Why Are Dalit Students Committing Suicide Despite Constitutional Guarantee to Equality?

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JNU's Dalit scholar Muthukrishnan was founded dead at a friend's place.
JNU’s Dalit scholar Muthukrishnan was founded dead at a friend’s place.

It would be worth pointing out here that a person like Muthukrishnan could not have been an easy quitter. According to his FB posts, he had applied at JNU for admission no less than 38 times. Here was a socially underprivileged boy, a traditional outcast who had worked his way up against odds to make it to M.Phil in one of the most prestigious universities of the country. That his remarkable journey should be cut short by what scholars have called ‘India’s hidden apartheid’ (except that it does not have open state sanction) is as much unfortunate for the rest of us as it is for his family and friends.

AAZEEN KIRMANI | Caravan Daily

[dropcap]E[/dropcap]very year about two thousand students commit suicide in India. J Muthukrishnan’s suicide could have also gone down as a number in those two thousand had it not been for the haunting last words he bequeathed on nation’s collective conscience:  When equality is denied, everything is denied.

The day the 27 year old M.Phil scholar at JNU hanged himself to death, irony too died a thousand deaths. Muthukrishnan was citizen of a country which had enshrined equality as one of the fundamental rights in it’s constitution almost 60 years ago. He was a student at an educational institution named after Nehru- one of the most practicing advocates of equality and casteless society.  To add to it, Muthukrishnan was an active member of Justice for Rohith Vemula Movement.

At what point did the despair over took Muthukrishnan to an extent that he choose to join Vemula in his eternal abode rather than fight for him here?

It would be worth pointing out here that a person like Muthukrishnan could not have been an easy quitter. According to his FB posts, he had applied at JNU for admission no less than 38 times. Here was a socially underprivileged boy, a traditional outcast who had worked his way up against odds to make it to M.Phil in one of the most prestigious universities of the country. That his remarkable journey should be cut short by what scholars have called ‘India’s hidden apartheid’ (except that it does not have open state sanction) is as much unfortunate for the rest of us as it is for his family and friends.

The Constitution of India apart from prescribing right to equality as a fundamental right also prohibits caste based discrimination (Article 15) and declares untouchability illegal (Article 17). Despite several provisions of positive discrimination in place for Dalits and other backward caste, there has been a Vemula in Hyderabad, a Muthukrishnan in Delhi and a Dika in Hajipur, Bihar among innumerable others.

Even those who have made it to coveted positions suffer caste discrimination within the organizational setup.

According to a June 2004 report of Times of India “Rajan Priyadarshi, a 1980 batch IPS officer, has risen to the rank of inspector general. He holds the post of Range IG, Rajkot. People from different walks of life often approach him with folded hands with numerous problems. But, when the same Priyardarshi decides to visit his native Kadagra village in Dehgam taluka, the equation changes dramatically. This senior cop still cannot buy a house in the locality inhabited by higher castes of the village. He continues to have a house in the ‘Dalit vaas’ of Kadagra”.

Rohith Vemula, a Dalit activist and PhD scholar at Hyderabad Central University, was forced to commit suicide last year following alleged harassment by ABVP members and the university management.
Rohith Vemula, a Dalit activist and PhD scholar at Hyderabad Central University, was forced to commit suicide last year following alleged harassment by ABVP members and the university management.

During the British rule in India the caste system was a central mechanism of administration.  During late 19th and early 20th century British officials used the census-determined jatis (sub- castes) to declare certain castes as “criminal” and “rebellious” castes. Except for the duration of Mughal rule in India (during which it was not overtly encouraged) caste system has remained more or less unaltered.

Half a century is not sufficient time to eradicate from minds that which has been hardwired into it for more than 2000 years.

Another heart-rending tale of Dalit exploitation is that of Bhanwari Devi of Rajasthan who was raped by a group of upper caste men in 1992 for stopping a child marriage as part of her job. While Bhanwari Devi’s plight is hardly unusual, her struggle for justice stands out for her sheer grit and determination. It was the Bhanwari Devi case which eventually gave birth to Vishaka Guidelines: court administered norms for sexual exploitation at work place.

Twenty five years ago when Bhanwari Devi was meted out greatest injustice there had been no internet and other means of communication to create the outrage that Muthukrishnan and Vemula do today. Her rise against the tide had been a lonely one and yet she had chosen to rise and fight instead of taking her life which given the place and time, would have been the most acceptable thing to do for a gang rape victim. Ironically her husband wanted to drown himself in the village stream but Bhanwari Devi had asked him to be strong.

While Rohith Vemula and Muthukrishnan should be emulated in the way they struggled their way up in life, they should not be emulated in the way they choose to end their struggle and life. Suicide apparently has one victim but in reality it has many — the actual victims being those left behind to gather the fragmented pieces of their lives and carry on.

For every Rohith and Muthukrishnan there is a Vimla and an Alamelu — mothers with a common shattered soul.

 

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