By Abul Kalam Azad
In the afternoon on a morbid December day, I received a message on Facebook from Rohith Vemula, the Dalit scholar martyred few days ago, canvassing for solidarity from comrades for the excommunication of four Dalit scholars, including himself, by HCU on fabricated charges. The suspension was a disturbing act of political and casteist vendetta. I was shocked. But, as if almost, out of habit, I wished him strength in this heroic endeavour.
But here I am, nearly a month after, reading and re-reading his poignant farewell message, full of grace and sorrow to a world that shackled him at every step.
I never met him. I wish I had. Retrospective regret is a bitter feeling that can numb our nerves. I always had the utmost respect for him and the polity he strove for.
As some commentators - most prominently Dalit scholar Chittibabu Padavala - repeatedly emphasise, the most fertile weapon in our fight against Hindu fascism is caste. The inherently atomic nature of its existence renders it a formidable political strategy to dismantle the veneer of a vicious Hindu unity. Ambedkar Students Association (ASA), of which Rohith was a leader, set an invaluable example for decisively defeating the Sangh Parivar, that is, by assembling a genuine coalition of lower castes and minorities, especially Muslims, the demographic group that shall be the worst victim of a fascist uprising.
Maybe this was what disconcerted the Sangh the most: that heartening image of a group of unapologetic Dalits and Muslims defying the institutional powers that be to hold a screening of “Muzaffarnagar Baaqi Hain”, the searing slogans from their rallies protesting capital punishment and the hanging of Yakub Memon.
The fingers of untouchables tightly entwined around the shoulders of Muslims broke the fragile spears the Sangh was trying to foist across the nation - they knew Dalit-Muslim unity is the death knell of Hindutva.
Consequently, what occurred was the slew of abusive postings, cooked-up complaints, thinly-veiled orders from union Ministers to reprimand the students, and the shamefully compliant institutional authorities. One after another, everything fell into its pre-ordained place, like the notes of a haunting orchestra composed long back, and played again and again, into the wounded ears of Dalit students with the seamless impunity granted in the holy scriptures.
That’s what Rohith and the ASA meant to me – a faint glimmer of hope that the fascists are itching to suffocate with their saffron shrouds.
A lot seems changed in the span of a month. The slumbering eyes that forgot how to weep, now sense a moist veil, like snow softly falling through the cracks in a coffin, like the sullen skin on the lips of a stale cuppa, around the drooping lids.
It didn't take much time for his message requesting support to morph into an aching suicidal whisper abandoning himself - taking him far from us mortals, and turning into an immortal memory.
Perhaps we, his ideological comrades who shared his vision of an egalitarian casteless society, have failed to extend, nay, comprehend, the nature of solidarity he sought for.
A solidarity that wouldn't end with a signature on Change.org.
A solidarity that should have begun with breaking the caste Hindu doors, that were closed on our faces, at the mouths of sewage drains that swallow our human flesh, at the minds of the meritorious that sneer at our marks.
A solidarity that would have burnt Manusmriti and rejoiced in its ashes.
His legacy, today, leaks through the tears of his friends, in the profiles and covers photos of saddened strangers, his name echoing in crisp newspaper headlines and crowded television debates. Some would keep spinning a buck that never stops, and others would spend hours pushing their anger through the cacophony of apathy. Some will demand for his caste certificate and call him a depressed anti-national in the same breath, and others would lose their sleep haunted by the kindness of his last syllabic sighs, their empty walls now weep with those letters - “ I always wanted to be a writer….At last, this is the only letter I am getting to write”.
The only words we allowed, or perhaps, forced him to write were in his suicide note. My heart quivered in shameful silence, as I wrote the former sentence. Who will write all the words he couldn’t? Are we willing yet to listen to them?
“My birth is my fatal accident”, he wrote. But, what is his death, to us? To this casteist society? What else can we promise this man, ‘made of glorious stardust’, except that we will set ablaze the annals of caste with his funeral flames? That will make this a world a star, where he would have been happier alive than dead.
(The writer is a student at IIT Madras)
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