Rohith’s suicide: It’s not about Modi versus Rahul; it’s about Dalit lives

Written by: Maitreyee Boruah
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Political discourses in the country always veer towards absurd logic. After all, it serves the "agenda" of political parties well.
Now, when it's time to debate and change our mindset about discrimination faced by Dalits, our focus is strangely on rivalries between two main political parties and their "supreme" leaders.

The BJP-led NDA government is miffed that Congress Vice-President Rahul Gandhi has joined the students at the University of Hyderabad in their protest to deliver justice for Rohith Vemula.

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Congress leaders are accused of cashing in on the death of the Dalit research scholar to serve their vote bank politics.
On the other hand, opposition parties want the heads of Human Research Development Minister Smriti Irani and Minister of Labour and Employment Bandaru Dattatreya, for their alleged mishandling of the entire crisis, right from Rohith's expulsion.

The 26-year-old research scholar was found hanged in the university campus on January 17. Rohith was one of the five scholars who were expelled, after a scuffle broke out between Ambedkar Students' Association (ASA) (Rohith was a member of ASA) and Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) in August last year.

Rahul's speeches versus Modi's tears

Political pundits and critics are calling Rahul's activism on the university campus as "political opportunism".
BJP leaders have accused that it was the same Congress who was "silent" when nine other Dalit students in the campus committed suicide during the Congress regime.

If those tragic incidents were addressed with silence by the then ruling party at the centre, it is a similarly uncanny scenario we are witnessing now. Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his colleagues are yet to strongly condemn the incident and meet the demands of the protestors.

It took Modi five days after Rohith's death to speak bare minimum about the incident that led to massive students' agitations across the country. "Leaving politics aside, more than anything else a mother lost her son. I share and feel her pain," said a teary-eyed Prime Minister.

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Thereafter, Modi went back to his cocoon, deciding not to speak or do anything about students' demands. Even during his first Mann ki Baat (where he addresses the nation on All India Radio) of 2016 on Sunday (January 31), Prime Minister did not mention anything about Rohith or the ongoing strike at the university campus.

BJP tries its best to label Rohith as a non-Dalit

All his life, Rohith faced discrimination and injustice because he was born as a Dalit. This is the plight of Indian Dalits, exceptions are a rarity. Their caste comes in every step of their lives denying most the dignity of life.

Politicians and unfortunately many journalists (believed to follow right wing ideology) are trying to call Rohith a non-Dalit. Even the national security adviser Ajit Doval engaged the service of his spies to gather a report stating Rohith family's caste as Vaddera, which is a backward caste and not part of the 'Dalit' fold.

If similar diligence was shown to gather information about terrorists prior to the Pathankot terror attack, India could have saved the lives of several of its brave hearts.

Politics over Dalit versus non-Dalit issue

BJP leaders are trying to hammer us with lies that Rohith was not a Dalit. If the attempt of BJP succeeds then the whole issue automatically becomes a non-issue. Thus Modi government is safe from delivering any duty towards the Dalit cause.

First it was HRD minister Irani. She infamously said, "I am compelled to come out today because there has been a malicious attempt to present this as a Dalit versus non-Dalit issue to ignite passions." Rohith's heart-wrenching suicide note was misinterpreted by the BJP. The ruling party conveniently failed to read the finer message in Rohith's suicide note.

External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj on Saturday (January 30) said, "The facts have come out in the case, and as per as my complete knowledge, that student [Rohith] was not a Dalit".

Instead of punishing the guilty and doing the needful to end caste-based discrimination, BJP's energy is concentrated on proving Rohith a non-Dalit. Similarly after the Dadri lynching of Mohammed Akhlaq, government was busy proving whether the meat found in his house was "beef" or not.

Rohith's suicide and Dadri lynching are two classic examples of Modi government's attempts to turn issues of grave concern into non-issues, instead of offering helping hand to the victims.

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