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Death by excreta: The cursed lives of India's manual scavengers

Deaths of sanitation workers continue even as governments claim (sic) that they have no person involved in manual scavenging

15 Feb 2020

manual Scavengers

“In India, a man is not a scavenger because of his work. He is a scavenger because of his birth irrespective of the question whether he does scavenging or not.”
Dr B.R. Ambedkar

In a report released recently by the ‘Rashtriya Garima Abhiyan’[1], Gujarat reported 62 deaths of manual scavengers, followed by Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh reporting 29 deaths each. Madhya Pradesh and Tamil Nadu followed this ignominious record, reporting 24 deaths each. These figures are in stark contradiction with the state-wise data released by National Commission for Safai Karamcharis (NCSK), a statutory body set up by an Act of Parliament for the welfare of sanitation workers.

At the same time, an NGO working for the welfare of manual scavengers and eradication of the practice of manual scavenging - Safai Karmachari Andolan[2] - says that 429 deaths from it occurred in Delhi alone from 2016 to 2018. The reports of the NGO say that nearly 2,000 manual scavengers die every year in the sewers, due to exposure to poisonous gases. If the deaths that occur in septic tanks are included, then the number would be even higher.

And in the face of all of this, many state governments in India maintain that they do not have a single person engaged in manual scavenging. With almost all states having tens of thousands of dry latrines, it is impossible to believe the data ‘officially’ given by the States.

The skewed statistics presented by the State seem only the tip of the iceberg if one tries to gauge the apathy, ignorance and impunity with which it lets the lives of the most vulnerable of its citizens choke to death inside poisonous gas chambers.

The Report released by Rashtriya Garima Abhiyan brings out numerous painful observations and ground realities. The report presents statistics based on interviews and surveys which makes its observations credible and resourceful.

Their findings are as follows:

  • The present study identified a total 140 incidents and 302 deaths from 1992 to 2018. Out of 140 incidents a total of 51 incidents were covered by the study in which 97 deaths were reported.

  • According to NCSK’s data, Tamil Nadu reported highest number of deaths (194) followed by Gujarat (122), Karnataka (68) and Uttar Pradesh (51). In our report, Gujarat reported 62 deaths followed by Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh reporting 29 deaths each and Madhya Pradesh and Tamil Nadu reporting 24 deaths   each.

  • Out of the total case interview, in 35% of the incidents the FIR was filed whereas in 59% of the incidents FIR were not filed and in 6% of incidents respondents do not know if FIR had been filed. In the total number of cases where the FIR had been filed (18 cases), the research team was able to furnish copies of the FIR for 13 cases during the investigation.

  • Legal Proceedings:

  1. In the FIRs, section 304 and 304 A of  IPC was charged 77% cases (10 cases  out of 13 cases where FIR was filed and furnished), which is related to death caused due to negligence and for the remaining 3 cases out of 13 cases  where the FIR was filed and furnished, sections 174 of IPC  (Non-  attendance in obedience to an order from public servant) and 284 (Negligent conduct with respect to a poisonous substance) and 7 and 9   of the MS Act 2013 had been charged. But, not in a single case except in that of Bengaluru, the arrest of the employers or the contractors was made. In cases where the FIR had not been filed, the reasons cited by the family were that of compromises being made, pressure and intimidation faced and at times, they have been threatened that they would lose their current jobs.

  2. In the 51 cases interviewed, prosecution did not happen in any of the cases.

  • Compensation: On March 27, 2014, Honorable Supreme Court of India, in a landmark judgment, declared that a person being made/forced to enter into a manhole or septic tank would be considered as a crime even in an emergency situation and in case of death of the person, a compensation of Rs. 10 lakhs would be awarded to the family of the deceased. The judgment also directed states to undergo a survey to identify incidents of deaths from 1993. This research reports that out of a total of 51 incidents, only in 31% of the cases compensation was awarded to the families of the deceased whereas in the remaining 69% of the incident’s compensation was not awarded. It is important to note that in many of the cases where relief amount has been given to the families of the deceased by the employers/contractors, it was underlined with the intention to dispose the cases. Total 48 families out of 95 families in 16 incidents were awarded compensation.

  • Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment also reported 172 deaths in the year 2016 and 323 deaths in the year 2017.

  • During the time this study (January to July 2018) was being undertaken, 46 deaths were reported from states of Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Odisha, Jharkhand and Tamil Nadu. Every 4-day one death cases are reported in last six months.

  • Of the 51 incidents across 11 states that the team investigated, a total number of 70 workers survived minor to fatal injuries.

  • Rehabilitation:

  1. The survey was also aimed at ascertaining implementation of the Self- employment scheme for Rehabilitation of Manual Scavengers (SRMS) and Pre-Matric Scholarship for the children whose parents are involved in occupation involving cleaning and health hazard.

  2. Not a single family whose members have died while cleaning the septic tank or the sewer received their due rights mentioned in the SRMS scheme. Not a single family was rehabilitated in alternative job, on the contrary; the deceased families have had to start engaging in manual scavenging as there was no alternate job available for their sustenance.

  1. The same goes for the pre-Matric scholarship also. Not a single child of the families who are involved in this hazardous and demeaning practice have received the scholarship for their children. As the pre-Matric scholarship is demand driven, not a single state has raised their demand for the scholarship in the year 2014-15 to 2018. Same goes for the year 2015-16, 2016-17 and 2017-18 except for Gujarat in the year 2015-16 and Maharashtra in the year 2016-17.

  • The highest death rate of 37% was recorded in the age group of 15-25 followed by 35% and 23% in the age group of 25-35 and 35-45 respectively.

  • 67% of the total deceased were married. Valmiki, Arunthutiyar, Dom, Mehtar, Rukhi, Kumbhar, Matang, Meghwal, Chambar, Rai Sikh and Hela are the communities engaged in cleaning and sanitation related work in the different states covered by the research.

  • 94% of the families of the deceased belong to the Scheduled Caste category, 4% to   the Other Backward Classes and 2% to the Scheduled Tribe.

  • Out of the 94% Scheduled Castes families of the deceased, 65% of the families’ interviewed belong to the Valmiki caste, a group pushed to engage in sanitation and cleaning related work mostly in the northern parts of the country.

  • 49% of the deceased were found to have studied below the 10th standard whereas another 45% were uneducated.[3]

 

Human Rights Watch also found some instances in which women and men from the Valmiki caste are engaged by urban municipal corporations, both directly by the government and through contractors, to manually clean excrement.

 A municipal corporation worker, who has worked as a safai karmachari, or sanitation worker, for the Bharatpur municipal corporation since 2004 explained her work:

 I clean my area, these two lanes. I clean twice a day because it is so dirty. I sweep the roads and I clean the drains. It is extremely dirty because the houses here flush the excrement from the toilets directly into the drains. I have to pick out the excreta, along with any garbage from the drains. I have to do it. If I do not, I will lose my job. Some women said they faced threats of violence when they refused to practice manual scavenging.

 In November 2012, when Gangashri along with 12 other women in Parigama village in Uttar Pradesh’s Mainpuri district voluntarily stopped cleaning dry toilets, men from the dominant Thakur caste came to their homes and threatened to deny them grazing rights and expel them from the village. Despite these threats, the women refused to return to manual scavenging. Soon after, some 20 to 30 upper caste men from Parigama confronted the community.

Gangashri recalls: They called our men and said “If you don’t start sending your women to clean our toilets, we will beat them up. We will beat you up.” They said, “We will not let you live in peace.” We were afraid.

Such threats have been particularly effective in binding communities to manual scavenging because the affected communities face extreme difficulty in securing police protection. They are especially vulnerable to police refusal to register complaints due to caste bias by police and local government officials.[4]

NCSK Report points out that “The manual scavengers, who are mainly women, are doing this unhygienic work to earn their livelihood, but in most of the cases, even now, they are paid in kind after six months or so without getting any wages on regular basis. (10Kg grains to one family or even one or two basi roties – District Ghaziabad, Meerut etc.)[5]

This translates that they earn only about Rs.300 a month in the form of grain and do not get any cash. Even in this day and time no thought has been given as to from where expenditure for their other needs will come from? In other cases where monthly wages are paid for such a lowly and inhuman work to the manual scavenger these are as low as Rs.One per day (wages range from Rs.15 – 25 a month per family).”

The Commission has found during its tours that dozens of deaths are occurring in almost all the States which are covered up by the administrative machinery, urban local bodies and these deaths remain unreported and non-compensated most of the time. No remedial measures are taken at District, State or Central level even when these deaths of safai karamcharis are reported in national newspapers. They are usually hired on daily wages through a contractor. These safai karamcharis are neither trained to do the job nor provided with any equipment, what to say of life saving paraphernalia. The person, here, has to enter into the sewer/drain, without any mask or equipment and remains within it till he cleans it manually or is killed by the poisonous gases.

In December, 2003 the Safai Karamchari Andolan along with six other civil society organizations as well as seven individuals belonging to the community of manual scavengers filed a writ petition before the Supreme Court under Article 32 of the Constitution on the ground that the continuation of the practice of manual scavenging as well as of dry latrines is illegal and unconstitutional since it violates the fundamental rights guaranteed under Articles 14, 17, 21 and 23 of the Constitution of India and the1993 Act.

Based on the data submitted by the petitioner, the court observed on 27 March, 2014 that

The aforesaid data collected by the petitioners makes it abundantly clear that the practice of manual scavenging continues unabated. Dry latrines continue to exist notwithstanding the fact that the 1993 Act was in force for nearly two decades. States have acted in denial of the 1993 Act and the constitutional mandate to abolish untouchability.

 For over a decade, this Court issued various directions and sought for compliance from all the States and Union Territories. Due to effective intervention and directions of this Court, the Government of India brought an Act called The Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013 for abolition of this evil and for the welfare of manual scavengers. The Act got the assent of the President on 18.09.2013. The enactment of the aforesaid Act, in no way, neither dilutes the constitutional mandate of Article 17 nor does it condone the inaction on the part of Union and State Governments under the 1993 Act.

 What the 2013 Act does in addition is to expressly acknowledge Article 17 and Article 21 rights of the persons engaged in sewage cleaning and cleaning tanks as well persons cleaning human excreta on railway tracks.”

Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and Their Rehabilitation Act (PEMSR) was passed by both the Houses of Parliament on September 7, 2013. The PEMSR Act,
2013 received assent of the President on September 18, 2013 and subsequently published in the Gazette of India on September 19, 2013.

· The Act prohibits the employment of manual scavengers, the manual cleaning of sewers and septic tanks without protective equipment, and the construction of insanitary latrines.[6]

· Its main objectives are:

i. Prohibition of employment as manual scavengers;

ii. Rehabilitation of manual scavengers.


