Our demographic dividend is our greatest strength. Even the Prime Minister will agree that the importance of educating and skilling them cannot be underestimated.
Unfortunately, under the ruling dispensation, the youth of this country has been left in a state of despair. My native Madhya Pradesh has been ravaged by the Vyapam scam, which has not only destroyed the lives of thousands of students, but also resulted in innumerable unexplained murders. The Akali-drug mafia nexus in Punjab has single-handedly destroyed an entire generation of young children, who have become slaves to their own addiction. The FTII students have fallen victim to the saffronisation agenda of the BJP/RSS and are being forced to put up with Gajendra Chauhan as the chairman of their prestigious institution.
And finally the most recent and tragic death of Rohith Vemula, who was driven to suicide by the brutal arm-twisting that Union ministers of this government undertook. Union ministers, who have taken the oath of the Constitution, misused the institutional and state machinery to embolden and protect their own.
“My birth is my fatal accident. I can never recover from my childhood loneliness. The unappreciated child from my past.” My birth is my fatal accident. Rohith Chakravarthi Vemula wanted to be a writer of science, like Carl Sagan. The son of a security guard and a seamstress, he had overcome seemingly insurmountable hurdles of caste, class and oppression to join the PhD programme at the prestigious Hyderabad Central University. Rohith was an impeccable student, an active and leading voice on many issues across campus such as protests against the beef ban, the persistence of the death penalty in the criminal justice system, communal violence against Muslims and Ambedkarite politics.
Dissent and a clash of contrarian viewpoints are part and parcel of university life. The best educational institutions bring together diverse individuals and opinions to construct an environment that stimulates the intellect and challenges the status quo.
Under this government, educational institutions and the entire administrative machinery are instead being used as a smokescreen by the saffron forces to further their agenda. It is quite ironic that the BJP accuses the Congress of the “politics of vulturisation” when they are the ones who politicised and escalated a college-level brawl by undermining the fundamental rights and freedoms of a socially marginalised group.
Following an alleged attack on an ABVP leader at HCU, labour minister Bandaru Dattatreya sent a letter to the HRD ministry referring to Rohith and his colleagues as “casteist”, “extremist” and “anti-national”, which was followed by an unprecedented five reminders in four months by the HRD Ministry to compel the university to act against the students.
Despite being previously cleared by a proctorial board, the students were suspended and banished by the new vice-chancellor, an RSS appointee with a decade-long history of discrimination against Dalit students. They were not just suspended from their academic programmes, but were also socially isolated and financially incapacitated. The nature of the punishment appeared to have all the symbolism of a caste cleansing, in line with the Sangh parivar’s most radical interpretation of the Hindu Shastras. The obsolete principles of “adhikaar” and “bahishkaar”, pitting the entitled versus the excluded, were exercised and actively propagated.
BR Ambedkar, the architect of the Indian Constitution, always said, “Educate, Agitate, Organize.” Rohith and his colleagues were doing exactly that! In the last session of Parliament, we celebrated the 125th birth anniversary of Babasaheb. This government announced November 26 as Constitution Day and we spent a significant portion of the winter session discussing our commitment to India’s Constitution and the ideas and principles of Babasaheb, who spent his entire life fighting for the rights of the oppressed and the downtrodden of this country. I can’t help but point out the hypocrisy of this government because there is no way one can reconcile what it practises with what it preaches.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, despite expressing supposed empathy towards Rohith’s mother, neglected to mention Rohith’s untimely death in his first Mann Ki Baat of the year. Any action against the Union ministers seems like a pipe dream. All the government has done following Rohith’s death is aggressively debate whether or not Rohith was a Dalit, whether he belonged to the Mala community (which falls under the SC category) or the Vaddera community (which falls under the OBC category).
Let us, for a moment just for the sake of argument, assume that Rohith was not a Dalit. Is this the value we assign to the life of a young scholar in this country? Will Rohith’s suicide only matter if he belonged to a certain caste or community? These are questions that require serious introspection. As the country collectively mourns the passing of an enlightened young mind, I am reminded of poignant lines from the last thing Rohith wrote, ever so observant even in death — “the value of a man…reduced to his immediate identity and nearest possibility. To a vote. To a number. To a thing. Never…as a mind.”
Jyotiraditya Scindia is an MP and the Congress party’s chief whip in the Lok Sabha.The views expressed are personal.