When Kanhaiya Kumar delivered his famous speech after being granted bail on March 3 and shouted slogans hailing Ambedkar and Rohith Vemula, some Dalit intellectuals warned that Kanhaiya and other Left leaders of JNU might try to hijack the Dalit movement.
Those intellectuals will feel vindicated now by the latest move of the JNU Students’ Union (JNUSU) president who also belongs to the CPI(M)-affiliated AISF – the All India Students’ Federation.
Kanhaiya and the JNUSU have decided to host a national convention of students on July 15 and 16 to form a committee that will draft the Rohith Vemula Act -- an anti-discrimination law tailored for campuses. Only, they haven’t bothered to invite or even inform Rohith Vemula’s comrades in the Ambedkar Students Association (ASA) and other Dalit student leaders of the Hyderabad Central University (HCU). Even the students’ union of HCU hasn’t been invited.
In doing so, Kanhaiya and his leftist comrades appear to have deliberately overlooked the fact that the demand for a separate law to counter caste discrimination on campuses originated in the HCU following the suicide of Vemula who was allegedly harassed by the university management for his anti-caste activism.
“This is very strange. How can they discuss the Rohith Vemula Act without consulting the ASA to which Rohith belonged? If this was done deliberately, it is very sad because this only helps the people who killed my brother,” Rohith’s brother Raja Vemula told HT in Guntur.
There is a growing feeling here that the decision to keep the HCU students out of the loop was a deliberate one. Rama Naga, the JNUSU general secretary, visited the HCU campus recently but did not meet or invite anyone from ASA, the HCU students union or the JAC seeking justice for Rohith. He even went to Guntur to extend a personal invitation to Rohith’s mother and brother.
“I learnt only through the media that Kanhaiya and the JNUSU are holding a discussion on the Rohith Act,” said Dontha Prashanth, the ASA leader who is leading the agitation on campus. “How will they draft a law to protect Dalits without consulting Dalits?” He also said that upper caste activists like Kanhaiya, who belongs to the Bhumihar caste, should work toward creating an anti-caste sentiment among upper castes. “What can they tell Dalits about caste that they don’t already know?”
ASA co-convenor Munna Sannaki said, “This entire Ambedkarite and anti-caste movement was born in HCU. It is the moral and political responsibility of the JNUSU and Kanhaiya to keep us informed. This is supposed be a fight against discrimination. It should not become a fight between leaders for visibility.”
Hyderabad University JAC member Firdous Soni said, “This just goes to once again prove that leaders in Delhi think that they have the legitimate right to call the shots. The anti-caste struggle in HCU started long before Rohith’s death and long before Kanhaiya and his leftist friends discovered the slogan Jai Bhim. The experience of the HCU students is central to understanding what an anti-discrimination law should look like.”
Pramod Mandade, member of HCU based cultural troupe ‘Pehel’, said, “The Indian Left has historically been criticised for not taking up caste as an issue. Rohith Vemula’s death forced them to talk about caste. Now their hypocrisy has been exposed once again.”
However, when contacted in Delhi for their comment, Rama Naga said, “We are calling everyone for the convention. We will be e-mailing ASA and the JAC to attend the convention. We are also inviting the HCU students union.”
Naga said when he was in Hyderabad, he could not meet anyone on the HCU campus, but he did personally invited Vemula’s mother for the convention.
However, Rama Naga issued a statement in Delhi on Tuesday, regretting the delay in sending invitations to various student organisations and unions.
“The delay has been caused by lack of funds, as a result of which we couldn’t earmark enough budget for arranging everyone’s travel, and we did not want to leave out anyone… Also, the administration had earlier not given us permission to hold our programme at the JNU convention centre. It confirmed our permission for the programme only yesterday,” he said.
Kanhaiya Kumar was not available for comment.