A week after Dalit PhD scholar Rohith Vemula’s suicide, protests have only increased in intensity, with both Hyderabad University and the BJP coming under increasing pressure for an end to casteist discrimination.
On Monday, hundreds of people, mostly students, converged at the university, in response to a call by the Joint Action Committee, which is spearheading the agitation. As songs and slogans make up the general atmosphere of the university, The News Minute speaks to Prakash Ambdekar, head of the Bharipa Bahujan Mahasangh and Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar’s grandson. Edited excerpts from the interview:
What do you think of the BJP's appropriation of Ambedkar?
This is the dichotomy, which BJP is facing: The vision they are following is based on discrimination, right from Hedgewar to Golwalkar is based on discrimination and being in power, they can’t project the image that they are discriminating (against Dalits). To get over that image of discrimination, they have now started saying that they are accepting Ambedkar.
I divide Dr. Ambedkar into two: One is physical and one is intellectual. What the BJP is now appropriating is the physical Dr. Ambedkar, not the ideological one. Ambedkar is just a showpiece, nothing more than a showpiece.
One of the aspects of Ambedkar’s ideology is to eliminate all forms of discrimination. And they could have at least started a dialogue with the students. Today, you find that even the dialogue has not started. And that’s the bad part of it.
Do you think India’s Left parties have done enough to address caste?
Basically it’s only when atrocities take place that caste is discussed. Otherwise, caste has not been addressed in the country, but I think from now on the political parties will again start discussing caste issues.
How would Ambedkar have dealt with circumstances that preceded Rohith Vemula's suicide?
(Ambdekar served as principal of two colleges in the 1930s). Most importantly, he would have seen to it that there was no discrimination in selection of research guides because even in his college, he was particular about the selection of the professors. He would have prescribed a format as to who could have become a research guide. When he himself selected (professors) for his own college, even when there were some who were very, very intelligent and they didn’t have respect for humanity, he just asked them to leave. Whatever it maybe, I need a person who is human and who is intelligent (he would have thought).
After he returned from London, Ambedkar was also kicked out of homes in Mumbai because of his caste. Dalits in India still face the situation. Why has there been no change?
This is part of society. It’s a systematic discrimination. It’s against this systematic discrimination, systemised discrimination, that we are fighting a long battle. We have been able to minimise it, but we have not been able to eliminate it.
Have upper castes have become sensitive to Dalit issues?
Yes I think so. Where I have seen agitations coming out in other places, the general students are also joining in.
Do you think the politics of identity based on caste, like those of BSP and other parties, have failed to liberate Dalits?
BSP is a power-hungry party. It has nothing to do with social issues. In fact, they spoke of joining together with upper castes, which means keeping caste as it is. And therefore its failure and success doesn't change anything.
What is your view on the social composition of public institutions - the government, judiciary, media, universities, etc. How do they affect the manner in which public discourse on caste is constructed?
As long as caste is there, reservations are going to be there, as long caste is there discrimination will continue therefore if the government wants to lessen the discrimination, it should eliminate the caste system.
How do you think society can now discuss caste so that it claims lesser lives?
Rohith’s parents had an inter-caste marriage. You should encourage intermingling of society that's one way of abolishing caste. Wherever there is a possibility of intermingling of society, it should definitely be encouraged.