· The Act recognizes the link between manual scavengers and weaker sections of the society. It therefore, views manual scavenging as being violative of their right to dignity.

· Under the Act, each local authority, cantonment board and railway authority is responsible for surveying insanitary latrines within its jurisdiction. They shall also construct a number of sanitary community latrines.

· Each occupier of insanitary latrines shall be responsible for converting or demolishing the latrine at his own cost. If he fails to do so, the local authority shall convert the
latrine and recover the cost from him.

· The district magistrate and the local authority shall be the implementing authorities. · Offences under the Bill shall be cognizable and non-bailable, and may be tried
summarily.


· It provides for detailed vigilance mechanism and monitoring committee at district, state and central level.

· The Act specifically provides for carrying out surveys for identifying persons employed as manual scavengers.

 

Some of the suggestions from the Rashtriya Garima Abhiyan Report are as follows:

Prevention:

  • Technology induced intervention

  • Training of the workers and Sanitation Inspector

  • Proper awareness and sensitization of the authorities

 

Rehabilitation:

  • Providing relief certificate

  • Ensure compensation for the families

  • Comprehensive Rehabilitation of the families

  • Coverage of worker who has met the fatal injuries

  • Scholarship for the children

 

Prosecution:

  • The Police to register FIR along with invoking appropriate sections of the MS Act 2013 and The POA Act 1989.

  • Penalizing the implementing the agency: the authorities must be held accountable and responsible for the deaths and must be penalized, as per MS Act 2013 and recent amendment of POA Act in relation to manual scavengers

 

Standard operating Procedures (SOP):

  • Standard operating Procedures for sewer and septic tank cleaners


Inspite of all safeguards are legislative provisions, the humanly degrading practice of manual scavenging is rampant. The primary reason for it seems to be the fact that the ost vulnerable amongst the vulnerable groups are engaged in this practice, ie, majorly Dalits of Valmiki caste, and a significant number of them being women.

It thus becomes an easy task to hush them up by various means: violent threats, fear of unemployment, token payment and in other cases, washing their feet and declaring their job to be a “spiritual experience”, right after cutting their rehabilitation funds by half. [7]

While there exists penal provisions and fines for employing anyone to clean septic tanks, under the Government’s Swachh Bharat Abhiyan 2 crore new toilets were built but they did not come with the better infrastructure or design than traditional toilets and have added on to the misery of the manual scavengers. Many newly built toilets in urban households are spawning more septic tanks and sewers, thereby continuing the practice of employing manual scavengers to clean them.

It will take much more than lip service and feet washing for us to realise that the our society has been committing millions of its least empowered people to death in order to maintain our so called ‘hygiene’ with their blood.

 


[1] The “Rashtriya Garima Abhiyan” (National Campaign for Dignity) launched by Jan Sahas in 2001 has proven to be a very innovative and effective program to end manual scavenging. The Abhiyan has liberated 31,828 manual scavengers in Madhya Pradesh, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra and Rajasthan.

[2] Safai Karmachari Andolan (SKA), is an Indian human rights organization that has been campaigning for the eradication of manual scavenging, the construction, operation and employment of manual scavengers which has been illegal in India since 1993.

[3] Report by Rashtriya Garima Abhiyan,  “Justice Denied: Death of workers engaged in manual scavenging while cleaning the Septic tank or Sewer”.

[4] Cleaning Human Waste “Manual Scavenging,” Caste, and Discrimination in India: Human Rights Watch Report (2014)

[5] National Commission for Safai Karamcharis, Annual Report 2005-2006 & 2006-2007 (Combined)

[6]Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and Their Rehabilitation Act, 2013, s. 5.

[7]The Telegraph India, “Why it won’t wash Prime Minister” (https://www.telegraphindia.com/india/why-it-wont-wash-prime-minister/cid/1685582).

Death by excreta: The cursed lives of India's manual scavengers

Deaths of sanitation workers continue even as governments claim (sic) that they have no person involved in manual scavenging

manual Scavengers

“In India, a man is not a scavenger because of his work. He is a scavenger because of his birth irrespective of the question whether he does scavenging or not.”
Dr B.R. Ambedkar

In a report released recently by the ‘Rashtriya Garima Abhiyan’[1], Gujarat reported 62 deaths of manual scavengers, followed by Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh reporting 29 deaths each. Madhya Pradesh and Tamil Nadu followed this ignominious record, reporting 24 deaths each. These figures are in stark contradiction with the state-wise data released by National Commission for Safai Karamcharis (NCSK), a statutory body set up by an Act of Parliament for the welfare of sanitation workers.

At the same time, an NGO working for the welfare of manual scavengers and eradication of the practice of manual scavenging - Safai Karmachari Andolan[2] - says that 429 deaths from it occurred in Delhi alone from 2016 to 2018. The reports of the NGO say that nearly 2,000 manual scavengers die every year in the sewers, due to exposure to poisonous gases. If the deaths that occur in septic tanks are included, then the number would be even higher.

And in the face of all of this, many state governments in India maintain that they do not have a single person engaged in manual scavenging. With almost all states having tens of thousands of dry latrines, it is impossible to believe the data ‘officially’ given by the States.

The skewed statistics presented by the State seem only the tip of the iceberg if one tries to gauge the apathy, ignorance and impunity with which it lets the lives of the most vulnerable of its citizens choke to death inside poisonous gas chambers.

The Report released by Rashtriya Garima Abhiyan brings out numerous painful observations and ground realities. The report presents statistics based on interviews and surveys which makes its observations credible and resourceful.

Their findings are as follows:

  • The present study identified a total 140 incidents and 302 deaths from 1992 to 2018. Out of 140 incidents a total of 51 incidents were covered by the study in which 97 deaths were reported.

  • According to NCSK’s data, Tamil Nadu reported highest number of deaths (194) followed by Gujarat (122), Karnataka (68) and Uttar Pradesh (51). In our report, Gujarat reported 62 deaths followed by Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh reporting 29 deaths each and Madhya Pradesh and Tamil Nadu reporting 24 deaths   each.

  • Out of the total case interview, in 35% of the incidents the FIR was filed whereas in 59% of the incidents FIR were not filed and in 6% of incidents respondents do not know if FIR had been filed. In the total number of cases where the FIR had been filed (18 cases), the research team was able to furnish copies of the FIR for 13 cases during the investigation.

  • Legal Proceedings:

  1. In the FIRs, section 304 and 304 A of  IPC was charged 77% cases (10 cases  out of 13 cases where FIR was filed and furnished), which is related to death caused due to negligence and for the remaining 3 cases out of 13 cases  where the FIR was filed and furnished, sections 174 of IPC  (Non-  attendance in obedience to an order from public servant) and 284 (Negligent conduct with respect to a poisonous substance) and 7 and 9   of the MS Act 2013 had been charged. But, not in a single case except in that of Bengaluru, the arrest of the employers or the contractors was made. In cases where the FIR had not been filed, the reasons cited by the family were that of compromises being made, pressure and intimidation faced and at times, they have been threatened that they would lose their current jobs.

  2. In the 51 cases interviewed, prosecution did not happen in any of the cases.

  • Compensation: On March 27, 2014, Honorable Supreme Court of India, in a landmark judgment, declared that a person being made/forced to enter into a manhole or septic tank would be considered as a crime even in an emergency situation and in case of death of the person, a compensation of Rs. 10 lakhs would be awarded to the family of the deceased. The judgment also directed states to undergo a survey to identify incidents of deaths from 1993. This research reports that out of a total of 51 incidents, only in 31% of the cases compensation was awarded to the families of the deceased whereas in the remaining 69% of the incident’s compensation was not awarded. It is important to note that in many of the cases where relief amount has been given to the families of the deceased by the employers/contractors, it was underlined with the intention to dispose the cases. Total 48 families out of 95 families in 16 incidents were awarded compensation.

  • Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment also reported 172 deaths in the year 2016 and 323 deaths in the year 2017.

  • During the time this study (January to July 2018) was being undertaken, 46 deaths were reported from states of Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Odisha, Jharkhand and Tamil Nadu. Every 4-day one death cases are reported in last six months.

  • Of the 51 incidents across 11 states that the team investigated, a total number of 70 workers survived minor to fatal injuries.

  • Rehabilitation:

  1. The survey was also aimed at ascertaining implementation of the Self- employment scheme for Rehabilitation of Manual Scavengers (SRMS) and Pre-Matric Scholarship for the children whose parents are involved in occupation involving cleaning and health hazard.

  2. Not a single family whose members have died while cleaning the septic tank or the sewer received their due rights mentioned in the SRMS scheme. Not a single family was rehabilitated in alternative job, on the contrary; the deceased families have had to start engaging in manual scavenging as there was no alternate job available for their sustenance.

  1. The same goes for the pre-Matric scholarship also. Not a single child of the families who are involved in this hazardous and demeaning practice have received the scholarship for their children. As the pre-Matric scholarship is demand driven, not a single state has raised their demand for the scholarship in the year 2014-15 to 2018. Same goes for the year 2015-16, 2016-17 and 2017-18 except for Gujarat in the year 2015-16 and Maharashtra in the year 2016-17.

  • The highest death rate of 37% was recorded in the age group of 15-25 followed by 35% and 23% in the age group of 25-35 and 35-45 respectively.

  • 67% of the total deceased were married. Valmiki, Arunthutiyar, Dom, Mehtar, Rukhi, Kumbhar, Matang, Meghwal, Chambar, Rai Sikh and Hela are the communities engaged in cleaning and sanitation related work in the different states covered by the research.

  • 94% of the families of the deceased belong to the Scheduled Caste category, 4% to   the Other Backward Classes and 2% to the Scheduled Tribe.

  • Out of the 94% Scheduled Castes families of the deceased, 65% of the families’ interviewed belong to the Valmiki caste, a group pushed to engage in sanitation and cleaning related work mostly in the northern parts of the country.

  • 49% of the deceased were found to have studied below the 10th standard whereas another 45% were uneducated.[3]

 

Human Rights Watch also found some instances in which women and men from the Valmiki caste are engaged by urban municipal corporations, both directly by the government and through contractors, to manually clean excrement.

 A municipal corporation worker, who has worked as a safai karmachari, or sanitation worker, for the Bharatpur municipal corporation since 2004 explained her work:

 I clean my area, these two lanes. I clean twice a day because it is so dirty. I sweep the roads and I clean the drains. It is extremely dirty because the houses here flush the excrement from the toilets directly into the drains. I have to pick out the excreta, along with any garbage from the drains. I have to do it. If I do not, I will lose my job. Some women said they faced threats of violence when they refused to practice manual scavenging.

