KANCHA ILAIAH SHEPHERD | 16 JANUARY, 2017
HYDERABAD: The science of killing one’s own student in the ‘laboratory’ if he/she is more brilliant than the teacher himself is a cultural heritage that hangs around Indian universities. This heritage has come through the brutal Brahminism of Dronacharay, who took away the thumb of his own student—Eklavya, just because he was a far greater archer than his teacher, and had the capacity to excel by learning on his own.
This Brahminism has steeped into even the non-Brahmin teachers in higher education. Crush your student if he/she is brighter than you is now the norm of Indian science ‘laboratories’. Look at the way Podile Appa Rao, the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Hyderabad drove Rohith Vemula, a brilliant science student—that too his own student-- to suicide on last January 17 (2016) . A year exactly.
And how just a few days ago, on January 3, 2017 Appa Rao is confererred an award by Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi at the Science Congress at Tirupathi. Science has become so ugly in India now. Rohith Vemula had asked Appa Rao to give every Dalit student a rope to hang, along with the admission letter. Is not the nation losing balance with such awards as given to the VC ?
India and the world was shocked by reading Vemula’s suicide note. And as mute witness to how this Dalit student’s cut short his own aspiration to become a science writer like Carl Sagan when he hung himself. The nation venerated Rohith for his courage and conviction reflected in the suicide note that questioned the moral basis of our casteist universities. His death became an issue in Parliament, in the universities and also onn the streets.
Yet the PM, the Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister, Chandrababu Naidu,Venkaiah Naidu, who is a central minister from Andhra Pradesh and from Appa Rao’s community— chose to give him an award at the start of the New Year. They chose to do so, when a criminal case is pending against him, and his mother is waiting for justice. Those in power did not even show even a modicum of human concern.
Instead they made Vemula’s birth certificate an issue. The caste of his mother an issue. That too after his death.
Rohith Vemula stands for morality and the VC emerged from the crisis as an example of immorality. In the realm of knowledge and science if morality is killed and immorality is rewarded, nations even if they appear to be prospering outwardly, begin to die from the inside.
The Prime Minister and the Andhra Chief Minister know that there is an ethical discourse around Rohith Vemula and Appa Rao since the last one year. Even if Chandrababu Naidu and Venkaiah Naidu planned to give that award to the scientist how did the PM agree, having said on August 7, 2016 at a Hyderabad public meeting “ If you have to shoot, shoot me, but not my Dalit brothers’’. The shooter is instead awarded in public.
Rohith Vemula has left a lasting moral imprint on the nation’s psyche. India is a country of castes. Even after the modern universities were established the inhuman practice of untouchability and casteism was part of the class room and campus life. After independence a few generations with the personal and philosophical guidance of Dr.Ambedkar, the Dalits fought against casteism in every space. But that fight did not reach a conclusive stage.
The caste system in mainland India remained intact. The vast masses over a period of a few centuries embraced Islam and Christianaity --as in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bangladesh, North east India---because of this brutal caste system. Yet the Brahminical forces remained un- shaken and they continue to practice caste not only in temples, civil society and markets but also in the universities. The Muslim and Christian scholars also did not make a point to campaign against it. They remained in their intellectual shells. Only Mahatma Phule, Ambedkar, Periyar Ramasami took up up the cudgels against these practices during the nationalist period.
Now, ironically, a young boy by killing himself with the will to expose the higher educational institutions of India, has rekindled hope among many.
The nation has to rededicate itself to abolish the brutal system of caste and untouchability in India. As I know that most of the Brahminic intellectuals in the universities pretend that caste and untouchability do not operate on the campuses, the Dalitbahujan, minority and all other intellectuals must make it common cause to fight it on an everyday basis. Let the inspiring words of Rohith reverberatein our ears every day.
(Prof. Kancha Ilaiah Shepherd is Director, Centre for the Study of Social Exclusion and Inclusive Policy,Maulana Azad National Urdu University,Hyderabad)