Did he have to die for society to take to the streets?: Rohith Vemula's friend

His death only made the world less habitable for us: Rohit Vemula’s friend
Did he have to die for society to take to the streets?: Rohith Vemula's friend
Did he have to die for society to take to the streets?: Rohith Vemula's friend
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By Amrit BLS

In his death, Rohith Vemula proved that the society we live in is a decadent one. When Rohith and four other research scholars were subjected to a social boycott on December 16, 2015, by the Hyderabad Central University administration, only a few committed students, activists, faculty and media came out in support of the injustice that had been meted out to these five Dalit students. The majority of society, from both the University fraternity and society in general, gave only passing, almost indifferent attention towards the issue.

Only on the night of his death, did it feel like all the students of the University were united and actively involved in the cause that Rohith had been fighting for. Only after news of his death spread, did it feel like the outside world also realised that these five students had been facing inhumane treatment in the form of a social boycott. Only after his death did the stream of politicians and leaders who have expressed their solidarity with the protesting students realise that Dalit students face systemic discrimination even in higher educational institutions.

We question why Rohith did what he did and wonder if it was the right thing to do. It looks like the need to fight for justice is not enough for a majority of society to demand that wrongs be righted. Do we need a tragedy, like Rohith's death, for society to come out on to the streets and fight for what is right? The Telangana agitation was fuelled by the fires of students who had immolated themselves, demanding a separate state. Only after Nirbhaya was brutally assaulted and murdered did society demand that the country should be safer for half of its citizens. Did Rohith Vemula have to sacrifice himself for the people to realise the sad fate of students like himself?

"Is it really so bad to be a Dalit?" someone asked on the night that Rohith died, referring to the discrimination he faced. Why didn't this question come to our minds before? Why didn't this question come to our mind when he was suspended, expelled and subjected to social boycott? Why did we start to wonder about the discrimination faced by Dalits only after his death?

Rohith wrote in his last letter that he would be happier dead than alive. He judged his own birth as a fatal accident. If he was disappointed with the society he lived in, his passing has only made it less habitable for the rest of us. Rohith Vemula tried us all in the court of his mind and found us guilty of apathy, a crime worse than most.

(The writer is Rohith Vemula’s friend and an MA Communication student at Hyderabad Central University.)

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