On September 4m, 2014, Aniket Ambhore, a fourth year dual degree electrical engineering student at Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay, committed suicide. He was a Dalit student. After his death Aniket’s parents Sunita and Sanjay Ambhore submitted a 10-page testimony to the IITB director which raised the various forms of caste-discriminations faced by Aniket in the campus. After this, an enquiry committee was set up to look into the circumstances of the death. In spite of continuous demands from Aniket’s family and friends the report has not been made public or even shared with IITB community.
Aniket’s Mother Sunita Ambhore writes to the family and friends of Rohith Vemula
To the family and friends of Rohith,
After going through the last letter written by Rohith Vemula, I am feeling very restless, very suffocated. A researcher who in the name of punishment did not receive his fellowship for seven months and was thrown out of the hostel, all in an attempt to break him to his core. Though Rohith has not blamed anybody in his letter, it is very heart wrenching. I can see the similarities between the thoughts of the two, Aniket and Rohith, and I am trying to understand what pain they must have gone through. Aniket did not leave behind any letter, but from the sentences scattered here and there in his diary, in poetries I found that both of them had the same state of mind towards the end of their lives.
Aniket also talked about equality, and even supported and whole heartedly empathized with the struggles of transgender or his “Saathi‟ friends. He also had a lot of concern for his parents. He was struggling to find answers about caste, reservation, god etc. He was fighting against the discriminatory mindset which he had to face ever since he started preparing for IIT entrance exam.
When a person gets tired of fighting with powerful forces, only then is he overcome with an "emptiness‟, which can be seen in my son‟s and Rohit's life. This is frightening for one who is sensitive, thinks a lot and wants to realize his dreams. Such people due to their nature do not blame others but come to a point when they are unable to go on any more, they feel empty. Why would Aniket think so much? We always saw him laughing, performing mimicry, singing. What was there in IIT that my son forgot to smile. After his death the doctor told us that Aniket was confused. But Science and Mathematics were his favorite subjects from the beginning, then how could he have become confused?
In IIT, Aniket must have suffered the emptiness and hidden insult a lot. This was not in a direct but an indirect way, for he faced it in everyday discussions and in the name of advice, sometimes by peers and sometimes by faculty members. Not only IIT but other prestigious higher educational institutions also possess this egoistic way of thinking. Those who befriend students who come to these institutes through reservations keep saying, “Look, you and I have a similar economic background, yet you have received special facilities because of your caste...reservation is wrong” and other such things.
That is why Aniket had started searching for the roots of caste. Vedic religion, books and such knowledge are shown to be true and given a scientific form in these prestigious institutions and their ideas are drilled into the heads of the students even now. But when the students face a problem due to caste bias, there is no support system that the institute provides. There is no counseling for these problems, they are not even recognised as a problem, but put across as a fact that a category student has to face. Availing reservation is treated as a crime. If you have availed of reservation then you are expected to face the arguments and judgments of people, this is the mentality of the savarnas. Aniket and other children are not treated empathetically, their problems are instead framed as issues of low academic ability, parental pressure, high self-expectation so that savarnas do not have to deal with the actual issue on hand.
Aniket had lost his identity. “Who am I”- why would such a question trouble him? Why did Aniket become concerned about graha, stars, soul- supreme soul or the other world after coming to IIT? We don‟t know where his positive thinking, creative mind and his smile disappeared. Our only crime was that we sent him to IITB with a category certificate. If he had studied in ordinary institutions then at least he would not have to listen to so many discussions and advice which weakened his mind. That he is incapable, who gave such a feeling to my able, sensible, jolly Aniket? We have not yet received any replies to the letters we sent to various important official authorities like MHRD and Scheduled Castes Commission. After our request, IIT Bombay did set up an inquiry committee but no changes were brought about in its institutional functioning, nobody has even informed us about the inquiry report. Perhaps they do not think it necessary to give answers….
We feel very small in our own eyes. But Rohith's incident has once again highlighted the matter. Both Aniket and Rohith faced different conditions, but the reason they had to struggle was the same. I don‟t know till when will our children fight this hidden casteism. We too are fighting it…
Students' agitation is the only remaining hope. Perhaps only the students will be able to wake up the dormant system. We are waiting to see some solace for the pain suffered by Rohith‟s family and the dalit society….