• Aniket Ambhore was found dead in the IIT-B campus in September 2014.
  • Authorities called it a freak accident, but Aniket’s parents suspect he committed suicide since he was subjected to caste discrimination.
  • After Rohith Vemula’s suicide, Aniket’s mother writes an open letter to Rohith’s friends and family.
‘Rohith suffered like my son Aniket’
Aniket Ambhore (l) and Rohith Vemula (r)

Following Dalit student Rohith Vemula’s suicide on Jan 17, the mother of another Dalit student Aniket Ambhore, who was found dead on Sept 4, 2014, writes a letter to Rohith’s kin.

To the family and friends of Rohith,

After going through the last letter written by Rohith Vemula, I am feeling very restless, very suffocated. He was a researcher, who in the name of punishment, did not receive his fellowship for seven months, and was thrown out of the hostel — all in an attempt to break him to his core. Though Rohith has not blamed anybody in his letter, it is very heart wrenching. I can see the similarities between the thoughts of the two — Aniket and Rohith — and I am trying to understand what pain they must have gone through. Aniket did not leave behind any letter, but from the sentences scattered here and there in his diary and in his poems, I found that both of them had the same state of mind towards the end of their lives. Aniket also talked about equality, and even supported and whole-heartedly empathised with the struggles of the transgender community or his ‘Saathi’ friends. He also had a lot of concern for his parents. He was struggling to find answers about caste, reservation, god etc. He was fighting against the discriminatory mindset, which he had to face ever since he started preparing for his IIT entrance exam.

When a person gets tired of fighting with powerful forces, only then is he overcome with an ’emptiness’, which can be seen in my son’s and Rohith’s lives. This is frightening for one who is sensitive, thinks a lot and wants to realise his dreams. Such people, due to their nature, do not blame others, but come to a point when they are unable to go on any more –they feel empty. Why would Aniket think so much? We always saw him laughing, performing mimicry and singing. What was there at IIT that my son forgot to smile? After his death, the doctor told us that Aniket was ‘confused’. But Science and Mathematics were his favourite subjects from the beginning, then how could he have become confused?

At IIT, Aniket must have suffered (from) the emptiness and hidden (the) insult (he faced) a lot. This was not in a direct but an indirect ways, for he faced it in everyday discussions and in the name of advice, sometimes by peers and sometimes by faculty members. Not only IIT, but other prestigious higher educational institutions also possess this egoistic way of thinking. Those who befriend students who come to these institutes through reservations keep saying, “Look, you and I have a similar economic background, yet you have received special facilities because of your caste… reservation is wrong” and other such things. That is why Aniket had started searching for the roots of caste.

Vedic religion, books and such knowledge are shown to be true and given a scientific form in these prestigious institutions and their ideas are drilled into the heads of the students even now. But when the students face a problem due to caste bias, there is no support system that the institute provides. There is no counselling for these problems, they are not even recognised as aproblem, but put across as a fact that a category student has to face. Availing reservation is treated as a crime. If you have availed of reservation then you are expected to face the arguments and judgements of people — this is the mentality of the savarnas.

Aniket and other children are not treated empathetically; their problems are, instead, framed as issues of low academic ability, parental pressure and high self-expectation, so that savarnas do not have to deal with the actual issue on hand. Aniket had lost his identity. “Who am I?” –why would such a question trouble him? Why did Aniket become concerned about graha, stars, the supremacy of the soul or the other world after coming to IIT? We don’t know where his positive thinking, creative mind and his smile disappeared. Our only crime was that we sent him to IIT-B with a category certificate. If he had studied in ordinary institutions, then at least he would not have to listen to so many discussions and advice, which weakened his mind. That he is incapable, who gave such a feeling to my able, sensible, jolly Aniket?

We have not yet received any replies to the letters we sent to various important official authorities like the MHRD and Scheduled Castes Commission. After our request, IIT Bombay did set up an inquiry committee, but no changes were brought about in its institutional functioning and nobody has even informed us about the inquiry report. Perhaps they do not think it necessary to give answers…

We feel very small in our own eyes. But Rohith’s incident has once again highlighted the matter. Both Aniket and Rohith faced different conditions, but the reason they had to struggle was the same. I don’t know till when our children will have to fight this hidden casteism. We are fighting it too…

Students’ agitation is the only remaining hope. Perhaps, only the students will be able to shake the dormant system into wakefulness. We are waiting to see some solace for the pain suffered by Rohith’s family and the dalit society…

Sunita Ambhore
Aniket’s mother