 In November 2012, when Gangashri along with 12 other women in Parigama village in Uttar Pradesh’s Mainpuri district voluntarily stopped cleaning dry toilets, men from the dominant Thakur caste came to their homes and threatened to deny them grazing rights and expel them from the village. Despite these threats, the women refused to return to manual scavenging. Soon after, some 20 to 30 upper caste men from Parigama confronted the community.

Gangashri recalls: They called our men and said “If you don’t start sending your women to clean our toilets, we will beat them up. We will beat you up.” They said, “We will not let you live in peace.” We were afraid.

Such threats have been particularly effective in binding communities to manual scavenging because the affected communities face extreme difficulty in securing police protection. They are especially vulnerable to police refusal to register complaints due to caste bias by police and local government officials.[4]

NCSK Report points out that “The manual scavengers, who are mainly women, are doing this unhygienic work to earn their livelihood, but in most of the cases, even now, they are paid in kind after six months or so without getting any wages on regular basis. (10Kg grains to one family or even one or two basi roties – District Ghaziabad, Meerut etc.)[5]

This translates that they earn only about Rs.300 a month in the form of grain and do not get any cash. Even in this day and time no thought has been given as to from where expenditure for their other needs will come from? In other cases where monthly wages are paid for such a lowly and inhuman work to the manual scavenger these are as low as Rs.One per day (wages range from Rs.15 – 25 a month per family).”

The Commission has found during its tours that dozens of deaths are occurring in almost all the States which are covered up by the administrative machinery, urban local bodies and these deaths remain unreported and non-compensated most of the time. No remedial measures are taken at District, State or Central level even when these deaths of safai karamcharis are reported in national newspapers. They are usually hired on daily wages through a contractor. These safai karamcharis are neither trained to do the job nor provided with any equipment, what to say of life saving paraphernalia. The person, here, has to enter into the sewer/drain, without any mask or equipment and remains within it till he cleans it manually or is killed by the poisonous gases.

In December, 2003 the Safai Karamchari Andolan along with six other civil society organizations as well as seven individuals belonging to the community of manual scavengers filed a writ petition before the Supreme Court under Article 32 of the Constitution on the ground that the continuation of the practice of manual scavenging as well as of dry latrines is illegal and unconstitutional since it violates the fundamental rights guaranteed under Articles 14, 17, 21 and 23 of the Constitution of India and the1993 Act.

Based on the data submitted by the petitioner, the court observed on 27 March, 2014 that

The aforesaid data collected by the petitioners makes it abundantly clear that the practice of manual scavenging continues unabated. Dry latrines continue to exist notwithstanding the fact that the 1993 Act was in force for nearly two decades. States have acted in denial of the 1993 Act and the constitutional mandate to abolish untouchability.

 For over a decade, this Court issued various directions and sought for compliance from all the States and Union Territories. Due to effective intervention and directions of this Court, the Government of India brought an Act called The Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013 for abolition of this evil and for the welfare of manual scavengers. The Act got the assent of the President on 18.09.2013. The enactment of the aforesaid Act, in no way, neither dilutes the constitutional mandate of Article 17 nor does it condone the inaction on the part of Union and State Governments under the 1993 Act.

 What the 2013 Act does in addition is to expressly acknowledge Article 17 and Article 21 rights of the persons engaged in sewage cleaning and cleaning tanks as well persons cleaning human excreta on railway tracks.”

Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and Their Rehabilitation Act (PEMSR) was passed by both the Houses of Parliament on September 7, 2013. The PEMSR Act,
2013 received assent of the President on September 18, 2013 and subsequently published in the Gazette of India on September 19, 2013.

· The Act prohibits the employment of manual scavengers, the manual cleaning of sewers and septic tanks without protective equipment, and the construction of insanitary latrines.[6]

· Its main objectives are:

i. Prohibition of employment as manual scavengers;

ii. Rehabilitation of manual scavengers.


· The Act recognizes the link between manual scavengers and weaker sections of the society. It therefore, views manual scavenging as being violative of their right to dignity.

· Under the Act, each local authority, cantonment board and railway authority is responsible for surveying insanitary latrines within its jurisdiction. They shall also construct a number of sanitary community latrines.

· Each occupier of insanitary latrines shall be responsible for converting or demolishing the latrine at his own cost. If he fails to do so, the local authority shall convert the
latrine and recover the cost from him.

· The district magistrate and the local authority shall be the implementing authorities. · Offences under the Bill shall be cognizable and non-bailable, and may be tried
summarily.


· It provides for detailed vigilance mechanism and monitoring committee at district, state and central level.

· The Act specifically provides for carrying out surveys for identifying persons employed as manual scavengers.

 

Some of the suggestions from the Rashtriya Garima Abhiyan Report are as follows:

Prevention:

  • Technology induced intervention

  • Training of the workers and Sanitation Inspector

  • Proper awareness and sensitization of the authorities

 

Rehabilitation:

  • Providing relief certificate

  • Ensure compensation for the families

  • Comprehensive Rehabilitation of the families

  • Coverage of worker who has met the fatal injuries

  • Scholarship for the children

 

Prosecution:

  • The Police to register FIR along with invoking appropriate sections of the MS Act 2013 and The POA Act 1989.

  • Penalizing the implementing the agency: the authorities must be held accountable and responsible for the deaths and must be penalized, as per MS Act 2013 and recent amendment of POA Act in relation to manual scavengers

 

Standard operating Procedures (SOP):

  • Standard operating Procedures for sewer and septic tank cleaners


Inspite of all safeguards are legislative provisions, the humanly degrading practice of manual scavenging is rampant. The primary reason for it seems to be the fact that the ost vulnerable amongst the vulnerable groups are engaged in this practice, ie, majorly Dalits of Valmiki caste, and a significant number of them being women.

It thus becomes an easy task to hush them up by various means: violent threats, fear of unemployment, token payment and in other cases, washing their feet and declaring their job to be a “spiritual experience”, right after cutting their rehabilitation funds by half. [7]

While there exists penal provisions and fines for employing anyone to clean septic tanks, under the Government’s Swachh Bharat Abhiyan 2 crore new toilets were built but they did not come with the better infrastructure or design than traditional toilets and have added on to the misery of the manual scavengers. Many newly built toilets in urban households are spawning more septic tanks and sewers, thereby continuing the practice of employing manual scavengers to clean them.

It will take much more than lip service and feet washing for us to realise that the our society has been committing millions of its least empowered people to death in order to maintain our so called ‘hygiene’ with their blood.

 


[1] The “Rashtriya Garima Abhiyan” (National Campaign for Dignity) launched by Jan Sahas in 2001 has proven to be a very innovative and effective program to end manual scavenging. The Abhiyan has liberated 31,828 manual scavengers in Madhya Pradesh, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra and Rajasthan.

[2] Safai Karmachari Andolan (SKA), is an Indian human rights organization that has been campaigning for the eradication of manual scavenging, the construction, operation and employment of manual scavengers which has been illegal in India since 1993.

[3] Report by Rashtriya Garima Abhiyan,  “Justice Denied: Death of workers engaged in manual scavenging while cleaning the Septic tank or Sewer”.

[4] Cleaning Human Waste “Manual Scavenging,” Caste, and Discrimination in India: Human Rights Watch Report (2014)

[5] National Commission for Safai Karamcharis, Annual Report 2005-2006 & 2006-2007 (Combined)

[6]Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and Their Rehabilitation Act, 2013, s. 5.

[7]The Telegraph India, “Why it won’t wash Prime Minister” (https://www.telegraphindia.com/india/why-it-wont-wash-prime-minister/cid/1685582).

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26 Jan 2020

Ad dharm

Note: The use of the words “Chamar”, “Untouchables”, and “Untouchability” in this article is in a historical context of the self-identified terminology pertaining to the time when these events took place. 

 

“Where there is no affliction or suffering

Neither anxiety nor fear, taxes nor capital

No menace, no terror, no humiliation…

Says Ravidas the emancipated Chamar:

One who shares with me that city is my friend.” 

– Guru Ravidas

(This unpublished translation by Joel Lee appears in Arundhati Roy’s “The Doctor and The Saint”)
 

When Guru Ravidas envisioned this utopian un-segregated land of Be-gham-pura (the city without sorrow), he spoke with the collective voice of the Untouchable community.

Guru Ravidas was one of the most prominent poets of the Bhakti Movement in 15th-16th century. Born into an Untouchable Chamar caste family, he retained his caste occupation as a cobbler and inspired social reform through his Bhakti poetry, using it as a middle path of social protest against caste based exclusion and oppression. His protest was novel, understated, yet dangerous, as he challenged upper caste Hindus even in the way he dressed- wearing dhoti, janeu, and tilak-which were forbidden for the Untouchables. 

It was under the influence of great mystic saints like Guru Ravidas himself, Maharishi Balmiki Ji, Satguru Namdev Ji and Bhagat Kabir Ji, that a new religion- Ad Dharm was conceptualized in Pre-Independence India. The Ad Dharm Mandal was founded on 11th -12th June 1926 A.D. at village Muggowal of District Hoshiarpur in Punjab. It was founded by Babu Mangoo Ram of village Muggowal along with Master Gurbanta Singh and sought to separate the Achhut Panth (Untouchable community) from the Hindus and remedy the generational impacts of caste atrocities and trauma. The Ad Dharm Mandal called for free primary education for their children and separate representation in all public bodies and legislature. 

The context of this radical movement came as a consequence of a series of events set off by the British occupation of Punjab in the early 20th century. Once the British established cantonments and started developing urban centers, new employment opportunities arose for the Chamar caste who worked primarily with leather and supplying raw animal hide. Many of them started manufacturing leather goods for the British army and started to move into towns. The ones who made the most of these opportunities also migrated to abroad to England, USA and Canada. The resulting social and economic upward mobility enabled education and exposure which fuelled political awareness and uprising. 

The British administrative structure also deployed governance based on categorizing the population of India in terms of religious communities for the purposes of colonial Census. This led to distinctions and differentiations of identity along sharp lines, prompting anxiety among major religions to consolidate their numbers. 

“Reform” movements from both Hindu and Sikh organizations started targeting the Dalit community. While the “Shuddhi Movement” encouraged Untouchables to “purify” themselves and be embraced (figuratively) in mainstream Hinduism, Sikh reformers expostulated that since the tenets of Sikhism rejected caste altogether, the Untouchable community would be able to shed off caste identity altogether. Both approaches had their problematic stances and failings, and this created the neccesity and space for the Ad Dharm movement. 

