Vrinda Grover and others into anti-nationals for opposing the same and seeking (and getting) an unprecedented 5 AM hearing by a Supreme Court bench to stop the execution.
What could have made a Union Minister intervene with the MHRD in such a ‘small’ case, likes of which keep taking in campuses across the country? Was it Rohith’s, and ASA’s, attempt to link the struggles of all the marginalized communities into one that had irked him? Perhaps it was, as Dalits standing up for Muslims, a vulnerable minority, would puncture the politico-ideological narrative that has propelled the present regime to power.
“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 very field, in studies, in streets, in politics, and in dying and living.”