Students were beaten up in the most brutal manner in Delhi for demanding action by the government in connection with the suicide of Rohith Vemula. Students and youth all over the country are extremely agitated at the victimization of students by the authorities, for expressing views which may be at variance with those of the ruling establishment — views which turn the spotlight on the failings of the prevailing political and social system — and for trying to organise around those views. What has happened in Hyderabad Central University revealing the rot that has set within the system has been happening in many universities across the country.
IIT Madras last year banned a Dalit students’ group for criticizing the Central Government’s economic policies. It was only after mass agitation by students and people all over the country that that ban was revoked. Two students, who had raised slogans against Prime Minister Narendra Modi when he went to address the convocation of Ambedkar University in Lucknow on January 22, were ejected from the institutes’ hostel by the authorities.
What these developments show is the worsening phenomena of a State that sees all dissent as anti-national. They reveal the increasing violations of the ruling establishment of the right to conscience, a right that Indians have fought for and preserved in spite of severe persecution by the ruling elite.
What had Rohith done that so infuriated those in power that prompted them to drive him to suicide? His sin was to participate in an indefinite day and night dharna along with four other fellow students protesting against their savage persecution by the University authorities.
His tragic suicide was the result of the continued persecution of dalit students, contrary to the justifications being given by the government. These students were active members of the Ambedkar Students Association (ASA). They boldly propagated their views on various political and social issues, and organized students around these issues. They had protested the hanging of Yakub Memon, convicted in the 1993 Bombay blasts case. They had also condemned the attack on the screening of the documentary ‘Muzaffarnagar Baaqi Hai’ (which brings out the role of the ruling establishment in organising the communal massacres in Muzaffarnagar, Uttar Pradesh, in 2013) in Delhi University. The ASA also exposed and opposed the systematic discrimination and humiliation faced by dalits students in the campus at the hand of the authorities.
Both the University authorities and the central government are fully culpable in this crime. This incident again confirms that the institutions in post-colonial India operate in the same fashion as they did in colonial times. Students from the most depressed sections of the population are kept away from institutions of higher learning so that they continue to remain in their wretched condition and do not dare to voice their protest. If after heavy odds, they do get admission into these institutions, they are tolerated only as long as they do not question the rampaging discrimination and injustice going on in society.
A student organization in a university campus that dares to propagate views that are contrary to those of the government is viciously targeted and suppressed and its activists maligned and persecuted. All forms of dissent are attacked and banned. The right to conscience has been regularly and systematically violated by all governments after 1947 in much the same way as in the colonial period.
All those who have a view of the problems of the society today and their solution, which is contrary to the view of the ruling establishment, are branded as “anti-national”, accused of “spreading enmity and hatred” and of “waging war against the state”. The deliberate targeting of the students of Hyderabad Central University as “casteist”, “anti-national” and “extremist”, by a Central Minister, for exposing and opposing the state organized communal and fascist terror confirms this truth. In reality, it is not the people who are communal or anti-national. It is the Indian ruling establishment which keeps people divided on the basis of caste, religion, region, language, and others.
This incident has also brought into sharp focus the deep seated discrimination, the daily humiliation and persecution, faced by dalit students in what are supposed to be “centres of enlightenment”. Every government that comes to power swears to end caste oppression and discrimination. But caste oppression and discrimination are all pervasive and institutionalised in the present system. Oppressed and marginalized sections of our people, like dalits, tribals, religious minorities and others are systematically victimized on university campuses across the country.
The right to dissent, the right to conscience, must not be allowed to be violated by the powers that be. Lok Raj Sangathan supports the struggle of the students and youth of Hyderabad University and all over the country, in defence of the right to conscience. The aim of these struggles cannot be the replacement of one ruling party by another. These struggles have to be taken forward with the long-term vision of a society where the people are truly empowered, where discrimination on the basis of caste, religion, language and region would have been eradicated, and where the political process enables people to select and elect their representatives and demand accountability from them.