Copyright. All rights reserved. Ram Jethmalani. 2019.
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He was brilliant, brave and an achiever. A first generation degree holder from the humblest of households – from a section that has borne the cross of thousands of years of social oppression, injustice and prejudice.
He was sensitive and generous, as his heart rending last letter to the world indicates, a young man in a hurry to succeed in his mission, and fight the injustices in our society toward the Dalits.
He wanted to be a great writer like Carl Sagan, and surely would have been, if his life had not been snuffed out at 26 years.
His last letter contains his life’s snapshot – ‘My birth is my fatal accident’, he says, ‘I can never recover from my childhood loneliness. The unappreciated child from my past.’
One can only visualize what traumas would have haunted his past, of how the past would have been, for this exceptionally intelligent and sensitive child - barred from entry into various homes and places of worship, barred from touching food and water in certain households, his exceptional intelligence being ignored or put down by the upper castes. How dare you be so intelligent, they would have said. An intelligent, sensitive child could only turn lonely.
His alienated childhood and loneliness never left him. He remembers it even in his last thoughts, before departing from this world.
But he pursued his dreams, and then bit by bit, disillusionment seems to have set in – with the ways of the world, with people around him, with his ideas. And his resentment that ‘The value of a man was reduced to his immediate identity and nearest possibility. To a vote. To a number. To a thing. Never was a man treated as a mind. As a glorious thing made up of star dust. In every field, in studies, in streets, in politics, and in dying and living. ’
If only he had some support, someone by his side, when he was fighting his last lonely battle of disillusionment and depression – someone who could have restored his confidence in himself to fight the system of injustice that he encountered everywhere, in the campus or with the administration. Someone who could have told him that he was in for a long haul in his mission. No injustice anywhere in the world has been removed without a long and bitter fight, sometimes bloody. Take the case of the French or Russian Revolutions centuries ago.
Social oppression that has taken deep roots in Indian society for the last two thousand years at least, will not be wiped out from society through constitutionalism or by law in seventy years. I wish Rohith had geared himself for a long fight and had not given up.
Alas, as expected, the tragic incident became a political bonanza for some - VIP visits vulgarly and inhumanly cashing on political capital with an eye on future elections, the usual accusations and counter accusations, and Minister Smriti Irani and the Vice Chancellor Appa Rao allegedly making erroneous statements.
Even in death, he had been reduced to what he loathed - 'to his immediate identity, ....To a vote. To a number. To a thing.'
As a member of a privileged section of society, I cannot escape from being part of the historical and collective system that have perpetuated the social inequities that have socially and psychologically imprisoned large sections of our people over centuries, propagating their inferiority, and preventing them from achieving their complete potential.
Farewell, bright star. You are now with the stars that you loved so much.
I do not by this exonerate myself from the charge of being morally responsible for the tragic history of the Dalits in India over long centuries of condemning them to a humiliating existence on this sorry planet of ours. I humbly plead guilty to the charge and reluctantly ask for forgiveness of the Dalits who are rightly embittered and angry by the behavior of high caste citizens who harm , maybe unwillingly sometimes , contributed to the self immollition of the young scholar Rohith Chakrathirtha Vemula .
I am a product of Sindhi society which before the tragic partition of India had developed a synthesis of religion , scoffed at caste distinctions preached the genuine equality of all and developed contempt for the unworthy claimants of congenital superiority over their fellow citizens. I grew to be a great admirer of Dr. Ambedkar and fully sympathized with his preference for Budhisim over the caste ridden Hindus.
I was a great supporter of the Mandal Commission and almost fought a lone battle against the most well known and flourishing lawyers of India before our Supreme Court. I succeeded against odds; thanks to the government of Bihar that briefed me to fight this great legal battle for the Dalits of India. No political party has the courage to challenge the Judgment though it was only a majority judgment. The compliments I won from the court and the appreciation of the backward class and their leaders was my remuneration.
The latest issue of the ‘ Outlook’ contains many tributes to the life and philosophy of the young scholar Rohith Vemula who ended his brilliant life in a manner which makes all decent Indians hang low their heads in shame and remorse. The best one is by a young female scholar Amrita Howlader . I hope everyone will read it. This will tell you that Rohith did not die in vain; his cause and life mission will get support from million more and compel the Indian nation to end this sordid and blackest spot on our face.
Rohith let your comrades carry your memory and take your mission forward.
It will take many more years to get the social justice that India owes you.