Who is the Lady Macbeth in Rohith Vemula’s death, lamenting the smell of blood on her hands? Is it just one or many? We may not name one or any to be the Lady Macbeth in this episode. Each of them would know their share of guilt.
At last, the agitprop kicked off by Ambedkar Students Association (ASA) and Solidarity Joint Action Committee (JAC) for Social Justice against the suspension of five Dalit students of University of Hyderabad (UoH), aka Hyderabad Central University (HCU), bore fruit. But, at what cost? A scholastic researcher had to lay down his worthy life. Was it necessary?
In front of the ultimate sacrifice or an emotional decision of Rohith Chakravarthy Vemula, the solace offered by the decision of the Executive Council (EC) is too little and too late.
The EC may have terminated the decision taken against the students, but the surreptitious suggestions by certain “interested parties” have left the aggrieved sections out of the process of meting out justice.
A statement from the university reads as follows, "The Executive Council, after taking into account the extraordinary situation prevailing in the University, and after discussing the issue in detail, resolved to terminate the punishment imposed on the students concerned with immediate effect."
"Further Prof. P Appa Rao has appealed to the University community to maintain calmness and harmony under the extraordinary circumstances prevailing on the campus and repose faith in the internal mechanisms to resolve the issue and fervently urged all in the University to contribute to resuming regular class work, research activities and administrative work without further delay. He has also called upon all the teachers, students, officers and supporting staff to rise to the occasion," it said.
But the Dean of Students Welfare P Prakash Babu put out a circular in which it was added, "Further, it was resolved that this decision of the Executive Council is subject to the verdict in the cases filed vide W.P. No 28073 of 2015 and W.P. No 41516/2015 (in the Hon’ble High Court), and the cases registered in the Gachibowli Police Station vide FIR No 296/2015 u/s 44, 314, 506, 323 read with 147 of the IPC."
This paragraph in the official circular issued by the DSW means that the action was terminated and also not terminated.
As everyone had acknowledged, the process of fighting a police case in the court is in itself a punishment. Given the decision of the university with a definite rider, the students were not insulated from the legal wrangles.
The timeline of the turn of events began from the day of Yakub Memon’s hanging on 30 July 2015 and the attack by ABVP activists on the screening of Muzaffarnagar Baaqi Hai on 1 August 2015 in New Delhi. Rohith’s Facebook posts condemning the hanging and the subsequent protests by the ASA on the HCU campus (against ABVP’s vandalism in Delhi) had triggered the controversy.
While his freedom of expression had come under question, ABVP leader N Susheel Kumar had posted on Facebook condemning and deriding the protests by the ASA.
Angered by this, ASA activists had confronted Susheel Kumar who initially withdrew the comments and tendered a written apology, in turn, had lodged a police complaint on 10 August against five Dalit students charging them with attacking him. The matter was escalated to proctorial board for an inquiry.
Union Minister Bandaru Dattatreya had written to HRD minister Smriti Irani on 17 August describing the ASA students as "anti-national and extremist". Based on the report by Proctorial Board, five students, including Rohith, were suspended on 9 September.
Following protests from the suspended students, the in-charge vice-chancellor RP Sharma had relaxed the suspension conditions and had let them attend classes and use library facilities.
The University got a new vice-chancellor – Appa Rao Podile – on 21 September. The V-C, on the advise of the Executive Council, had enforced the suspension of students from entering the hostels and open areas on the campus. This was preceded by a direction from the high court in response to a petition filed by Susheel Kumar’s mother Vinaya. This was described as a "social boycott" by the ASA activists and Rohith wrote an abrasive letter to the V-C with a subject line: “Solution for Dalit problems.”
He had demonstrated his agitation to such an extent that he was “tempted to give two suggestions: serving 10 mg of Sodium Azide to all the Dalit students at the time of admission and supplying a nice rope to the rooms of all Dalit students.” He quipped that Donald Trump would be a Lilliput in front of the V-C’s commitment to suppress Dalits.
Rohith’s concluding emotional appeal to the V-C — “I request your highness to make preparations for the facility Euthanasia for students like me. And I wish you and the campus rest in peace forever,” — wasn’t taken kindly. Instead of nursing a grievance against ASA students and labelling them as “anti-national”, the university authorities and the government should have taken a serious look at the causes that triggered such reaction from the students on in-house and also social issues.
Instead, the authorities decided to demonstrate their authoritarianism and deal the delicate situation with an iron hand. How inexperienced they were and how callow their decisions were are not beyond anybody’s imagination.
Exactly a month later, Rohith killed himself. Penning a fantastic, yet highly melancholic, letter, the would-have-been "sceince writer like Carl Sagan" took leave from this world, leaving all the saner minds shocked and grieving.
Rahul Gandhi, Sitaram Yechury, Arvind Kejriwal, YS Jaganmohan Reddy, Asaduddin Owaisi, Ramdas Athawale, and a host of other leaders made a beeline to the university and expressed solidarity with the suspended students.
The Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) isn’t “bothered” overtly, for neither the V-C nor the deceased belong to Telangana: they belong to Guntur district in Andhra Pradesh. The Telugu Desam Party, being partner of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), maintained a strategic silence and coolly went and promised a compensation of Rs 5 lakh to Rohith’s family and a job in social welfare department to one of the members of the bereaved family.
The reckless way of handling the entire episode claimed a life, and the reputation the Centre of Excellence – HCU – has built for itself over the years. Truth remains elusive, mortal remains of the Rohith too disappeared.
And yet, the Lady Macbeths in this story may not repent openly.