Wednesday January 17, 2018
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Indian Diaspora’s outcry over Rohith Vemula death

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Varnika Mahajan

New Delhi: Rohith Chakravarthi Vemula was a Dalit PhD scholar and an ASA (Ambedkar Students’ Association) member who was suspended from Hyderabad Central University over a political dispute with the ABVP (Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad) last year. On January 17, Rohith committed suicide in a hostel room. The tragic death of Rohith Vemula triggered protests across the country and around the world.

Expressing shock and outrage at 26-year old’s death, widespread protests often termed as an “epochal” moment for India’s students by analysts started erupting at major universities and cities across the US and other regions. The movement is said to bear similarities with the #BlackLivesMatter and #RhodesMustFall movements.

Rohith Vemula was an anti-caste activist, student leader and PhD scholar at the University of Hyderabad (UoH). On January 25, the UoH campus witnessed a huge number of activists storming the premises and organizing large demonstrations.

On January 22, US-based Indian civil society groups gathered in Cambridge’s Harvard Square for the second time in two weeks. The group demanded punishment for those responsible for Rohith’s death.

Globally, along with large protests witnessed in London, demonstrations outside the Indian Consulate in San Francisco, at Harvard University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and at the University of Michigan were performed, demanding punishment. Two more are planned on January 30 in Washington DC by the International Commission for Dalit Rights and in New York City by Ambedkar International Mission. Moreover, a letter is signed by more than 150 academics criticising caste discrimination on Indian campuses.

A condolence meeting will also be conducted on January 27 outside the Indian Embassy in Rome, Italy. Also, Harvard University is organising a unified meeting and discussion to highlight Vemula’s death.

Back in India, the scholar’s death resulted in a dilemma for Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government with mass demonstrations across the country demanding the criminal prosecution of the two ministers and the VC linked to this incident. Last week, Dalit students rattled a major speech by PM Modi. They chanted slogans demanding justice for Rohith.

The Politics behind it all

The incident turned intense when a chain of emails by two Central Ministers of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was sent to the university Vice Chancellor (VC) Appa Rao, directing pressure. Vemula’s death is directly linked to it.

The caste and class discrimination that the marginalized students have been facing in elite educational institutions along with their anti-Brahminism and anti-Hindu nationalism ideologies paved the way to building tensions between the Ambedkarites and minority student groups against the ABVP and RSS.

The top universities comprise mostly of “upper castes” and Hindus in their administrative staff. This creates a hostile environment for Dalit and minority students. This can be seen in Dalit students’ increasing suicides since past ten years in such exclusive universities when a complaint is made by them against professors, administrators for their biased behaviour.

The death of this aspiring science writer became national news due to various factors- direct involvement of Central Ministers, public criticism and intimidation faced by Rohith and his fellow students and the two influential letters written before his death. The letters which went viral on social media were directed to the VC Appa Rao. The first letter to the VC consists of Vemula providing a solution to the “Dalit problem” on campus, by euthanizing them and distributing them poison and a rope as soon as they secure admission.

Upon receiving no response from the administration even when a month passed by, Vemula committed suicide, leaving behind a suicide note intensely lamenting society’s’ biased eyes which are unable to look beyond people’s most immediate identities – a reference to casteism.

Hue and cry in Cambridge

Dr. Vidya Karunakaran, a PhD from Dartmouth College working with #DalitWomenFight said, “80% of suicides in the elite institutions in India are Dalits and Adivasis. Clearly we have a problem of casteism in our State”.

Dalit student Suraj Yengde, Associate at the Harvard African-American Department and a PhD scholar from South Africa compared casteist India to apartheid situations of South Africa and the Palestinians. He noted the “genocidal tendency” in the systems of oppressions which build tough situations for the oppressed to even live.

Tanoj Meshram, a PhD student in Social Policy at Brandeis University and Central Executive Committee Member and International Coordinator of Mulnivasi Sangh (an offshoot of the All India Backward and Minorities Communities Employees Federation) accused the Indian institutes which promise of political and civil rights but ultimately deny them. He said “educational institutes are supposed to be instruments of social change…but in India, it is shameful to see that they are citadels of the status quo and Brahmanism.”

Organisers including Boston Study Group; Ambedkar International Center; Ambedkar International Mission; Ambedkar Association of North India; Alliance for a Secular and Democratic South Asia; Association for India’s Development, are planning to present a memorandum to the United Nations calling for a Special Rapporteur on Caste Atrocities and constituting an independent working group to assess the conditions affecting the victims of the caste system SCs/STs/OBCs.

Their joint statement reads: “We mourn the loss of a talented, sensitive, and powerful young Ambedkarite and scientist and extend our deep condolences to his family, loved ones, and to the Ambedkarite student community at UoH. We condemn the open support by UoH administration of extreme right wing groups like the RSS affiliated ABVP who have been carrying out a campaign of terror to intimidate progressive forces in society by using BJP’s political networks to protect their cadre and persecute democratic opposition. Rohith’s death is a direct consequence of this right wing persecution in partnership with the casteist and corrupt university administration.”