The Ad Dharam movement did succeed in mobilizing the Chamars of Doaba region and in instilling a new sense of confidence in them. They made petitions, speeches, led marches, and called for the abolishment of “Untouchability”. The Ad Dharmis are today among the most prosperous and educated of the Dalit communities of the country. But by 1931, as the movement founders started occupying political posts and eventually accepted the classification of Ad Dharmis as a scheduled caste under Hinduism in the Census, the movement lost its momentum and an evolution of Ad Dharmis into Ravidasis (followers of Guru Ravidas) began.

Nationally, as the Dalit movement took hold under Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, the Ad Dharmis alligned and merged with the national movement. The Ad Dharam Mandal began to see itself as a social and religious organization and in 1946 decided to change its name to the Ravi Das Mandal, ‘entrusting the political work to All India Scheduled Castes Federation in conformity with rest of India’.

This Republic Day, as we honour the day our Indian Constitution came into force, we also honour Dr. Ambedkar, who drafted it. On this day, we also honour the long standing struggle of the Dalit community and the various organizations, leaders, and movements that have challenged the draconian caste system. Each of these movements has had its own struggles, obstacles, and successes and they all deserve to be remembered and placed in historical context, as we are still, as a country working at the uphill task of annihilating caste.

 

Related articles:

1. Dalit activists who have been fighting the good fight
2. Rising Dalit voices against CAA
3. Let Us Strengthen the Idea of India and Defend Our Secular Constitution
4. Do Dalits & Adivasis not suffer religious persecution, asks anti-CAA meet

How Ad Dharm led a crusade against Untouchability

Founded in 1926, the Ad Dharm movement challenged the oppressive caste system and the generational trauma inflicted as its consequence. With the teachings of mystic saints as their guiding force, Ad Dharmis declared that they were neither Hindu nor Sikh.

Ad dharm

Note: The use of the words “Chamar”, “Untouchables”, and “Untouchability” in this article is in a historical context of the self-identified terminology pertaining to the time when these events took place. 

 

“Where there is no affliction or suffering

Neither anxiety nor fear, taxes nor capital

No menace, no terror, no humiliation…

Says Ravidas the emancipated Chamar:

One who shares with me that city is my friend.” 

– Guru Ravidas

(This unpublished translation by Joel Lee appears in Arundhati Roy’s “The Doctor and The Saint”)
 

When Guru Ravidas envisioned this utopian un-segregated land of Be-gham-pura (the city without sorrow), he spoke with the collective voice of the Untouchable community.

Guru Ravidas was one of the most prominent poets of the Bhakti Movement in 15th-16th century. Born into an Untouchable Chamar caste family, he retained his caste occupation as a cobbler and inspired social reform through his Bhakti poetry, using it as a middle path of social protest against caste based exclusion and oppression. His protest was novel, understated, yet dangerous, as he challenged upper caste Hindus even in the way he dressed- wearing dhoti, janeu, and tilak-which were forbidden for the Untouchables. 

It was under the influence of great mystic saints like Guru Ravidas himself, Maharishi Balmiki Ji, Satguru Namdev Ji and Bhagat Kabir Ji, that a new religion- Ad Dharm was conceptualized in Pre-Independence India. The Ad Dharm Mandal was founded on 11th -12th June 1926 A.D. at village Muggowal of District Hoshiarpur in Punjab. It was founded by Babu Mangoo Ram of village Muggowal along with Master Gurbanta Singh and sought to separate the Achhut Panth (Untouchable community) from the Hindus and remedy the generational impacts of caste atrocities and trauma. The Ad Dharm Mandal called for free primary education for their children and separate representation in all public bodies and legislature. 

The context of this radical movement came as a consequence of a series of events set off by the British occupation of Punjab in the early 20th century. Once the British established cantonments and started developing urban centers, new employment opportunities arose for the Chamar caste who worked primarily with leather and supplying raw animal hide. Many of them started manufacturing leather goods for the British army and started to move into towns. The ones who made the most of these opportunities also migrated to abroad to England, USA and Canada. The resulting social and economic upward mobility enabled education and exposure which fuelled political awareness and uprising. 

The British administrative structure also deployed governance based on categorizing the population of India in terms of religious communities for the purposes of colonial Census. This led to distinctions and differentiations of identity along sharp lines, prompting anxiety among major religions to consolidate their numbers. 

“Reform” movements from both Hindu and Sikh organizations started targeting the Dalit community. While the “Shuddhi Movement” encouraged Untouchables to “purify” themselves and be embraced (figuratively) in mainstream Hinduism, Sikh reformers expostulated that since the tenets of Sikhism rejected caste altogether, the Untouchable community would be able to shed off caste identity altogether. Both approaches had their problematic stances and failings, and this created the neccesity and space for the Ad Dharm movement. 

The Ad Dharam movement did succeed in mobilizing the Chamars of Doaba region and in instilling a new sense of confidence in them. They made petitions, speeches, led marches, and called for the abolishment of “Untouchability”. The Ad Dharmis are today among the most prosperous and educated of the Dalit communities of the country. But by 1931, as the movement founders started occupying political posts and eventually accepted the classification of Ad Dharmis as a scheduled caste under Hinduism in the Census, the movement lost its momentum and an evolution of Ad Dharmis into Ravidasis (followers of Guru Ravidas) began.

Nationally, as the Dalit movement took hold under Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, the Ad Dharmis alligned and merged with the national movement. The Ad Dharam Mandal began to see itself as a social and religious organization and in 1946 decided to change its name to the Ravi Das Mandal, ‘entrusting the political work to All India Scheduled Castes Federation in conformity with rest of India’.

This Republic Day, as we honour the day our Indian Constitution came into force, we also honour Dr. Ambedkar, who drafted it. On this day, we also honour the long standing struggle of the Dalit community and the various organizations, leaders, and movements that have challenged the draconian caste system. Each of these movements has had its own struggles, obstacles, and successes and they all deserve to be remembered and placed in historical context, as we are still, as a country working at the uphill task of annihilating caste.

 

Related articles:

1. Dalit activists who have been fighting the good fight
2. Rising Dalit voices against CAA
3. Let Us Strengthen the Idea of India and Defend Our Secular Constitution
4. Do Dalits & Adivasis not suffer religious persecution, asks anti-CAA meet

Related Articles


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Dalit activists who have been fighting the good fight

From manual scavenging to upliftment of Dalit women, a look at some of the causes these activists are fighting for.

17 Jan 2020

Dalit Activist

The fight for Dalit rights has taken a louder voice now more than ever before. We all know of Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar as being the pioneer of the Dalit movement in India and there are people who have carried his legacy through. Thus, Dalits have found their place in society through politics and activism which has gone a long way in bringing the Dalit voice to the forefront. Assertion of Dalits for achieving equality has increased over the years.

“Indifferentism is the worst kind of disease that can affect people,” said Babasaheb in one of his writings and this has been imbibed by Dalit leaders and activists who followed him and who are still continuing their work for upliftment of Dalits.

Here’s a look at modern day Dalit leaders and activists who will continue to highlight Dalit issues and reform the community:


Chandrashekhar Azad

Born in Ghadkhauli village, Sahranpur, Uttar Pradesh, Chandrashekhar Azad is known to have come to prominence after he put up a board outside his village “The Great Chamars of Ghadkhauli Welcome you”.

Azad

(Image Courtesy: Stars Unfolded)

He is a law graduate and he along with Vinay Ratan Singh co-founded the Bhim Army or the Bhim Army Ekta Mission to fight for the development and upliftment of Dalits and other marginalized sections.

Bhim Army is an unregistered organization and claims to have over 40,000 members across 7 states. It also runs around 300 schools. He was arrested in 2017 for fanning protest by Dalit Community in Saharanpur and was released more than a year later. He was booked under the National Security Act.

He was recently granted bail by a Delhi Court recognising his right to protest as a constitutional right as he was part of anti-CAA protest at Jama Masjid in Delhi. Even when the police were trying to arrest him, he had managed to give them a slip and had emerged in another protest.


Jignesh Mevani

Jignesh Mevani rose from being a grassroots activist to an elected Assembly member in Gujarat. His rise to popularity was when led the Dalit Asmita Yatra after a video of Dalit men being stripped down and being whipped in Gujarat’s Gir Somnath district went viral. He coined the slogan, “Gai ki loom aap rakho; hume humaari zameen do (You may keep the cow’s tail, give us our land)".

Jignesh

He considers himself primarily to be an agitator who decided to enter politics to be able to raise issues from a non-compromising position. He has a deep interest in writings of Karl Marx and Babasaheb Ambedkar and the same is reflected in his oratory.

His demand has been that every landless Dalit should get 5 acres of land, which according to him is rightfully theirs. He has earlier worked as a reporter and has a degree in law.

 

Dr. Ruth Manorama

As per Dr. Ruth Manorama, who is a Dalit women’s rights activist, the condition of Dalit women is the worst as they suffer from triple alienation due to their caste, class and their gender. So Dalit women don’t just have to fight upper class oppressors but also men from their own community.

For her work, Manorama has received the Right Livelihood Award in 2006 for “her commitment over decades to achieving equality for Dalit women, building effective and committed women’s organizations and working for their rights at national and international levels.”

Ruth

(Image Courtesy: The Right Livelihood Award)

She has been actively involved in educating, organizing and mobilizing women, Dalits, urban poor and the unorganized sector from the grass-root to the National levels. She is also the recipient of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar Award for doing work among women and Dalits in Karnataka.

 

Bezwada Wilson

Wilson, himself a Dalit, has vehemently campaigned against the inhuman practice of manual scavenging. He has played a role in saving and helping rehabilitate 3 lakh manual scavengers. He comes from a Dalit family in Kolar who were involved in manual scavenging for generations. He is the national convenor of Safai Karmchari Andolan. He also got a Supreme Court judgment to his credit which directed all States and UTs to provide compensation to families of people who died cleaning sewers. He is a recipient of the prestigious Ramon Magsaysay award.

Bezwada

(Image Courtesy: Youth Ki Awaaz)

He was pivotal in getting the Kolar Gold Mines to demolish dry latrines which had to be cleaned by people from his community, including his father and brother. Speaking about the beginning of his journey of caste consciousness, he said, “For the first time, I understood that we are scavengers not because we are illiterate or poor but because we are born into a caste. I started relating all my personal experiences to this history of my people."

 

Kiruba Munusamy

Kiruba is the first Dalit woman lawyer from Tamil Nadu to practice law in the Supreme Court. She has started a training centre for human rights litigation where lawyers, including women from disadvantaged communities, can be trained with professional skills and provided with a co-working space to act independently. She grew up facing caste discrimination first hand; once in the queue for drawing water from the public tank she moved a pail of water and a higher caste girl poured it all out and cleaned it only because Kiruba had touched it.

