By Syed Mohib Ali
This rejoinder is in response to Sriram Karri’s article published on 18 January. The response is intended to point out the wilful ignorance of the author to institutional caste discrimination and state intervention in educational institutions and points out the inherent hypocrisy of blaming student politics for Rohith Vemula’s tragic death.
Sriram Karri’s article essentially bemoans the fact that the deceased did not have the space to pursue his true dream; of being a science writer and how it was students politics that consumed and killed him. The piece goes on to argue that politics has taken over the mission of academics to produce successful people and that of providing students with an ecosystem of learning and intellectual curiosity.
Firstly, it is amusing and ludicrous that the author expects students like Vemula to become science writers and better minds, and yet not decry the suspension that barred his entry from the library and all public spaces: A suspension order that reeked of casteism by socially boycotting the Dalit students, similar to the age old practice of outcasting Dalits to the margins of a community. If there is still any apprehension about the fact that the circumstances leading to the suicide had nothing to do with institutional caste discrimination, one should read Vemula’s letter to the vice-chancellor written two weeks ago seeking a solution to the “caste problem”.
Secondly, the argument is hypocritical at several levels. It makes student politics the straw man for its own purposes and deflects from the real issues at hand. It speaks about the core purpose of universities to provide space for intellectual curiosity, freedom and learning, and yet does not condemn persistent ideological state intervention and anti-intellectualism in this case and others. The fact of the matter is that it is only after repeated queries and pressure by the Ministry of Human Resource Development that the university administration took action against the five students — going back on its earlier revocation of the suspension order.
The author then goes on to claim that the students were left languishing in the open and nobody reached out to them in a humane manner. Here again, the author conveniently ignores the administration's apathy, but instead chooses to blame campus politics. Instead of dealing sensitively with the issue, the university administration chose to be apathetic and indifferent to the suspended students camping out in the open for 12 long days, and to the protests by the JAC for Social Justice against the discrepancies in its enquiry.
Karri speaks of the ‘unimpeachable’ need for a concerned citizenry and political awareness, but does not endorse the peaceful protests being undertaken by students all over the country for this and various other causes, as is their right and enshrined in the right to assemble peacefully and speak freely.
The title of his article is misleading for it does not seek to change campus politics by democratising or formalising students’ representation as, for instance, the Lyngdoh committee suggests. It doesn’t even try to be critical of the affiliations of student groups with political outfits and their use of violence as a political means. While broadly agreeing with the point about the dangers of creating political binaries and political parties scoring brownie points over the issue, to ask students not to engage in politics at this juncture is akin to asking one side to disarm themselves in the face of a battle while being under attack.
The fact is there are still four research scholars who are alive, well and suspended. And to deprive them and other students of their right to protest by political means and seek justice is absolutely unfair. Simply put, the author tries to make campus and student politics the scapegoat and chooses to overlook institutional caste discrimination and state intervention.
It is truly the vanity and hypocrisy of our times that we expect marginalised students to become great intellects and not be concerned about social causes and injustices perpetrated against them. We want students to pursue their dreams but do not want them to be free and choose their own politics or their food.
The worst hypocrisy that the author commits is to denounce the very campus politics that tries to achieve all these freedoms as a means to pursue various ends.
In his zealousness to listen to subtle tunes, the author turns a blind eye to the obvious and the unmissable.
The author is a student at the University of Hyderabad