The organisers, desiring to include other South Asian and human rights groups to join the protest in order to garner speedy action said: “We express our solidarity with the Bahujan and Religious Minorities student resistance movements across all other casteist university spaces in India.” (Inputs from twocircles.net) (picture courtesy: huffingtonpost.in)

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CJI faces revolt from four senior most SC judges

The four judges -- Justices Ranjan Gogoi, Kurian Joseph and Madan B. Lokur besides Justice Chelameswar -- released a letter they wrote to Justice Misra a couple of months ago

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Supreme court went into a frenzy as four senior judges revolt against CJI. Wikimedia Common
Supreme court went into a frenzy as four senior judges revolt against CJI. Wikimedia Common
  • The sudden revolt against Chief Justice of India (CJI) by the four senior-most judges of Supreme Court has sent the whole judicial system into an uproar.
  • The four judges accused the CJI of corruption and breaches in a surprise Press Conference.
  • Judge Loya’s death’s controversy, supposedly, sparked this reaction out of the other judges.

Divisions in the Supreme Court burst out in the open on Friday when four senior-most judges took an unprecedented step of addressing the media to accuse Chief Justice Dipak Misra of breaching rules in assigning cases to appropriate benches, with one of them pointing to the plea regarding the mysterious death of Special CBI judge B. H. Loya.

The hurried press conference was called to reveal CJI's corruption. Pixabay
The hurried press conference was called to reveal CJI’s corruption. Pixabay

At a hurriedly called press conference at his residence, Justice J. Chelameswar and three other colleagues said the Supreme Court administration was “not in order” and their efforts to persuade Justice Misra even this morning “with a specific request” failed, forcing them to “communicate with the nation” directly.

The four judges — Justices Ranjan Gogoi, Kurian Joseph and Madan B. Lokur besides Justice Chelameswar — released a letter they wrote to Justice Misra a couple of months ago, conceding that he was the master of roster but that was “not a recognition of any superior authority, legal or factual of the Chief Justice over his colleagues”.

Asked specifically if they were upset over reference of the matter seeking a probe into the suspicious death of Judge Loya, Justice Gogoi said: “Yes.”

Judge Loya's death is said to have happened due to a conspiracy. Pixabay
Judge Loya’s death is said to have happened due to a conspiracy. Pixabay

Judge Loya, who was hearing a case relating to the killing of gangster Sohrabuddin Sheikh in an alleged fake shootout in which BJP chief Amit Shah was named an accused (later discharged), died of cardiac arrest in 2014. His family has raised doubts over the circumstances in which Judge Loya died and have sought an independent probe into it.

Plea’s seeking probe came up for a hearing in the Supreme Court on Friday when the top court expressed concerns over it and said it was a “serious issue”. It asked the Maharashtra government to produce all the documents related to the case before January 15.

In a seven-page letter, the four judges said they were not mentioning details of the cases only to avoid embarrassing the institution because “such departures have already damaged the images of this institution to some extent”.

The clash among the judges in the highest court also comes in the wake of a controversial order in November in which Justice Misra declared that the Chief Justice “is the master of the roster” having exclusive power to decide which case will go to which judge.

The CJI called himself 'master of roster' further enraging other judges. Pixabay
The CJI called himself ‘master of the roster’ further enraging other judges. Pixabay

The CJI had given the order a day after a two-judge bench headed by Justice Chelameswar had passed an order that a five-judge bench of senior most judges in the apex court should be set up to consider an independent probe into a corruption case in which bribes were allegedly taken in the name of settling cases pending before Supreme Court judges.

Holding that the Chief Justice was only the first among equals, the four judges contended that there were well-settled and time-honoured conventions guiding the Chief Justice in dealing with the strength of the bench required or the composition thereof.

“A necessary corollary to the above-mentioned principle is the members of any multi-numbered judicial body, including this court, would not arrogate to themselves the authority to deal with and pronounce upon matters which ought to be heard by appropriate benches, both composition-wise and strength-wise with due regard to the roster fixed,” they wrote in the letter.

They said any departure from the two rules would not only lead to “unpleasant and undesirable consequences of creating doubt in the body politic about the integrity of the institution” but would create “chaos”.

The four judges also touched upon another controversial issue, the Memorandum of Procedure (MoP) on the appointment of judges over which the Supreme Court had locked horns with the government.

The four judges also touched upon other problematic issues. deliason.files.wordpress.com
The four judges also touched upon other problematic issues. deliason.files.wordpress.com

The government, the letter said, had not responded to the communication and “in view of this silence it must be taken that the MoP has been accepted by the government on the basis of the order of this court”.

Justice Chelameswar told the media that they were “convinced that unless this institution is protected and maintains its requirements, democracy will not survive in the country or any country… The hallmark of a democracy is independent and impartial judges.

“Since all our efforts failed… Even this morning, on a particular issue, we went and met the Chief Justice with a specific request. Unfortunately, we could not convince him that we were right.”

Justice Gogoi said they were “discharging the debt to the nation that has got us here”.

The government appeared to distance itself from the controversy, saying the judges should sort the issue themselves.

Minister of State for Law P. Chaudhary said: “Our judiciary is one of the known, recognised judiciaries in the world. It is an independent judiciary. At this stage, I think no agency is required to intervene or interfere. The Chief Justice and other members should sit together and resolve. There is no question of panic.”

the matter should be resolved among the judges themselves, says P. Chaudhary.

The Supreme Court split had an immediate political fallout, with CPI leader D. Raja saying after meeting Justice Chelameswar that Parliament will have to devise methods to sort out problems like this in the top judiciary.

Two judges, Justice S. A. Bobde and Justice L. Nageshwar Rao, are understood to have called on Justice Chelameswar. IANS