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8 Questions Media Did Not Ask Smriti Irani on the #RohithVemula Case


NEW DELHIThere is one word to describe the BJP/RSS on Dalits: Schizophrenic. In that the Hindutva brigade is torn between its appreciation of the political significance of the Dalit as a vote bank and its Brahminical indoctrination to harass and victimise them as “lower castes.” And this was evident in the strange press conference held by HRD Minister Smriti Irani in the wake of the furore over the suicide of young Dalit student Rohith Vemula at the Hyderabad Central University.

The entire effort of the press conference was to prove that this was not a Dalit versus non Dalit issue, and that it was the job of the media to highlight this one fact. Clearly Irani was directed by the concern in the Hindutva brigade of the fall out of this incident on state elections, with Uttar Pradesh of particular concern. Here, the effort has been since Muzaffarabad just before the Lok Sabha elections in 2014 to break the voter affinity between Dalits, Muslims and other backwards through violence, rumours, house to house propaganda, so that regional parties like the Bahujan Samaj become irrelevant and ineffective. It is a fact that of the many small, not reported incidents of violence in UP, there are several cases where the clash reported has involved the minorities versus the Dalits, creating tensions and fissures where none existed before. In the broader political game plan the BJP has place for the Dalit, as a fractured, isolated vote bank with little power to influence the final outcome; or as part of the upper caste grouping as being “Hindu” and hence more beneficial than alliances with Muslims that Mayawati and the BSP, for instance, had forged in the past.

But in the field the indoctrinated disdain remains. And this comes out over and over again, particularly in the campuses as the Dalit students here—unlike the villages of UP—have the platform to speak out, and at times to ensure that the discrimination does not remain silent. At least not beyond a point, although the message from Vemula’s suicide is that even in central Universities the harassment can reach a point where the student feels he has no recourse to justice, and commits suicide.

Irani came out for what probably, her party members commended as a ‘stellar’ performance. At a press conference on the Rohith Vemula case she projected the image of a sober Minister emphasising that the Dalit students suicide was not a caste issue, and that the effort of all should be to douse the flames of casteism at this stage.

To buttress her claim she went a couple of steps further by giving out the caste identities of the others in the case. For instance the ABVP student Sushil Kumar who sparked off the controversy and claimed he had to have a surgery because of violence by the members of the Ambedkar Students Association, it has been made known is an OBC. And the Minister Bandaru Dattatreya who had written to Irani alleging that HCU had become “a den of casteist, extremist and anti-national policies” is an Yadav. ( And how sad it was that an environment had been created, Irani said, where she had to come out and state the castes in a bid to diffuse the issue!

It was on the basis of this political letter reflecting serious bias without substantiation, that the HRD got after the Hyderabad Central University to institute an enquiry in the alleged beating of ABVP’s Sushil Kumar, sending at least four reminders in writing for the same. The enquiry then led to the rustication of five Dalit Students, including Vemula; all were evicted from their hostels and denied access to University facilities last year; with the hounding and discrimination leading Vemula to kill himself.

The ABVP has been unleashing terror in University campuses across the country. In HCU the Ambedkar Association students ran into straight confrontation with the ABVP, the students wing of the BJP/RSS, over the execution of Yakub Memon. This is part of the intolerance whereby the right of a person to dissent with the controlling right wing view is dubbed anti-national, extremist. And the ABVP has been circulating a video clip of Vemula where they question him on Hindutva and he says he will fight it, using a Telugu word that analyst Mohan Guruswamy points out is equivalent to the English four letter word and as meaningless in this context. He uses this when asked about Hindutva posters and symbols, speaking out despite the pressure.

The questions that then arise but were not asked at Irani’s press conference:

1. If this is not a Dalit versus non Dalit issue. what is it? A straight law and order problem? Is that how the government is looking at it?

2. If the last then why did the HRD Ministry intervene in a “small” issue, but send as many as four reminders to the University authorities for action on Minister Dattatreya’s letter?

3. And that too on a letter which had little to do with law and order but raised the highly political issues of nationalism, casteism and extremism?

4. Clearly the HCU must have written back with the action taken after all the reminders. Did the HRD Minister feel that the punishment meted out to the five Dalit students coming from economically weak homes was justified?

5. What was the crime? Irani did not mention it in her press conference and nor did her Ministry state it in all the letters it wrote to the HCU.

6. How is it not a Dalit versus non Dalit issue when all the five students rusticated and thrown out of their hostels were Dalits? And one of them committed suicide leaving a letter speaking of discrimination.

7. What about an enquiry into the ABVP’s conduct on campus? There is sufficient evidence from students who are speaking now of intimidation and harassment? Will Irani personally order this?

8. And what similarity does Irani see in a not so old incident where the Indian Institute of Technology-Madras derecognised the Ambedkar-Periyar Study Circle (APSC), a student association, following an anonymous complaint that it was instigating protests against the policies of the Centre and creating “hatred” against Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Hindus. Was it not true that the HRD again wrote to the IIT management to intervene on an “anonymous complaint” and take action against the largely Dalit students organisation?.

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