Kiruba

(Image Courtesy: Hague Talks)

She finds inspiration from Babasaheb Ambedkar’s quote, “Cultivation of mind should be the ultimate aim of human existence.” Through her activism she works for the annihilation of caste and supports Dalit women empowerment, indigenous rights, LGBTQI rights, minorities, advancement of disadvantaged groups, and freedom of expression. Apart from the legal framework, she organizes and conducts awareness campaigns, workshops to bring awareness and educate the downtrodden, sexual minorities (LGBTQI) and Dalit women about their fundamental human rights and legal remedies on violation.


Related:

How to talk about caste and casteism
How NRC further marginalises Transgender people
Rohith’s death: We are all to blame
At the Pyre of Caste Hatred: Dalit suicides and the Media
Rohith Vemula March: The Caste Turn for Student Delhites?

Dalit activists who have been fighting the good fight

From manual scavenging to upliftment of Dalit women, a look at some of the causes these activists are fighting for.

Dalit Activist

The fight for Dalit rights has taken a louder voice now more than ever before. We all know of Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar as being the pioneer of the Dalit movement in India and there are people who have carried his legacy through. Thus, Dalits have found their place in society through politics and activism which has gone a long way in bringing the Dalit voice to the forefront. Assertion of Dalits for achieving equality has increased over the years.

“Indifferentism is the worst kind of disease that can affect people,” said Babasaheb in one of his writings and this has been imbibed by Dalit leaders and activists who followed him and who are still continuing their work for upliftment of Dalits.

Here’s a look at modern day Dalit leaders and activists who will continue to highlight Dalit issues and reform the community:


Chandrashekhar Azad

Born in Ghadkhauli village, Sahranpur, Uttar Pradesh, Chandrashekhar Azad is known to have come to prominence after he put up a board outside his village “The Great Chamars of Ghadkhauli Welcome you”.

Azad

(Image Courtesy: Stars Unfolded)

He is a law graduate and he along with Vinay Ratan Singh co-founded the Bhim Army or the Bhim Army Ekta Mission to fight for the development and upliftment of Dalits and other marginalized sections.

Bhim Army is an unregistered organization and claims to have over 40,000 members across 7 states. It also runs around 300 schools. He was arrested in 2017 for fanning protest by Dalit Community in Saharanpur and was released more than a year later. He was booked under the National Security Act.

He was recently granted bail by a Delhi Court recognising his right to protest as a constitutional right as he was part of anti-CAA protest at Jama Masjid in Delhi. Even when the police were trying to arrest him, he had managed to give them a slip and had emerged in another protest.


Jignesh Mevani

Jignesh Mevani rose from being a grassroots activist to an elected Assembly member in Gujarat. His rise to popularity was when led the Dalit Asmita Yatra after a video of Dalit men being stripped down and being whipped in Gujarat’s Gir Somnath district went viral. He coined the slogan, “Gai ki loom aap rakho; hume humaari zameen do (You may keep the cow’s tail, give us our land)".

Jignesh

He considers himself primarily to be an agitator who decided to enter politics to be able to raise issues from a non-compromising position. He has a deep interest in writings of Karl Marx and Babasaheb Ambedkar and the same is reflected in his oratory.

His demand has been that every landless Dalit should get 5 acres of land, which according to him is rightfully theirs. He has earlier worked as a reporter and has a degree in law.

 

Dr. Ruth Manorama

As per Dr. Ruth Manorama, who is a Dalit women’s rights activist, the condition of Dalit women is the worst as they suffer from triple alienation due to their caste, class and their gender. So Dalit women don’t just have to fight upper class oppressors but also men from their own community.

For her work, Manorama has received the Right Livelihood Award in 2006 for “her commitment over decades to achieving equality for Dalit women, building effective and committed women’s organizations and working for their rights at national and international levels.”

Ruth

(Image Courtesy: The Right Livelihood Award)

She has been actively involved in educating, organizing and mobilizing women, Dalits, urban poor and the unorganized sector from the grass-root to the National levels. She is also the recipient of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar Award for doing work among women and Dalits in Karnataka.

 

Bezwada Wilson

Wilson, himself a Dalit, has vehemently campaigned against the inhuman practice of manual scavenging. He has played a role in saving and helping rehabilitate 3 lakh manual scavengers. He comes from a Dalit family in Kolar who were involved in manual scavenging for generations. He is the national convenor of Safai Karmchari Andolan. He also got a Supreme Court judgment to his credit which directed all States and UTs to provide compensation to families of people who died cleaning sewers. He is a recipient of the prestigious Ramon Magsaysay award.

Bezwada

(Image Courtesy: Youth Ki Awaaz)

He was pivotal in getting the Kolar Gold Mines to demolish dry latrines which had to be cleaned by people from his community, including his father and brother. Speaking about the beginning of his journey of caste consciousness, he said, “For the first time, I understood that we are scavengers not because we are illiterate or poor but because we are born into a caste. I started relating all my personal experiences to this history of my people."

 

Kiruba Munusamy

Kiruba is the first Dalit woman lawyer from Tamil Nadu to practice law in the Supreme Court. She has started a training centre for human rights litigation where lawyers, including women from disadvantaged communities, can be trained with professional skills and provided with a co-working space to act independently. She grew up facing caste discrimination first hand; once in the queue for drawing water from the public tank she moved a pail of water and a higher caste girl poured it all out and cleaned it only because Kiruba had touched it.

Kiruba

(Image Courtesy: Hague Talks)

She finds inspiration from Babasaheb Ambedkar’s quote, “Cultivation of mind should be the ultimate aim of human existence.” Through her activism she works for the annihilation of caste and supports Dalit women empowerment, indigenous rights, LGBTQI rights, minorities, advancement of disadvantaged groups, and freedom of expression. Apart from the legal framework, she organizes and conducts awareness campaigns, workshops to bring awareness and educate the downtrodden, sexual minorities (LGBTQI) and Dalit women about their fundamental human rights and legal remedies on violation.


Related:

How to talk about caste and casteism
How NRC further marginalises Transgender people
Rohith’s death: We are all to blame
At the Pyre of Caste Hatred: Dalit suicides and the Media
Rohith Vemula March: The Caste Turn for Student Delhites?

Related Articles


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Sabrang

A letter that should shake our world: Dalit scholar suicide triggers outrage

17 Jan 2020

First Published on: January 18, 2016


Rohith (right) carrying a poster of Ambedkar along with other belongings, after his suspension

Rohith Vemula will live on

Anguished and shocked at Rohith’s death, expelled students vow to continue the protest with support of others

Nationwide protests will take place following the suicide by Vemula Rohith, a Dalit student at the university of Hyderabad (UoH) on the evening of Sunday, January 17. The first protest, spontaneous and angry, took place at the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) late night, about 9.30 p.m. on Sunday January 17, 2016 itself. Vemula Rohith left a poignant suicide note before he took his life by hanging himself in the room of a colleague-friend in Hyderabad.

The next protest will take place outside the Ministry of Human Resources Development (MHRD) and its minister, Smriti Irani at 2 p.m. on Monday January 18. Irani had, according to protesting students and a letter written by a ruling party Member of Parliament (MP)—see https://www.sabrangindia.in/article/we-shall-not-be-silenced-protest-against-expulsion-dalit-research-scholars -- obviously interfered in the matter of unlawful suspension of five PHD students and in protecting the student saffron wing, the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP).

The students belonging to the Ambedkar Students Association (ASA) of which Rohith Vemula was an active part, had been furthering a debate on issues related to social justice, including communalism, ensuring that they get effectively flagged on the campus. Irani’s alleged interference can be traced to a letter written by none less than Bandaru Dattatreya , Secunderabad BJP MP and Minister of State for Labour and Employment, to the Ministry of Human Resources Development (MHRD) dubbing ASA “casteist, extremist and anti-national”. The communication demanded that the “dynamic leadership” of Smriti Irani, Minister of Human Resources and Development, bring about a “change for the better” in the institution. The ‘change for the better’ in ideological terms (for the Sangh Parivar) meant overruling an earlier decision of former Vice Chancellor of the University RB Sharna who revoked an earlier suspension of the same students after the decision was found to be not in accordance with the decision taken by the Proctorial Board of the UoH (August-September 2015). Sharma soon retired after which the newly appointed and more politically compliant, Appa Rao ‘fell in line’ with Dattarayera’s communication and Irani’s interventions.

Anguished at the loss of life of one of their own, one of the five PHD students unlawfully suspended, students from the ASA and other students organizations including the Students Federation of India (SFI) told Sabrangindia that though deeply disturbed there is a steely determination among the students that the late night, sleep out protest will continue.

Vemula Rohith, was one of the five PHD students who had been expelled had been successfully protesting the high-handedness of the authorities, sleeping out in the open since the night of January 4, 2016, when the doors to their rooms were illegally locked though they had been quietly studying in their rooms following the suspension. Sabrangindia had carried a story on the protest on January 12. His colleagues were in a day-long meeting and it appears that Rohith Vemula hanged himself in another room of his friend-colleague on Sunday evening. The 28-year-old, hailing from Guntur district of Andhra Pradesh, was a Ph.D second year student. His letter tells a poignant tale
 


"Good morning, 
 I would not be around when you read this letter. Don't get angry on me. I know some of you truly cared for me, loved me and treated me very well. I have no complaints on anyone. It was always with myself I had problems. I feel a growing gap between my soul and my body. And I have become a monster. I always wanted to be a writer. A writer of science, like Carl Sagan. At last, this is the only letter I am getting to write. 

I loved Science, Stars, Nature, but then I loved people without knowing that people have long since divorced from nature. Our feelings are second handed. Our love is constructed. Our beliefs colored. Our originality valid through artificial art. It has become truly difficult to love without getting hurt. 
The value of a man was reduced to his immediate identity and nearest possibility. To a vote. To a number. To a thing. Never was a man treated as a mind. As a glorious thing made up of star dust. In very field, in studies, in streets, in politics, and in dying and living. 
I am writing this kind of letter for the first time. My first time of a final letter. Forgive me if I fail to make sense. 

May be I was wrong, all the while, in understanding world. In understanding love, pain, life, death. There was no urgency. But I always was rushing. Desperate to start a life. All the while, some people, for them, life itself is curse. My birth is my fatal accident. I can never recover from my childhood loneliness. The unappreciated child from my past. 

I am not hurt at this moment. I am not sad. I am just empty. Unconcerned about myself. That's pathetic. And that's why I am doing this. 

