Mr Bandaru Dattatreya, was Hyderabad student Rohith Vemula really anti-national?

Dear Minister,

Let’s begin this letter with a clean chit to you. The FIR against you in the Rohith Vemula matter is not going to land you in jail. It’s not worth the paper it is written on. Rohith’s suicide note does not name you. In fact, it neither demonstrates no anger nor points any accusing finger at anyone. Its content reflects hopelessness and a sense of defeat. There’s a hint of a depressed mind in it too. If the suicide note is the sole basis of the FIR, then rest assured, the courts of law will junk it at some point.

Rohith’s case will not affect your ministerial position either, or that of Union HRD Minister Smriti Irani, whose office sent one email and five reminders in response to your letter. It’s possible you will be feted for showing the world how you deal with ‘anti-national’ students. Other leaders may soon be emulating your example. I see an elevation in position for you. Congratulations in advance!

Mr Bandaru Dattatreya, was Hyderabad student Rohith Vemula really anti-national?

File image of Bandaru Dattatreya (right). Image courtesy: PIB

But Sir, beyond the small world of the law, courts, evidence etc, there’s a big universe driven by the consideration of morality — or at least the perception of morality — and the rules of conscience. The courts may absolve you of all guilt but you will find it difficult to escape being considered guilty by the yardsticks of the universe. A young student’s death is no small matter. He was only 26; it’s no age to die for anyone, including those who do not believe in your construct of nationalism or your way of looking at the world.

Branding someone ‘anti-national’ is a bigger crime.

Let me reiterate that you had nothing to with Rohith’s suicide. But let us have a look at the chain of events. There was a fight between members of Ambedkar Students Association and Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad over the hanging of Yakub Memon last year and the screening of a documentary Muzaffarnagar Baaqi Hai on campus. In August, a letter purportedly written on your letter pad and sent to the Union HRD ministry calls the university a den of casteist, extremist and anti-national politics.

In justification, it adds “this could be visualised from the fact that when Yakub Memon was hanged, a dominant students’ union that is Amedkar Students Union has held protest against the execution”. It sought action against such ‘anti-nationals’ and blamed the university for not doing enough.

The same proctorial board that had found Rohith and other members of ASU not guilty in the incident in August, found them guilty in December. Its action was allegedly spurred by Bandaru’s letter to the ministry. The students were expelled. And what followed till Rohith’s suicide is public knowledge.

Sir, as the chain of events suggests, were it not for your letter, Rohith would perhaps be living today, dreaming of becoming a science writer. Whatever has emerged from the case so far does not point to a direct, legally establish-able link between the letter and the suicide but the weight of circumstantial developments is difficult to ignore.

It is possible, like you clarified, that you only forwarded the representation from ABVP activists to the ministry and had no idea what happened to it later. It is possible again that some overenthusiastic official in the HRD ministry kept pursuing the matter and equally overenthusiastic varsity authorities overreacted. However, what was jarring is your statement on news channels that the university had anti-social and anti-national elements, who were assaulting ABVP activists.

Who are you to decide who is an anti-national?

For that matter who gave the right to the ABVP to decide who is what?

There are so many people in the country who disapproved of Yakub’s hanging for different reasons and yes, there are so many who did not view the Muzaffarnagar riots in the similar way a large number of your friends in your political circles did. But does that make them anti-national? Am I anti-national because I am writing this?

Of course, you will be backed by everyone in your ideological fraternity. There will be strong justification for your action. That will wash away the sense of guilt, if there is any at all. As the FIR goes into the legal labyrinth, Rohith will be forgotten. But Sir, do you feel now that this could have been avoided? If Rohith was planning to commit suicide he would have done it anyway, but did he deserve the anti-national tag?

Best of luck for the case. The FIR is a joke. You will emerge with flying colours.

Yours truly,

An Indian

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Updated Date: Jan 20, 2016 17:22:35 IST

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