Rohit Vemula’s suicide exposes serious fault lines in our educational system

Rohit Vemula’s suicide exposes serious fault lines in our educational system

N Sukumar | 19 Jan 2016 10:10 PM
History repeating itself is an oft heard maxim but a tragedy is being played out at Hyderabad Central University and other elite Brahmanical academic institutions. From Sunitha to Senthil Kumar, Pulayala Raju and now Rohit Vemula, who will be the next victim to fall prey to the nefarious collusion of the mindscape which murders young innocents with impunity? Why were Mudassir Kamran’s desperate pleas for assistance deliberately ignored by the English and Foreign Languages University authorities?

When academic institutions which are supposed to nurture the future citizens of the democratic nation are accused of a deficit of trust, it exposes serious fault lines in the society. In order to probe such incidents in universities, the UGC issued a Government Order on 19 July 2011, requesting that institutional authorities be more sensitive to issues of exclusion and discrimination faced by the students. The government also appointed the Thorat Committee to investigate similar incidents which has been conveniently ignored.

Law and custom denied cultural and social capital to vast sections of the Indian population, leaving them to wallow in misery. In order to bridge the gap, affirmative action was made constitution­ally mandatory so as to enable the deprived populace to lead a dignified life. Education, regarded as a liberating and modern­ising force formed an important ingredient of the social justice campaign. The reservation quota is filled by the academic institutions because it is constitutionally mandatory. The system permits the entry of the marginalised groups; however, the Brahmanical knowledge domain denies an enabling environment to the Dalit student who has the temerity to challenge their idea of ‘merit’.  The constitutional provisions are subverted and devalued in myriad ways. The student is branded as “Quota’s Child”, who is not meritorious, talented or worthy to pursue knowledge. He/she is ridiculed for lack of proficiency in language, articulation, social skills, and the sophistication which comes naturally to those who are to the manor born. As these students are deprived of the ‘first benches’, they struggle to complete their courses, fail miserably, achieve low grades and often get pass percentage.

Hyderabad University is no exception to the modern Agraharas dotting the country. More than a decade ago, 10 Dalit students were rusticated as they protested the new hostel mess rules. The present VC was the chief warden during that period. The University fought a legal battle to tarnish the career of these students. If one were to map the suicides by the Dalit students in the campus, it is evident that they were all martyred battling entrenched pedagogical prejudices. Hailing from first generation learner families, these Dalit students are dependent on their fellowships which becomes a handy tool to crack a whip on them. Senthil Kumar’s fellowship was stopped as he ‘failed’ a course. P. Raju frequently visited the administration to find out his results of the supplementary exam and committed suicide after one such fruitless visit to the authorities. As there were some issues in his personal life, very conveniently the suicide was branded as an outcome of a love affair gone wrong. As Rohit Vemula’s suicide note reflects, he and fellow students who were rusticated were denied access to fellowships and any explication about the cases slapped by the university authorities.

The present crisis was further aggravated with the Hindutva brigade and ABVP fishing in troubled waters. A campus scuffle led a union minister to complain to the MHRD which shot off three letters to the university disregarding its autonomous realm. The chain of events culminated in the tragic suicide of Rohit Vemula. Now the MHRD proclaims that it had nothing to do with the issue; if so, did the letters appear miraculously? Everyone from Smriti Irani, Bandaru Dattatreya, the HCU VC and all the concerned university authorities including the ABVP president should be prosecuted for Rohit’s suicide.


(N. Sukumar is a Professor in Political Science, Delhi University. His email is