People may dub me as a coward. And selfish, or stupid once I am gone. I am not bothered about what I am called. I don't believe in after-death stories, ghosts, or spirits. If there is anything at all I believe, I believe that I can travel to the stars. And know about the other worlds. 

If you, who is reading this letter can do anything for me, I have to get 7 months of my fellowship, one lakh and seventy five thousand rupees. Please see to it that my family is paid that. I have to give some 40 thousand to Ramji. He never asked them back. But please pay that to him from that. 
 Let my funeral be silent and smooth. Behave like I just appeared and gone. Do not shed tears for me. Know that I am happy dead than being alive. 

 "From shadows to the stars." 

 Uma anna, sorry for using your room for this thing. 
 
To ASA family, sorry for disappointing all of you. You loved me very much. I wish all the very best for the future. 

For one last time, Jai Bheem 

I forgot to write the formalities. No one is responsible for my this act of killing myself. 

No one has instigated me, whether by their acts or by their words to this act. 

This is my decision and I am the only one responsible for this. 

Do not trouble my friends and enemies on this after I am gone. "

A Hindi translation of the note left by Rohith Vemula can be seen here
 
It is a battle for freedom of expression. The Ambedkar Students Association (ASA) decided to screen Muzaffarnagar Baqi Hai on campus last year (2015). The ABVP tried, unsuccessfully, to disrupt the screening. The saffron outfit began abusing students affiliated to the ASA on facebook and social media. Widespread protests by all students at this hate-mongering forced the student to submit a written apology. However, local BJP and RSS supporters joined with ABVP to force the VC to expel the ASA leaders on fabricated charges, although, a committee appointed by the VC had already given a favourable report finding no fault in the ASA or the students affiliated to it.

The persuasion in this communication appears to have worked. The Vice Chancellor buckled under pressure and without looking into the background of the case or even hearing the students, expelled them.

This expulsion from the hostel of five Dalit student leaders of the Ambedkar Students Association(ASA) at the Hyderabad Central University is illustrative of the manner in which politico-ideological considerations and governmental authority are being abused with impunity to suppress all points of view other than the self professed ‘nationalism’ of the Hindutva  brigade. Another reason for the expulsion was the claim that they had opposed the death sentence to Yakub Memon!

Several students groups from the university have also launched a legal battle. They have challenged the University of Hyderabad (UoH)’s decision to expel five Dalit scholars for allegedly attacking a student and a member of Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP).  Seeking justice, the suspended students, on December 18, filed a writ petition in the Hyderabad High Court. This development has come in the wake of university issuing orders, banning the Dalit scholars from hostels, barring their entry into common places in groups, administration building and disallowing their participation in students union elections as a punishment.

The unique sleep out research protest of the research scholars is backed by 10 student outfits on campus. Student supporters have been gathering singing slogans and participating in the seep out protests. All of us all over India most now organise protests and sleep out protests against the highhanded intolerance and authoritarianism of the present government.  The death of Rohith Vemula must not go in vain. 

A letter that should shake our world: Dalit scholar suicide triggers outrage

First Published on: January 18, 2016


Rohith (right) carrying a poster of Ambedkar along with other belongings, after his suspension

Rohith Vemula will live on

Anguished and shocked at Rohith’s death, expelled students vow to continue the protest with support of others

Nationwide protests will take place following the suicide by Vemula Rohith, a Dalit student at the university of Hyderabad (UoH) on the evening of Sunday, January 17. The first protest, spontaneous and angry, took place at the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) late night, about 9.30 p.m. on Sunday January 17, 2016 itself. Vemula Rohith left a poignant suicide note before he took his life by hanging himself in the room of a colleague-friend in Hyderabad.

The next protest will take place outside the Ministry of Human Resources Development (MHRD) and its minister, Smriti Irani at 2 p.m. on Monday January 18. Irani had, according to protesting students and a letter written by a ruling party Member of Parliament (MP)—see https://www.sabrangindia.in/article/we-shall-not-be-silenced-protest-against-expulsion-dalit-research-scholars -- obviously interfered in the matter of unlawful suspension of five PHD students and in protecting the student saffron wing, the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP).

The students belonging to the Ambedkar Students Association (ASA) of which Rohith Vemula was an active part, had been furthering a debate on issues related to social justice, including communalism, ensuring that they get effectively flagged on the campus. Irani’s alleged interference can be traced to a letter written by none less than Bandaru Dattatreya , Secunderabad BJP MP and Minister of State for Labour and Employment, to the Ministry of Human Resources Development (MHRD) dubbing ASA “casteist, extremist and anti-national”. The communication demanded that the “dynamic leadership” of Smriti Irani, Minister of Human Resources and Development, bring about a “change for the better” in the institution. The ‘change for the better’ in ideological terms (for the Sangh Parivar) meant overruling an earlier decision of former Vice Chancellor of the University RB Sharna who revoked an earlier suspension of the same students after the decision was found to be not in accordance with the decision taken by the Proctorial Board of the UoH (August-September 2015). Sharma soon retired after which the newly appointed and more politically compliant, Appa Rao ‘fell in line’ with Dattarayera’s communication and Irani’s interventions.

Anguished at the loss of life of one of their own, one of the five PHD students unlawfully suspended, students from the ASA and other students organizations including the Students Federation of India (SFI) told Sabrangindia that though deeply disturbed there is a steely determination among the students that the late night, sleep out protest will continue.

Vemula Rohith, was one of the five PHD students who had been expelled had been successfully protesting the high-handedness of the authorities, sleeping out in the open since the night of January 4, 2016, when the doors to their rooms were illegally locked though they had been quietly studying in their rooms following the suspension. Sabrangindia had carried a story on the protest on January 12. His colleagues were in a day-long meeting and it appears that Rohith Vemula hanged himself in another room of his friend-colleague on Sunday evening. The 28-year-old, hailing from Guntur district of Andhra Pradesh, was a Ph.D second year student. His letter tells a poignant tale
 


"Good morning, 
 I would not be around when you read this letter. Don't get angry on me. I know some of you truly cared for me, loved me and treated me very well. I have no complaints on anyone. It was always with myself I had problems. I feel a growing gap between my soul and my body. And I have become a monster. I always wanted to be a writer. A writer of science, like Carl Sagan. At last, this is the only letter I am getting to write. 

I loved Science, Stars, Nature, but then I loved people without knowing that people have long since divorced from nature. Our feelings are second handed. Our love is constructed. Our beliefs colored. Our originality valid through artificial art. It has become truly difficult to love without getting hurt. 
The value of a man was reduced to his immediate identity and nearest possibility. To a vote. To a number. To a thing. Never was a man treated as a mind. As a glorious thing made up of star dust. In very field, in studies, in streets, in politics, and in dying and living. 
I am writing this kind of letter for the first time. My first time of a final letter. Forgive me if I fail to make sense. 

May be I was wrong, all the while, in understanding world. In understanding love, pain, life, death. There was no urgency. But I always was rushing. Desperate to start a life. All the while, some people, for them, life itself is curse. My birth is my fatal accident. I can never recover from my childhood loneliness. The unappreciated child from my past. 

I am not hurt at this moment. I am not sad. I am just empty. Unconcerned about myself. That's pathetic. And that's why I am doing this. 

People may dub me as a coward. And selfish, or stupid once I am gone. I am not bothered about what I am called. I don't believe in after-death stories, ghosts, or spirits. If there is anything at all I believe, I believe that I can travel to the stars. And know about the other worlds. 

If you, who is reading this letter can do anything for me, I have to get 7 months of my fellowship, one lakh and seventy five thousand rupees. Please see to it that my family is paid that. I have to give some 40 thousand to Ramji. He never asked them back. But please pay that to him from that. 
 Let my funeral be silent and smooth. Behave like I just appeared and gone. Do not shed tears for me. Know that I am happy dead than being alive. 

 "From shadows to the stars." 

 Uma anna, sorry for using your room for this thing. 
 
To ASA family, sorry for disappointing all of you. You loved me very much. I wish all the very best for the future. 

For one last time, Jai Bheem 

I forgot to write the formalities. No one is responsible for my this act of killing myself. 

No one has instigated me, whether by their acts or by their words to this act. 

This is my decision and I am the only one responsible for this. 

Do not trouble my friends and enemies on this after I am gone. "

A Hindi translation of the note left by Rohith Vemula can be seen here
 
It is a battle for freedom of expression. The Ambedkar Students Association (ASA) decided to screen Muzaffarnagar Baqi Hai on campus last year (2015). The ABVP tried, unsuccessfully, to disrupt the screening. The saffron outfit began abusing students affiliated to the ASA on facebook and social media. Widespread protests by all students at this hate-mongering forced the student to submit a written apology. However, local BJP and RSS supporters joined with ABVP to force the VC to expel the ASA leaders on fabricated charges, although, a committee appointed by the VC had already given a favourable report finding no fault in the ASA or the students affiliated to it.

The persuasion in this communication appears to have worked. The Vice Chancellor buckled under pressure and without looking into the background of the case or even hearing the students, expelled them.

This expulsion from the hostel of five Dalit student leaders of the Ambedkar Students Association(ASA) at the Hyderabad Central University is illustrative of the manner in which politico-ideological considerations and governmental authority are being abused with impunity to suppress all points of view other than the self professed ‘nationalism’ of the Hindutva  brigade. Another reason for the expulsion was the claim that they had opposed the death sentence to Yakub Memon!

Several students groups from the university have also launched a legal battle. They have challenged the University of Hyderabad (UoH)’s decision to expel five Dalit scholars for allegedly attacking a student and a member of Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP).  Seeking justice, the suspended students, on December 18, filed a writ petition in the Hyderabad High Court. This development has come in the wake of university issuing orders, banning the Dalit scholars from hostels, barring their entry into common places in groups, administration building and disallowing their participation in students union elections as a punishment.

The unique sleep out research protest of the research scholars is backed by 10 student outfits on campus. Student supporters have been gathering singing slogans and participating in the seep out protests. All of us all over India most now organise protests and sleep out protests against the highhanded intolerance and authoritarianism of the present government.  The death of Rohith Vemula must not go in vain. 

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Rising Dalit voices against CAA

Dalit activists highlight how the CAA-NPR-NRC isn’t just a Hindu-Muslim issue

17 Jan 2020

Dalits

People of India are  now coming to see that, if implemented the  Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and  National Register of Citizens (NRC) are going to pose a threat to the future of not just people belonging to the Muslim community, but also the Scheduled Castes / Scheduled Tribes and Other Backward Classes of the country.

To raise awareness about the perils of these fascist policies among all the people fighting for the government to take back the flawed legislation, many leaders fighting for the rights of the marginalized Dalits have come forward to explain why the CAA-NPR-NRC is going to be a nightmare for all minorities and marginalized.

