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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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Saw AAP MLAs Assaulting Chief Secretary, CM’s Advisor Tells Police

The AAP defended by stating that Jain had initially told police that he did not witness any assault and police has threatened Jain to change his statement

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The AAP had denied the charges of assault and said that the Chief Secretary was making allegations at the behest of the BJP. Wikimedia Commons

Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal’s adviser V. K. Jain on Thursday told police that he saw AAP MLAs Amanatullah Khan and Prakash Jarwal “physically assaulting” Chief Secretary Anshu Prakash, according to Jain’s statement recorded by the Delhi Police.

The AAP defended by stating that Jain had initially told police that he did not witness any assault and police has threatened Jain to change his statement.

On Tuesday, the Chief Secretary had alleged that he was beaten up by the two AAP MLAs in the presence of Kejriwal at the Chief Minister’s residence on Monday night, where he had been called for an emergency meeting.

ALSO READ: The assault on Chief Secretary exposes the double standards of AAP government

Police later arrested Khan and Jarwal and they were sent to judicial custody till Thursday.

According to the Chief Secretary, the Chief Minister’s adviser had called him over the phone and asked him to come to the Chief Minister’s residence for the meeting and Jain was also present there.

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According to the statement, Jain also saw that the Chief Secretary’s spectacles had fallen to the ground and the Chief Secretary picked them up and left the room. Wikimedia Commons

On Thursday, the Delhi Police submitted Jain’s statement at a city court, which said that Jain had gone to the washroom during the meeting and as he came out he saw the two AAP MLAs “physically assaulting” the Chief Secretary.

The statement was recorded under Section 161 of the CrPC, which means that it was recorded in front of the police and not a magistrate.

Sources told IANS that Jain later recorded his statement in front of a magistrate under section 164 of the CrPC.

“The statement under section 164 was later recorded with the magistrate in front a camera, without the presence of police. In that statement also he (Jain) has said that he saw the two MLAs physically assaulting the Chief Secretary,” a police officer privy to the case told IANS.

The officer said that the statement under section 164 has also been submitted to the court.

Jain was first questioned on Wednesday morning and then again on Thursday and his statement was recorded on Thursday.

The change in Jain’s statement that the AAP was referring to was from a “question and answer” with Jain recorded by police after questioning him on Wednesday.

According to a copy of Wednesday’s “question and answer” recorded by police, when asked whether Jain saw the Chief Secretary being manhandled, he replied that he had gone to the washroom in between the meeting and he could not say what happened during that time.

“By putting pressure on him (Jain) throughout the day (Thursday) and by threatening him, police has forced him to change his statement,” AAP MP Sanjay Singh told the media here on Thursday.

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Singh said that the whole issue was a conspiracy to “bring down the Delhi government” and to “defame the AAP”. Wikimedia Commons

 

“How is it that the same Jain who emphatically said yesterday that he witnessed no assault during the entire time that he was present there has now claimed otherwise?” he asked.

Singh said that AAP MLAs were being arrested over an alleged assault of which there was no proof.

“But on the other hand, despite there being video footage of officials assaulting Delhi Cabinet Minister Imran Hussain, there is no action taken against the guilty by the Delhi Police,” the AAP MP said.

The court on Thursday sent the two AAP MLAs, arrested on charges of assaulting the Chief Secretary, to judicial custody for 14 days.

ALSO READ: Delhi Chief Secretary row: AAP MLA arrested

Orders on the bail pleas of the two AAP MLAs and also on their police custody will be pronounced on Friday.

Meanwhile, scores of Delhi government employees across the city observed a five-minute silence outside their respective offices as a protest against the alleged assault on the Chief Secretary.

The IAS Association said that officers would continue the protest every day, till steps are taken to “ensure safety and dignity” of government staff in the city.

The AAP also hit out at Lt Governor Anil Baijal by stating that he was “working as a BJP agent” and demanded action against those involved in “manhandling and beating up” Hussain and his aide at the Delhi Secretariat on Tuesday. (IANS)