Well, these are some words from the first letter written in public domain by Rohith Vemula – that is now also is his last one – because Rohith, a young research scholar from a reputed university, committed suicide yesterday.
And these words, if they tell his suicide may have other reasons than student politics and caste discrimination, they also tell, in fact the whole language of his letter, that this guy cannot be anti-national as Bandaru Dattatreya, senior BJP leader and union minister, and University of Hyderabad administration think.
Like everything has good and bad facets – student politics is no exception. In fact, student politics is a must in any democracy – but certainly not in the form that is prevalent in India – from Delhi University to Jawaharlal Nehru University to Mumbai University to University of Hyderabad to Banaras Hindu University – in fact, in any university in India.
The developments related to student politics leave you in bad mood and in bitter taste. I have seen its polluted form, a form that has become a sort of norm in India, during my days in Banaras Hindu University. Thankfully, the student union, as it prevails in places like DU and JNU, doesn’t exist in BHU though it has its flipside – a ruthless university administration that has consistently seen and faced allegations of corruption and impropriety – including its current administration – a clear letdown – a trend that began in early years of the first decade of this Century.
Rohith, the 26 year old, second year Ph.D. student, was expelled from hostel and was barred from other living spaces of the university except his classroom, library and seminars and conference halls – in a way a social boycott.
He writes in his letter he has no complaints and no one should be held responsible for his suicide. He writes ‘he is happy being dead than alive’. He writes he is not sad but is feeling empty and that is killing him.
I have no intention to go into inside out of this letter. I am incapable of doing so. In fact, I should not do so.
But there are some relevant questions where we must look for the answers if we have to stand up and grow as a holistic society, and this letter is right there.
What Rohith has written in his letter are questions fuelled from a sense of insecurity that creeps beneath your skin when you start questioning the society around you in terms of your ethos towards life – and we all entitled for that.
His letter flows lyrically. It has a soul – a soul that tells of a conscious mind – a soul that tells us why his detractors including the university administration, politicians including those from student politics and society at large are wrong – a soul that tells why they all are culprits.
Yes, life is as much about positives as it is about negatives – and the journey here is the sum total of maintaining the lead of positives over negatives – but sometimes, negatives become so acidic that anything can happen in those ‘impulsive moments that let you down’.
Embracing death – this young fellow looks set to do that – without blaming anyone – wishing for a journey to some other worlds – but his words also tell that how we failed him – that how we exacerbated the feeling of ‘disconnect’ in those impulsive moments’ when Rohith decided to embrace death.
His tragic death deals deeply with the questions of identity crisis – like commoditization of a human life – a research scholar at a university, with a conscience like of the author of this letter, bound to feel low when he faces the insensitivity around him – mixed with social arrogance and social apathy.
Rohith Vemula was active in student politics but his letter tells his was a logical political past – the way it should be in student politics – and not like the obscene display of political muscle and money in places like DU. And we safely can say that Ambedkar Students Association (ASA), Rohith was a member of, is far less controversial than ABVP (Akhil Bhartiya Vidyarthi Parishad), BJP’s student politics wing.
The letter says Rohith was not sad but it lets itself bare open before us in letting us know that how depressed he was when he terms his birth as some fatal accident and his grown up days as disconnected from the society he was living in – so much so that he says that we need fakes to look original.
We may rightly debate that it is not the case but Rohith makes his point logically and lyrically – even if leaving us all humiliatingly burdened by the sense of guilt that his death has caused.
The reason for his death goes well beyond caste politics. It is more about the rot in our education system, especially the university education system. Unfortunately, most of the universities in India are like small fiefdoms where vice-chancellors lord over like anything. And with increasing political patronage and interference, people with questionable academic intent are having a green run. It was a political interference that caused Rohith’s expulsion from hostel.
In such institutions, teaching quality is the first casualty. Next in the line are students. Student politics, that is a direct offshoot of senior level politics in our country, further pollutes the system. Large scale scams are regularly alleged in recruitments and admissions. The VCs with feudal mindsets take bizarre decisions though these things are hardly reported. The recent decision by BHU to sack Sandeep Pandey, visiting professor, IIT-BHU, is one such example. The university administration has branded the Magsaysay winner a ‘naxalite’. Utter rubbish!
And then there are social equations.
India has made considerable progress in ensuring social affirmative action. It cannot be outrightly dismissed as some are trying to do (as some try to do whenever such incidents happen). Much has been done and we can see its effects.
But then it is also equally true that much is yet to be done, especially in rural belts. And that tells us we urgently need to graduate to the next stage of our affirmative action.
And about the mindset change in urban India – where the problem exists – it is a complex social equation and a straight law and order issue – and must be dealt accordingly. It will take time but we need to appreciate that the change is coming – if we have to succeed – like sternly dealing with culprits in this case – even if Rohith’s letter doesn’t blame anyone.
We need to graduate to ‘Dalit cause’ – beyond ‘Dalit politics’ – and we need to be real with it – beyond those artificial dogmas that still blind us.
I did not know who Rohith Vemula was before yesterday. No one except his immediate life circle knew him before yesterday.
But, now I know who he was, through his words – through this letter. A loss of young life this way leaves unanswered questions for all of us – blaming us collectively – for failing it.
©/IPR: Santosh Chaubey – https://santoshchaubey.wordpress.com/
Rohith Vemula only letter (addressed to all of us) – and must be for all of us..
I would not be around when you read this letter. Don’t get angry on me. I know some of you truly cared for me, loved me and treated me very well. I have no complaints on anyone. It was always with myself I had problems. I feel a growing gap between my soul and my body. And I have become a monster. 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.
I loved Science, Stars, Nature, but then I loved people without knowing that people have long since divorced from nature. Our feelings are second handed. Our love is constructed. Our beliefs colored. Our originality valid through artificial art. It has become truly difficult to love without getting hurt.
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 every field, in studies, in streets, in politics, and in dying and living.
I am writing this kind of letter for the first time. My first time of a final letter. Forgive me if I fail to make sense.
May be I was wrong, all the while, in understanding world. In understanding love, pain, life, death. There was no urgency. But I always was rushing. Desperate to start a life. All the while, some people, for them, life itself is curse. My birth is my fatal accident. I can never recover from my childhood loneliness. The unappreciated child from my past.
I am not hurt at this moment. I am not sad. I am just empty. Unconcerned about myself. That’s pathetic. And that’s why I am doing this.
People may dub me as a coward. And selfish, or stupid once I am gone. I am not bothered about what I am called. I don’t believe in after-death stories, ghosts, or spirits. If there is anything at all I believe, I believe that I can travel to the stars. And know about the other worlds.
If you, who is reading this letter can do anything for me, I have to get 7 months of my fellowship, one lakh and seventy five thousand rupees. Please see to it that my family is paid that. I have to give some 40 thousand to Ramji. He never asked them back. But please pay that to him from that.
Let my funeral be silent and smooth. Behave like I just appeared and gone. Do not shed tears for me. Know that I am happy dead than being alive.
“From shadows to the stars.”
Uma anna, sorry for using your room for this thing.
To ASA family, sorry for disappointing all of you. You loved me very much. I wish all the very best for the future.
For one last time,
I forgot to write the formalities. No one is responsible for my this act of killing myself. No one has instigated me, whether by their acts or by their words to this act. This is my decision and I am the only one responsible for this. Do not trouble my friends and enemies on this after I am gone.