The call for ‘Chalo Dilli’ , a protest march to Jantar Mantar on 22 February, 2016 to honor Rohith Vermula’s death was given by BAPSA (Birsa Ambedkar Phule Students Association) and taken up by many who turned out in huge numbers from all walks of life. Here are some of their stories.
Arundhati, M.A. (Political Science), University of Hyderabad said, “We are over 145 students who have travelled from HCU for this march and it is great to see unity among different forces – 14 organizations are working with Joint Action Committee(JAC) – which clearly marks the importance of this tragedy in the history of India. This tragic incident has brought to light the attitude of the entire university apparatus – the way they withhold fellowships, the manner in which they acted post his suicide. It has opened a can of worms, we can see what this government is doing at all the other universities. The way forward is for the Left to reorganize its approach to include the Dalit movement.”
Artists Tapati and Chimuk, from Kolkata International Performance Arts Festival, had painted their faces black to emphasize that identity has multiple colors and that different voices bring different colors to a democracy. Chimuk said, “Black is the color of dissent, of race, and we are using it to protest caste-based discrimination. The way a media trial was conducted, it is easy to see they are not interested in educational reforms but in suppressing independent voices.”
Abhikoomi Purnima, Alpasankhyak Sangathan, Bhiku Sangh, said, “Our Constitution lays down basic values that we must follow but in caste-related incidents, these values never find space. The stress should be on humanity in our interactions with each other. The suppressed must be brought out.”
Adtiya, who runs his own NGO Satyasheel and was here as a citizen of India, said, “Rohith was a research scholar, by no means a small feat. Why was he driven to suicide? He read great thinkers like Ambedkar and Phule. What was it that led someone in company of such literature to think life was not enough?”
Sohail Hashmi, alumnus of JNU, now a documentary filmmaker, said, “Right from IIT-Madras to FTII to HCU, we have seen this government tacitly imposing its doctrine of uniformity on educational spaces. But I would like to focus on the positive. By engaging with JNU, they have messed with the wrong group. The students have burst the bubble of invincibility of this government and this movement is only going to become bigger. It is phenomenal that the Left, liberals and Dalits have come together to fight this oppression of students.”
There were also activists from ultra right-wing, Om ji, who said, “This nexus between the terrorists sitting inside JNU campus, ISI and CIA must be highlighted. The Vice Chancellor must rusticate all those involved in the event.”
Vijay Vardhan, PhD scholar, Ponidcherry University, said, “It is an educational Emergency—complete spoilage of educational system. Ever since reservations were enacted there has been an influx of students from different backgrounds. Now they cannot accept this change.” Showing us proof of being denied permission by the administration to protest Rohit’s death within the campus, he said, “This brahminical authority has to be challenged.”
Rajesh Anuragi, with his band Anuragi, was singing protest songs of their own composing on the streets when we caught up with them. He said, “This tag of anti-national is being given to all and sundry who dare to raise their voices (Rohit had also been labeled anti-national). It is easy to mobilize the masses by igniting feelings of patriotism when they run out of ideas. Media shows a story, and nobody bothers to research the matter any further. Each university has its ideology. Being a revolutionary is not easy, but this dictatorship is crushing all debate.” Speaking of his songs, he said, “Music does not see creed or caste. It brings people together. When we write songs, we want people to think over what we take to be the norm.”
Chinmaya, PhD scholar at Centre for Russian and Central Asian Studies, JNU and member, Central Committee, BAPSA felt there could have been a bigger turnout, but said that it is understandable under present circumstances that more students from JNU did not turn up. “The event was organized by JAC which has members from universities across Delhi, Hyderabad and Mumbai and it has been a success with a lot of Ambedkarite activists in attendance. However, the presence of NSUI and AAP has broken the systemized process to put forth our demands the way we had hoped,” he said. The demand is to have a structural mechanism in place in universities that allows redressing issues of caste-based discrimination being faced by students on campus. It will be based on Thorat Committee Recommendation, 2007.
Supriya Joshi is an MA student at CPS and contributed these photos.
Mansi Singh is an MA student at CPS and works for the Arts & Culture Pool of The Informer.