Chandrashekhar Azad, the founder of the Bhim Army that works on the ideals of the Father of the Indian Constitution, Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar, had written for a publication about the dangers of the CAA NRC to the tribals where he mentioned, “The NRC process will be rigged, mistakes will be introduced in their names and their citizenship will be taken away to deprive them of the reservation benefits.”

Prakash Ambedkar, President of the Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi in an interview said, “They don’t have land ownership documents. Tomorrow, if the government asks them to produce identity documents, what will they do? The problem is even more serious vis-à-vis the Scheduled Tribes (STs). Do you know that in 1871, the British Government had promulgated the Criminal Tribes Act? This black law was meant to suppress the Tribals who had fought against the British, to alienate them. The Dalit-bahujans of the country should see through this conspiracy and oppose them.”

Jignesh Mevani told reporters, “The Citizenship Amendment Act is a black law and is against the India Constitution. The idea of India in the preamble of the Constitution is that of a secular, socialist and democratic country.”

Dalit leader Siddharth Parmar, addressed a meet saying that the current fight is between the Indian Constitution, authored by Dr BR Ambedkar, and those who want that the country to live by the codes scripted in the ancient treatise Manusmriti. “The real intention of the government is revive Manusmriti, which codifies inequalities, even as undermining the equality focus of the Constitution.”

The SCs, STs and OBCs have been kept away from education and property ownership and the rampant illiteracy coupled with the lack of awareness about maintaining documents is set to affect the Dalits and Tribal Communities if the CAA and NRC are implemented.

Dalit activists like Pawan Rao Ambedkar, Sushil Gautam and Azad too have been attacked in their fight against the CAA.

As if protecting themselves from the rising spate of lynchings by cow vigilantes and the increasing discrimination against Dalits and tribal students in educational institutions wasn't enough, the fight to protect their place in the country is just one more battle they have been forced to take on.

Rising Dalit voices against CAA

Dalit activists highlight how the CAA-NPR-NRC isn’t just a Hindu-Muslim issue

Dalits

People of India are  now coming to see that, if implemented the  Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and  National Register of Citizens (NRC) are going to pose a threat to the future of not just people belonging to the Muslim community, but also the Scheduled Castes / Scheduled Tribes and Other Backward Classes of the country.

To raise awareness about the perils of these fascist policies among all the people fighting for the government to take back the flawed legislation, many leaders fighting for the rights of the marginalized Dalits have come forward to explain why the CAA-NPR-NRC is going to be a nightmare for all minorities and marginalized.

Chandrashekhar Azad, the founder of the Bhim Army that works on the ideals of the Father of the Indian Constitution, Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar, had written for a publication about the dangers of the CAA NRC to the tribals where he mentioned, “The NRC process will be rigged, mistakes will be introduced in their names and their citizenship will be taken away to deprive them of the reservation benefits.”

Prakash Ambedkar, President of the Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi in an interview said, “They don’t have land ownership documents. Tomorrow, if the government asks them to produce identity documents, what will they do? The problem is even more serious vis-à-vis the Scheduled Tribes (STs). Do you know that in 1871, the British Government had promulgated the Criminal Tribes Act? This black law was meant to suppress the Tribals who had fought against the British, to alienate them. The Dalit-bahujans of the country should see through this conspiracy and oppose them.”

Jignesh Mevani told reporters, “The Citizenship Amendment Act is a black law and is against the India Constitution. The idea of India in the preamble of the Constitution is that of a secular, socialist and democratic country.”

Dalit leader Siddharth Parmar, addressed a meet saying that the current fight is between the Indian Constitution, authored by Dr BR Ambedkar, and those who want that the country to live by the codes scripted in the ancient treatise Manusmriti. “The real intention of the government is revive Manusmriti, which codifies inequalities, even as undermining the equality focus of the Constitution.”

The SCs, STs and OBCs have been kept away from education and property ownership and the rampant illiteracy coupled with the lack of awareness about maintaining documents is set to affect the Dalits and Tribal Communities if the CAA and NRC are implemented.

Dalit activists like Pawan Rao Ambedkar, Sushil Gautam and Azad too have been attacked in their fight against the CAA.

As if protecting themselves from the rising spate of lynchings by cow vigilantes and the increasing discrimination against Dalits and tribal students in educational institutions wasn't enough, the fight to protect their place in the country is just one more battle they have been forced to take on.

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Rohith Vemula March: The Caste Turn for Student Delhites?

16 Jan 2020

First published on February 23, 2016



Rohith Vemula gives them the perfect point of departure

 
Delhi is a city that has naturalised caste: a gardener believes he is born to be a gardener; a maid believes she was born to be a maid. Its so called efficiency has something to do with this aspect. Even among academics and students, the understanding and discussions of caste stay at their abstract best. Most of them are well meaning to be concerned about the "upliftment of Dalits" but in the busy-ness of their own professional lives, they really couldn't do much. The city kept running on the shoulders of the Dalits. Caste was a matter to be encountered only in reservation debates and that was a sort polemics only the political class could go through with.
 
But Rohith Vemula's one-note altered the caste debates in the country, from asking, "How can discrimination against Dalits be stopped?" or, "How can Dalits be uplifted" to, "Why is our society so inhumanly casteist?" or, "When will upper castes improve?", making every one ask the question, "Why are we like this?". The fact that his suicide note did not have a single word about caste discrimination, it only spoke about the need to travel from "shadows to stars" and the impossibility of it, struck a code with Delhi's students. Now they knew it was not about Dalits alone; it was more about them. Or the impossibility of being themselves ethically in this system. Now the onus was on the academic community: to make sure that Rohith is the absolute last to be orphaned to death.
 
The huge march in solidarity with JNU (against the trending #ShutdownJNU) on February 18 had many posters of Rohith Vemula and slogans such as, "JNU to bahana hai, Rohith ka mudda dabana hai" (JNU is an excuse to distract from Rohith's issue) prominently demonstrated such a change. The straight-line from FTII through HCU and OccupyUGC to JNU that students kept drawing was quite in place: the central government doesn't seem to understand the ways in which students work or think.
 
The Narendra Modi government might be good at attacking known political or social formations but students are an evolving social category and it clearly doesn't have the tools. If FTII was a clear case of trying to show "we can, so we will", OccupyUGC was an unnecessary provocation and HCU was MHRD's flexing its muscles gone terribly awry and JNU its hurried conclusions riding on hyper sensationalist jingoism. The mass media debates on national/anti-national, continued on social media, made students realise their common sense and regular discussions were stuff that could be termed "anti-national" and they found themselves in a strange situation where they had to explain their very existence to friends and family in the "tax payer entitlement" narrative. Students who were not part of any existing political formation also felt alienated and they kept telling themselves and others: students have to fight as students. In fact, they found a student issue with a cosmic objective to fight for.
 
The "Chalo Dilli" march on April 23rd and its clarion call "Delhi for Rohith Vemula" became exciting not just because more than 5,000 people walked a kilometre together from Ambedkar Bhawan to Jantar Mantar, or because there was a representation from all parties other than the BJP for the rally, but because the students had found a new icon in Rohith Vemula. It was difficult to dispute him or reject him if you didn't have party obligations or social interests.

The speciality of this icon was in its social content: caste was becoming an issue of political debate in student lives. Some Delhi students whose encounter with caste as a political issue was rather new also kept shouting "Jai Bheem" in an event primarily organised by Dalit organisations. 
 
One of the limitations of the Indian student movements has been their being floated and managed by students who socially belong to the ruling elite of the country. This is quite different from the Western situation where student movements have been political, academic and cultural manifestations of social changes. The chemical change of thinking in the 1960s was a result of socio-economic changes that ushered in women, African Americans, refugees, third world students and homosexuals into academe in huge numbers.
 
In India, such a turn hasn't happened. Nationalism and universal class wars were the concerns of student politics in earlier decades. But now the organising principle of Indian society is their problem as students. It might be the caste turn for student discourses. 
 
Surely, unlike in the University of Hyderabad, where the number of Dalit students is huge and the discourse of caste is very strong, Delhi still doesn't have such a situation. But it must now emerge to address the huge blind spot they have now realised. And Rohith Vemula gives them the perfect point of departure. 
 

Rohith Vemula March: The Caste Turn for Student Delhites?

First published on February 23, 2016



Rohith Vemula gives them the perfect point of departure

 
Delhi is a city that has naturalised caste: a gardener believes he is born to be a gardener; a maid believes she was born to be a maid. Its so called efficiency has something to do with this aspect. Even among academics and students, the understanding and discussions of caste stay at their abstract best. Most of them are well meaning to be concerned about the "upliftment of Dalits" but in the busy-ness of their own professional lives, they really couldn't do much. The city kept running on the shoulders of the Dalits. Caste was a matter to be encountered only in reservation debates and that was a sort polemics only the political class could go through with.
 
But Rohith Vemula's one-note altered the caste debates in the country, from asking, "How can discrimination against Dalits be stopped?" or, "How can Dalits be uplifted" to, "Why is our society so inhumanly casteist?" or, "When will upper castes improve?", making every one ask the question, "Why are we like this?". The fact that his suicide note did not have a single word about caste discrimination, it only spoke about the need to travel from "shadows to stars" and the impossibility of it, struck a code with Delhi's students. Now they knew it was not about Dalits alone; it was more about them. Or the impossibility of being themselves ethically in this system. Now the onus was on the academic community: to make sure that Rohith is the absolute last to be orphaned to death.
 
The huge march in solidarity with JNU (against the trending #ShutdownJNU) on February 18 had many posters of Rohith Vemula and slogans such as, "JNU to bahana hai, Rohith ka mudda dabana hai" (JNU is an excuse to distract from Rohith's issue) prominently demonstrated such a change. The straight-line from FTII through HCU and OccupyUGC to JNU that students kept drawing was quite in place: the central government doesn't seem to understand the ways in which students work or think.
 
The Narendra Modi government might be good at attacking known political or social formations but students are an evolving social category and it clearly doesn't have the tools. If FTII was a clear case of trying to show "we can, so we will", OccupyUGC was an unnecessary provocation and HCU was MHRD's flexing its muscles gone terribly awry and JNU its hurried conclusions riding on hyper sensationalist jingoism. The mass media debates on national/anti-national, continued on social media, made students realise their common sense and regular discussions were stuff that could be termed "anti-national" and they found themselves in a strange situation where they had to explain their very existence to friends and family in the "tax payer entitlement" narrative. Students who were not part of any existing political formation also felt alienated and they kept telling themselves and others: students have to fight as students. In fact, they found a student issue with a cosmic objective to fight for.
 
