Have you ever felt inconsequential? I’ve felt that way quite often. It’s one of the most unwanted feelings that kills your self-esteem. But it is not like we feel that way all the time. In our own individual ways, we are privileged too. I for one am putting an extra packet of sugar in my cappuccino today. I think I deserve it for the morning jog and then climbing four floors to work. Everyone has their own understanding of what they deserve. That sense of understanding can be faulty for others but it works very well for us.
I feel inconsequential today. Because I see it is the 17th of January. It has been a year since Rohith Vemula, a PhD student committed suicide in the hostel of Hyderabad University before writing one of the starkest yet the subtlest suicide note ever. “My birth was a fatal accident.” the Dalit scholar wrote.
A death that led to mass revolutions in the country. While some discussed whether this was death due to suicide or essentially a murder because of lack of help to the person suffering; others got into an investigation about whether Rohith was actually a Dalit or not. The then education HRD minister was in question. And Mrs Smriti Irani had taken down the Rajyasabha with a rather dramatic monologue where in the end she promises that,
“If you are not satisfied with my reply (about Rohith’s suicide), I will cut off my head and place it at your feet.”
Very soon, another inconsequential student leader called Kanhaiya Kumar got arrested for saying anti-national stuff, was jailed for months, and in the end, the court released him on Bail with a warning, for it was proved that he hadn’t said a single wrong thing against the country. Somewhere in the middle of the year, Una village of Gujarat rose to popularity when some of their young boys were beaten for being Dalits. Jignesh Mevani, a lawyer and human rights activist (refraining to call him a ‘Dalit activist’ because he has worked for land rights for farmers and various other activities too), came out as the Dalit leader, with him an entire team of boys, men, women and the old set out for a walk from Ahmedabad to Una, a symbolic effort to make people aware and seek justice for Una boys and even Rohith. There are various activists and academicians who’ve spoken, written and shown up a lot more for this issue. They have definitely done more than the commoners like me, who just sit here and write articles. But I am not sure how much is going to be enough.
Last year was a year that saw a sudden peak in the arrests of people for calling spade a spade (speaking against the government). Some arrested merely because of their social media posts and some detained just for speaking out on the days of important government events. We sat here as mere spectators, sitting and writing Facebook posts or participating in the ‘literary article war’ (a phenomenon where you share an existing article to a Facebook friend to prove your point, and then they share something on the top, and the game goes on).
Mujhe khud ko bhi hai Tatolna
Kahin Hai kami to hai Bolna
Kahin Daag hai to Chupaaye kyu?
Hum Sachh se Nazrein Hataaye kyu?
Some people had issues with ‘Why is Rohith’s suicide so special?’ pointing at why don’t you say anything when our farmers commit suicides. So many people commit suicides. This was a normal case of depression, please don’t make this a caste issue. Well, I would say that he was depressed (if at all he was) because he was discriminated because of his caste. Hence it is a caste issue.
Of course, I am privileged enough that I am living to write this post. I don’t know where else in the world would I like to settle if not India (The US is the same thing after Trump). I was born here. I love my country. In fact, I might even be cowardly to leave Gujarat. But given all that privilege, my heart aches today for Rohith. The Vice Chancellor of Hyderabad University, Appa Rao hasn’t resigned yet. Why? Students still struggle under extreme surveillance and denial in the right to meet and discuss. There is a meeting happening today at the Hyderabad University campus (in spite of a ban on such a protest) to “reject victimhood and reclaim resistance.” Rohith’s mother, survivor boys of Una and the brother of Akhlaq (lynched in Dadri) will be there.
The irony is that Rohith’s case won’t even go in our children’s history textbooks because it will be appropriated. My heart aches to just to think about this brilliant person, Rohith with such a scientific temperament, which is reflected in his last letter too. What must have driven him to commit suicide?
In his Blue Octavo Notebooks, Kafka writes,
One of the first signs of the beginning of understanding is the wish to die. This life appears unbearable, another unattainable. One is no longer ashamed of wanting to die.
Have you ever felt inconsequential? We are all inconsequential. Just like Rohith was. Of course more privileged than him but not privileged enough that our deaths would matter, hence inconsequential. Hopefully, we’ll die differently but perhaps not. Who knows? At least this is one common relationship between Rohith and us, that we are as inconsequential as he was. Did he deserve the death he got? Would you dismiss his suicide as an ordinary suicide and an individual choice or did our educational institutes and our caste-based society push him towards that death? One year to Rohith Vemula’s death and we are still asking these questions of nothingness.
Links that you can choose to read for more facts and opinions:
(This is not an article that summarises the past year for India. This is a deeply opinionated piece and nothing else should be expected out of it.)