Thursday January 17, 2019
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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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Benefits Meant for the People Should Reach Them On Time: Prime Minister Narendra Modi

In a month, development projects worth more than Rs 20,000 crore have been either inaugurated or initiated in Odisha, said Modi

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"We ensured everyone gets what they deserve" PM Modi

Pime Minister Narendra Modi on Tuesday attacked previous governments at the Centre for ruling the country like their “Sultanates”, neglecting its rich heritage.

“Past governments ruled like Sultans and neglected our rich heritage. They ignored our glorious civilisation and failed to pay attention to their preservation,” said Modi while addressing a public meeting in Balangir town in Odisha.

“This criminal error will always stick to the parties, who the country gave the opportunity to run governments for decades. Surprisingly, they have not taken lessons from this,” he added.

He also attacked the state government under Naveen Patnaik and said the benefits meant for the people should reach them on time and must not be used as an election tool.

PM Modi
Benefits Meant for the People Should Reach Them On Time: Prime Minister Narendra Modi

 

This was Modi’s third visit to the state in the past three weeks and showed the importance that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was attaching to the state ahead of the general and assembly elections.

The Prime Minister said his government was committed to conserving and preserving the country’s rich cultural heritage.

He said his government has been constantly making efforts to bring back the idols stolen from the temples in India.

He also attacked the parties for opposing the International Yoga Day and the construction of the Statue of Unity.

“Some parties were against organising the International Yoga Day. These are the people who did not promote yoga. These people neither understand India nor tourism,” he added.

“They raised questions on erecting the statue of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel. But, after becoming the world’s tallest statue, it has generated jobs for people residing around the structure.

Narendra Modi, India, election
Elaborate preparations for PM’s election rally. VOA

“They were also against changing the names of islands in Andaman and Nicobar islands,” said Modi.

He said the central government has cancelled around six crore fake ration cards, gas connections, scholarships with wrong names, grabbing pension under wrong names over the last four years.

“We plugged these leakages, saving crores of rupees. All ration cards have been digitised and around 80 per cent of them have been linked with Aadhaar,” said the Prime Minister.

“The middlemen used to loot the money meant for poor. We have stopped this. We ensured everyone gets what they deserve,” he added.

The Prime Minister said there are people, who are angry because he has put a stop to their loot and corruption.

india
PM believes in Constant Development and Promoting tourism.

Highlighting the developmental works being carried out by the Centre in the state, he attacked the Odisha government for failing to utilise the District Mineral Foundation (DMF) fund in the mineral bearing areas.

“Odisha has Rs 4,000 crore in its DMF Fund which has remained unutilised so far. What has happened to the government? It is in deep slumber. The government of Odisha should ensure that the benefits reach the tribal people.

“Do not wait for the elections. Ease the problems of people, elections will keep coming,” said Modi.

Also Read- Prime Minister Narendra Modi Claims BJP Was Not in Politics For “Divide and Rule”

He said the central government has allocated over Rs 20,000 crore for the development of Railways in Odisha in the last four years alone, which is five times more than the allocation by the previous government.

In a month, development projects worth more than Rs 20,000 crore have been either inaugurated or initiated in Odisha, said Modi. (IANS)