Lesson from Rohith Vemula's suicide: No matter what, govts must allow students to dissent

A university student in due course of time will be absorbed in the mundane struggles of life. Only an insecure government will deny them the right to question, dissent and follow the political ideology of their choice.

“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.” This is a part of Rohith Vemula’s only writing sample – his suicide letter.

This day, last year, Rohith Chakravarthi Vemula, hanged himself to death with the banner of Ambedkar Students Association – the students’ group that he was a part of – after the University of Hyderabad suspended him along with four other students for allegedly assaulting ABVP leader N Susheel Kumar over a political dispute and  stopped paying him his monthly stipend of Rs 25,000.

A month after his suicide, 1547 km away from Hyderabad, Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi saw an uprise in students politics. There were slogans in air and demands for justice, Justice for Rohith, agitation against the oppressing government. Though it’s sad that while we claim to be on the steps of becoming one of the superpowers, issues like casteism still continue to haunt us after 60 years of independence. But Rohith’s death did not just highlight the casteism issue and the humiliation that the Dalits have always faced and continue facing till date. It was something beyond that. It was about the political interferensce and about providing the space for different ideologies in the campuses.

Be it Left, Right, Seculars, Liberals, Nationalists or Anti-Nationals, everybody had an opinion about Vemula’s death. But what they all missed seeing was the political dictatorship taking over the campus freedom. Let’s forget Rohith’s caste identity for a while and focus on this simple question: why does any ideology that differs from the government’s ideology is termed as anti-national? Why were Rohith and his friends suspended while the ABVP student Susheel Kumar was just warned? Was Rohith’s death because of the fact that his ideology was different from that of UoH’s V-C Appa Rao’s? Was this not injustice? Was this not an “institutional murder” then?

Be it the National Anthem issue or the Supreme Court’s stand on Article 377 or the policies on the minorities or AFSPA, a campus is a place where a student is supposed to question everything and everyone. He is the youth with  fire in the belly who wants to know it all, fight for everything and to transform every fight into a cause. He is the same youth who, 10 years down the lane, might mellow down, might be trapped in the mundane realities of life, of having to pay for his EMIs, follow the way our system has been working. He is the same youth, who right now disagrees with all the government policies and want to bring revolution. He is the same youth, who with age will be more invested in the economic policies of the government. He will face the hard realities of life and realise that campus politics are limited only till the campus gates. Then life happens.

Then why is our government so insecure about them questioning the system? Why don’t they believe in answering them rather than nipping them in the buds? Why the BJP, since it has come to power, is pushing the Right Wing Hindutva ideology and anyone not supporting or following it is termed as an “anti-national”? The appointment of RSS sympathizers at prestigious institutions like the Indian Council of Historical Research (ICHR), the National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT), the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII) are  crystal clear examples that our current government wants to form a homogenous group of thinkers who neither question nor argue. And students like Rohith Vemula become a pawn in this war of ideologies.

While there has been a demand for justice all over, it’s high time that the universities start providing space for their ideological development. It’s high time that the state allows the students to think and shape as they want to without tagging them on the basis of their caste, class, and other identities. A lot of problems have been highlighted since Rohith left us and it’s high time that the universities act more responsible towards any such discrimination and put a stop to the political interference in the campus. And maybe then, we can be assured that there will be no more Rohiths or Najeebs.

Till then, keep guiding us to fight for our voices, Rohith!