Rohith Vemula is no hero, Sambia Sohrab is a coward and we are all hypocrites

A murder and a suicide blow the idea of India to smithereensPTI image
Voices Wednesday, January 20, 2016 - 18:55

Nothing exposes a people and their politicians more than a public death from which political mileage can be extracted or subtracted. In the public crying, finger-pointing and chest thumping are strains of a war cry of failure and a fear of being found out or getting caught. We saw this when Jyothi Singh was raped and thrown out of a bus, we saw it in the public lynching of Akhlaq in Dadri as well as the killing of rationalists and thinkers. Many prominent Indians returned their national awards to mark their protest lending a bit of comedy to the grimness of death and depravity.

Rohith Vemula, a doctoral student in Hyderabad Central University (HCU) took his own life last week, unable to cope with a system that denied him the right to thrive and blossom as a scientist. It is irrelevant if he was a Dalit or a Brahmin and all else in-between. A man was dead – it was time to make political capital. By many accounts in the media, he was depressed and in need of medical attention. But depression is not the stuff of attention and outrage for political piranhas and pundits. Why should it? It is only one of India’s untold horror stories and over 130,000 people take their lives every year. Many do so due to a disturbed mental state worsened by social and or familial isolation.  

Sambia Sohrab was literally born on the other side of the road where people drive Audis and BMWs. That should not have mattered either. He is allegedly the person who killed a man on the street and fled. It would have made no difference to the gruesomeness of the crime if he had done that with a cycle. There too, a man lay dead and Sohrab went absconding for four days before surfacing with his version of the story. It takes time to bake lies while truth stares you in the face immediately. Or rather his lawyer’s version according to which there was no eyewitness as the Skoda which was following the Audi was too far away to keep an eye, much less witness.

Welcome to the ‘Idea of India’ (not the book), a stupid and dangerous construct that has served a few and left out most and is being foisted on a nation as an ‘intellectual’ game. A post I wrote on the subject three months ago drew flak and praise, but the questions remain unanswered. Were people like Vemula part of this idea of India and if they were, why did this man feel isolated and ostracized enough to take his own life? Why did the HCU not wake up to this crisis in time? Where was India? Does Sohrab belong to this idea of India or do people with fast cars and reckless driving not make the cut?  There too, India went missing. Are Vemula and Sohrab the fringe or are they being used by fringe elements to foist a non-dialogue on India? Read the earlier piece here.

The fringe is you, the politicians of India. The fringe is you – all political parties and mouthpieces– who are intellectually stunted and emotionally vacant. So vacant that tragedy is a game, escaping from law is a game. Not getting caught is a game where there is one set of laws for those who write it and another for those who cannot read it. So much of a fringe India’s politicians and public intellectuals have become that they can no longer see the tragedy of a young man killing himself without shouting about caste politics. They are deaf and mute to speak abut their own hypocrisy, which will turn a blind eye to a politician’s son who will get away with blue murder. For them, the law will take its course because they are the law.

The dance of the macabre that took place for Vemula was telling. His family received the vain and the cruel, the hypocrites and haranguers. Most of them have never known hunger or social indignity and have not burnt the midnight oil to get to good schools and colleges. Perhaps the truly ridiculous were the Trinamool Congress politicians from Kolkata who rushed to Hyderabad hoping the dust and noise they create would drown the murder on their streets by one of their own.

Universities cannot be political hotbeds, many said. That’s easy enough to understand from those who have never set foot in one or been part of student life. These people applaud dissent from a distance. Kent State 1970, Nanterre and Sorbonne 1968 and Woodstock were students demanding social justice and an end to the war in Vietnam. I have picked these examples with a purpose – this is what appeals to India’s secular and broad-minded, who speak about Holocaust and concentration camps as if they were cuss words. Indian university protests are third class, except if they come from the hallowed institutions of Delhi. And even that they couldn’t cope with. Last time India’s young poured out on the streets of Delhi after the 2012 gang rape, the government went missing and surfaced with water guns.

Vemula was up against the very forces that allowed Sohrab to flee. Discrimination against Dalits is ideology-neutral just like escape routes for criminal politicians and their progeny.  For now, one award has been returned. There were no awards sent back when Malda was burning, nor were there hordes of returnees when farmers in Karnataka took their lives – they were desperate, depressed and poor. Those are probably boring deaths. If they were secular suicides, there would have been some action.

The opposition led by the Congress party is baying for blood. They want the heads of Minister of State Bandaru Dattatreya and Human Resources Minister Smriti Irani to roll. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) said on Tuesday the incident in the University of Hyderabad campus had nothing to do with Dalit issues or rights. “…the context of the clash between student groups was Rohith’s stand in support of terrorism, including that against the hanging of Yakub Memon.”

If people are selectively isolated by the state because they hold a contrarian view, there’s a good chance the person who killed a man on the streets of Kolkata in broad daylight is deciding which car to buy next.

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