Rohith Vemula suicide: An ugly show of power-political nexus in India


By Arnab Mitra

New Delhi: A student committed suicide in the wee hours of January 17 sparking a nationwide protest against political interference in the educational institutions. Rohith was a PhD student at the University of Hyderabad and he was expelled on the charges of assaulting an ABVP student in the University Campus.

This incident has its roots to a chain of events that spurted in August last year. Ambedkar Students Association (ASA), along with Ambedkar Reading Group, University of Delhi, Ambedkar Periyar Study Circle, IIT Madras, ASA (TISS) in Mumbai and some concerned students from IIT Bombay had issued a joint statement condemning an Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) attack on screening of ‘Muzaffarnagar Baaqi Hain’ and death sentence awarded to Yakub Menon. Later, ASA’s University of Hyderabad chapter organised a protest demonstration and according to a report they had assaulted ABVP leader Susheel Kumar.

But the University authorities became pro-active only after the involvement of Union Minister Bandaru Dattatreya and HRD minister Smriti Irani in this case and which led to a decision against five Dalit students including Rohith Vemula. The authorities asked the students to vacate their accommodation and their living spaces were also blocked.

As the incidence has flared up, questions have been raised regarding the involvement of Union ministers in the internal matter of the University. And it was quite shameful when the BJP spokesperson in a leading TV show said, “As Bandaru Dattatreya is the MP from Hyderabad, so he has every right to interfere in the University matter”. Supporting the statement a RSS leader said, “These students are anti-national and for that reason they were against the death sentence of Yakub Menon”.

Almost all the political parties tried to capitalize on Rohith Vemula’s suicide, including remote regional parties like AAP who have no presence in Hyderabad. They played politics on a young death, making it a Dalit issue. Unfortunately, politics will continue over Vemula and more so in the states like West Bengal and Uttar Pradesh since assembly elections are due.

Two issue emerge here: One, political interference in campus life. Second, as the  experience from the past tells, incidents of campus violence often become political in nature. “But do we need political interference in the educational institution, and are educational institutions for study or for doing politics?”, asks Dr. Santwam Sarkar, professor of International Relation, Jadavpur University.

Dr. Akansha Ganguly, a columnist of a reputed English daily says, “It is too shameful to understand that a student committed suicide on the force of a democratic union and its ministers and now everyone is doing politics on ‘Vemula’ and it will be a good object for some political parties to win the upcoming assembly election in West Bengal and Uttar Pradesh”.