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From Abode of Scholars to Avenue of Outcastes
Ponnala Lakshmaiah, former Minister
From Abode of Scholars to Avenue of Outcastes
PHOTO : Central University students protesting in campus. Pic source Mr Ponnala Lakshmaiah, former Minister

What’s behind KCR’s (Telegana CM K Chandrasekhar Rao) and CBN’s (AP CM N.Chandra Babu Naidu) silence on Dalit student’s death?

Vemula Rohit was a young genius, a Dalit student, a PhD scholar at Hyderabad Central University – Above all, a key person in Ambedkar Students’ Association – an organization devoted to implementing the ideologies of Ambedkar. The suicide of Rohit has become the focus of national debate primarily because he was not only a learned person but also someone with profound knowledge and understanding of social stigmas that are eating into the vitals of society and academic systems. At present, the discussion is centred on issues that led to Rohit’s suicide and analysis of the various events that took place over the last five months.
In this context, the issue of primary concern is the political interference in universities which are otherwise autonomous bodies – this infusion of political flavor into the independence of academic organizations is considered a part of the saffronisation strategies of BJP which eventually sparked a national dispute because of the events that led to Rohit’s suicide.
The AICC Vice President Rahul Gandhi strongly responded to this mishap and had flown to Hyderabad to visit University of Hyderabad and had a discussion with the student organizations there besides comforting Rohit’s mother – a string of events that gathered national importance.
While national leaders like General Secretary of CPM, Sitaram Yechuri, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, MIM chief Asaduddin Owaisi, YCP leader Jagan, academician Chukka Ramaiah  among many others visited the university to learn about the situation and hold substantial discussions with student organizations, it appears that Chief Minister KCR is indifferent and unconcerned. That KCR considers the issue trivial and insignificant is an aspect that needs discussing.
KCR made many promises as a part of his election manifesto, one of which was a making a Dalit the Chief Minister of the newborn Telangana state. He betrayed the Dalit community by not keeping his promise thus revealing his anti-Dalit intentions. His antipathy towards Dalits appears to be so deep rooted that being a Chief Minister, he does not consider it as an issue of social peace and security.
A part of the debate is his stolidity to the fact that it is his state that witnessed an event so serious that an SC/ST atrocities case has been registered against a central minister in this regard and even triggered a nationwide students’ agitation.
While the entire state is embroiled in the conflict and discussion, the fact that KCR is inert to the extent that he goes a Khadi Bhandar to purchase clothes for himself sparking news headlinesis an explicit expression of his demeaning outlook towards Dalits. Students, scholars and Dalit communities should note that KCR considers Dalit issues and concerns as trivial as a twig.
It is ironical to see the KCR government be so hasty to dig into the caste details of Rohit when the atrocity case has already been registered. It seems that he is only adding fuel to the fire as Rohit was one of the five members of Ambedkar Student's Association who were suspended and socially boycotted. Does this behavior not prove KCR’s discrimination against the weaker sections?
So is the case of Chief Minister of AP, Chandra Babu Naidu. Except for sending his Cabinet colleagues to console the family, he has not come out with his views on the incident andcircumstances that preceded Rohit’s death. No wonder – as always he might think that people's memories are short lived but the scars of Karamchedu & Padirikuppam remain forever as a testimony to his and his party's attitude.
It is also necessary to majorly discuss the caste perspective and the social humiliation that lead to Rohith’s suicide. In this context, we need to look at the caste discrimination perspective at universities which are meant to be home to scholars and the learned. Is it to blame Rohit for having utilized his constitutionally endowed freedom of speech and voicing his opinions? …Is it national treachery to express his views on hanging?... If universities were at fault would they be socially boycotted just as its students are? Then why would they not consider his argument? What kind of a democracy is this?
Is it not evident that politics is given a way to enter into universities from the fact that the Union Minister for HumanResources has responded strongly to the brawl between two student groups at the university and wrote to the Vice Chancellor five times to follow up on the action taken by the university?
Is it not true that it was based on these letters and the proceedings of the High Court that the Dalit students were suspended from the hostel? Is it not true that the expelled students set up a tent (Velivada-meaning a street for the outcastes) in demonstration of their condemnation of the university’s autocratically ruthless ways? Are these not the issues that led to the social ostracization of one particular caste? Universities which are meant to shape scholars that structure the society are becoming a focal point of caste politics. It is time we find answer to why the student wing of the ruling party is concerned about caste and creed more than any other student union. 
The essence of Rohit’s letters…

Vemula Rohit is one of the students involved in protest for 14 days. Three days prior to his suicide, he wrote a letter to the Vice Chancellor asking him to provide the students with ten grams of poison and a noose to hang themselves – this shows the kind of social humiliation that the students undergo at the university. He is a knowledgeable scholar who has a great potential to serve the society but, imagine the self depreciation induced in him by the university that made him want to resort to poison or hang himself.
Will the universities have the courage to boycott an upper caste student with the same neglect as they did with Dalits? Taking all this into consideration Rohit wanted to resort to poison or hanging – the mental agony of the students is quite evident in his letter. 
In his suicide note, Rohit felt that his birth is a fatal accident and that there is a divide between his body and his soul and now he can be happy without any pain or despair. A careful examination of these disheartened lines clearly indicates the mental trauma he had gone through because of the social boycott. Imagine the frustration the scholar had faced that made him think that his birth is a fatal accident. The divide between his body and soul clearly expresses that his pain is not his alone but, of the entire society. This is not just the story of a Rohit, but of the suffering undergone by all the socially oppressed sections of the society.
It is time the universities flourished as home to scholars without any signs of caste discrimination - a horn of plenty that nurtures and fosters the treasure of genius in the country, devoid of political, religious and caste influences and strives hard towards turning them into treasures of knowledge and intellect for the betterment of the society.
Ponnala Lakshmaiah
Former Minister
Former President Telangana PCC

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