The "Chalo Dilli" march on April 23rd and its clarion call "Delhi for Rohith Vemula" became exciting not just because more than 5,000 people walked a kilometre together from Ambedkar Bhawan to Jantar Mantar, or because there was a representation from all parties other than the BJP for the rally, but because the students had found a new icon in Rohith Vemula. It was difficult to dispute him or reject him if you didn't have party obligations or social interests.

The speciality of this icon was in its social content: caste was becoming an issue of political debate in student lives. Some Delhi students whose encounter with caste as a political issue was rather new also kept shouting "Jai Bheem" in an event primarily organised by Dalit organisations. 
 
One of the limitations of the Indian student movements has been their being floated and managed by students who socially belong to the ruling elite of the country. This is quite different from the Western situation where student movements have been political, academic and cultural manifestations of social changes. The chemical change of thinking in the 1960s was a result of socio-economic changes that ushered in women, African Americans, refugees, third world students and homosexuals into academe in huge numbers.
 
In India, such a turn hasn't happened. Nationalism and universal class wars were the concerns of student politics in earlier decades. But now the organising principle of Indian society is their problem as students. It might be the caste turn for student discourses. 
 
Surely, unlike in the University of Hyderabad, where the number of Dalit students is huge and the discourse of caste is very strong, Delhi still doesn't have such a situation. But it must now emerge to address the huge blind spot they have now realised. And Rohith Vemula gives them the perfect point of departure. 
 

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Calling Smriti Irani's Bluff: Twisted Truths in Parliament

16 Jan 2020

First published on February 25, 2016



Goebbels was an interesting and effective man. Held responsible for many of the worst and most supremacist and violent ideas that guided Fuhrer Hitler’s reign, he is recalled in history, more as a frequently used adjective-term, to connote a particular kind of pernicious government propaganda based on lies, or at best half-truths (he headed the Propaganda Ministry of the Nazi government).

Goebbelsian propaganda has been the forte of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and was palpably evident in Minister, MHRD, Smriti Irani’s speech in the Lok Sabha yesterday, February 24,2016.

The broader issues raised in the speech by the Union Minister for Human Resources Development (MHRD) have already been effectively countered in The Telegraph : A [1]Fact Check on what HRD minister Smruti Irani said in Parliament [2] including countering systematic efforts at vilification and name calling.[3]

Here we put some Questions countering the Goebbelsian untruths surrounding the institutional murder of Rohith Vemula


Did or did not the central minister of the BJP, Bandaru Dattatreya write to Irani on August 17, 2015, a letter in which he clearly calls the activities and vision of the Ambedkar Students Association (ASA) as casteist and anti-national?  Letter can be seen here.

Was or was not Rohith Vemula’s Research Fellowship stopped (illegally) for seven months severely constraining and humiliating him?

Did or did not, on five occasions, bureaucrats of the MHRD under Irani write directly to the Vice Chancellor (VC) Hyderabad Central University (HCU) on the matter showing an unseemly interest in the case ?

(The letters are dated September 3, 2015 from the Under Secretary referring to comments by Bandaru Dattatreya, MOS, for Labour and Employment; another dated September 24, 2015, sent as reminder, signed by Deputy Secretary to the GOI; letter dated October 20, 2015, signed by Joint Secretary, MHRD; letter dated November 19, 2015, signed by Under Secretary to the GOI). Letters can be seen here.

Do or do not these letters show an obsessive interest by the Minister, MHRD that was, in effect, putting extraordinary pressure on the VC?

Is it or is it not true that a fellow student at HCU called the Health Centre immediately after learning of Rohith being hanged and within five minutes the CMO Health Centre, Dr P Rajashree reached the spot, felt his pulse and declared him dead nullifying the Goebellian lie to the nation in Parliament that no doctor or police were allowed to see Rohith till the next day? 
[The doctor certified Rohith's death at 7.30 pm: UoH medical officer counters Smriti Irani's statement - http://www.thenewsminute.com/article/doctor-certified-rohiths-death-730-pm-uoh-medical-officer-counters-smriti-iranis-statement#sthash.tdp9MlM4.dpuf]

Is it not true that Rohith Vemula was quietly cremated without family or friends as the authorities did not want to face up to the palpable anger on campus and outside?
 
Did or did not the newly appointed Vice Chancellor, Appa Rao receive a chilling letter from Rohith Vemula on December 18, 2015 –a month before his death --that clearly indicated a warning: that by the systematic exclusion and humiliation Rohith was being pushed, and reaching, the end of his tether?

[Rohith allegedly sarcastically said in the letter that every VC of HCU should “10 mg of sodium azide to all the Dalit students at the time of admission… [and] a nice rope to the rooms of all Dalit students.” This handwritten letter should have been read as a precursor to what was coming. In the letter, Rohith allegedly goes on to say, “I request your highness to make preparations for the facility [of] ‘euthanasia’ for students like me. And I wish you and the campus rest in peace forever.” ]

Does or does this communication not squarely put the blame on the university authorities and, first and foremost, on the vice chancellor ?
[The letter traces the officially sanctioned “social boycott” of Dalit students after they took on a member of the ABVP for making derogatory remarks about Dalits. “Donald Trump will be a lilliput in front of you..”]




Did or does the VC feel at all disturbed by this communication? Does the GOI? Was there any communication between the VC, HCU authorities and Rohith and the other four research scholars between December 18, 2015 and January 17, 2016?

Were or were not the five Dalit Research scholars locked out of their rooms from January 4, 2016 onwards, compelling them to start a protest and sleep out, on the street, rubbing salt on wounds so to speak: since their research fellowship stipends had been illegally cut off from July 2015 onwards?

Were or were not the five Dalit scholars ostracised on campus and asked not even to visit the library for research, further humiliating them?

Is it or is it not true that senior functionaries of the GOI, including two central ministers (both women) have questioned the authenticity of Dalit identity of Rohith? link[4] (http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/Rohith-Vemula-was-not-a-dalit-Sushma-Swaraj-says/articleshow/50788780.cms)

After January 17, 2016 and the tragic step that Rohith Vemula took, did or did not the GOI appoint Ajit Duval, National security Advisor the Task to investigate the real caste of Rohith Vemula?  (See Certificates)
[http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/Ajit-Doval-gets-report-saying-Rohith-Vemula-was-not-a-dalit/articleshow/50749810.cms; also see http://www.thenewsminute.com/article/was-rohith-vemula-dalit-or-not-and-does-it-matter-explained-37936]

Did the trail not begin politically: with the Vice President, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) Hyderabad,  Nandanam Diwakar writing to Central minister Dattareya, (August 10, 2015), seven days before the latter writes to Irani, a letter in which wrong and exaggerated accounts of ABVP student, Susheel Kumar’s injuries are given as well as a litany of political opposition to Ambedkarites listed? Here is the letter.





Is it not true that the claim that the University’s Investigation Team had a Dalit is untrue (Irani’s claim); there were no Dalits in the team and it was in fact headed by a Brahmin?

Is it or is it not true that all claims that ABVP student leader, Susheel Kumar “was beaten up by Rohith”, made repeatedly are actually, are untrue; HCU registrar and others have rejected Susheel Kumar’s story on violence relying on medical reports show that he was admitted to hospital for appendicitis?

 Is it not true that the executive council of HCU only decided to suspend the students, that too from their hostels (Irani said they were expelled by the EC!) and that the trigger was a falsified account of a physical struggle between the RSS-affiliated ABVP and the ASA; with the former screaming “assault” and the hospital records suggesting an examination for a prior medical condition?


While Irani was giving what some have termed as a star performance in the Lok Sabha– even India’s prime minister tweeted his jubiliation at her speech-- Rohith Vemula's mother, Radhika, was at a candlelight vigil at India Gate demanding justice for her  26-year-old son. Radhika Vemula was picked up and taken to a police station in the heart of the capital when Smriti Irani was telling Parliament how condemnable it was that a "child was being used as a political tool".



Close to a month before, in a similar act the MHRD minister, Irani had, in a press conference, claimed that Rohith’s death had nothing to do with his being a Dalit.

Then Radhika Vemula had countered and I today recall those words, "I want to meet Smriti Irani and ask her 'On what basis did you declare my son to be anti-national? Your Ministry had written that my Rohith and other Dalit students were anti-national extremists. You said that he is not a Dalit. You accused him of getting a false certificate. Should I say it is because you got false certificates for your educational qualifications that you think others do so too? You stopped my son's stipend, you got him suspended from the university. You are the Minister for HRD, but you have no value for education. You can never understand how difficult it is for a Dalit to reach the stage of doing his PhD. You can never imagine the hardship, the struggle, the tears and sacrifice to reach that position. In three months, you destroyed what it had taken me 26 years to build. I am talking about my Rohith, he died at the age of 26.'"

Goebbelsian as the propaganda machine is, I do not really expect answers. There are two parallel streams at work here, one asserting, the other challenging the Indian Constitution. The war between truth, reality and propaganda is well and truly on.
 


[1] http://www.abplive.in/india-news/a-fact-check-on-what-smriti-irani-said-in-parliament-295872
[2] For the record, the writer of this article was mentioned by the Hon’ble Minister in her speech leading to several calls from the media: there were falsifications, probably deliberate here too: the Supplemenatry materials for teachers of the Don Bosco schools were prepared by me (the author of this article) in 2001; not when Kapil Sibal was a Minister; it was the Shiv Sena that had then taken objections to the manner in which Shivaji's Coronation was dealt with in the manuals.the author of the manuals has an adjudication in her favour from the State Human Rights Commission.
[4] http://www.firstpost.com/india/after-widespread-outrage-smriti-irani-claims-rohith-suicide-not-dalit-vs-non-dalit-matter-2591830.html; http://www.ndtv.com/opinion/smriti-irani-spoke-of-this-child-his-mother-wants-answers-1281036

Calling Smriti Irani's Bluff: Twisted Truths in Parliament

First published on February 25, 2016



Goebbels was an interesting and effective man. Held responsible for many of the worst and most supremacist and violent ideas that guided Fuhrer Hitler’s reign, he is recalled in history, more as a frequently used adjective-term, to connote a particular kind of pernicious government propaganda based on lies, or at best half-truths (he headed the Propaganda Ministry of the Nazi government).

Goebbelsian propaganda has been the forte of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and was palpably evident in Minister, MHRD, Smriti Irani’s speech in the Lok Sabha yesterday, February 24,2016.

The broader issues raised in the speech by the Union Minister for Human Resources Development (MHRD) have already been effectively countered in The Telegraph : A [1]Fact Check on what HRD minister Smruti Irani said in Parliament [2] including countering systematic efforts at vilification and name calling.[3]

Here we put some Questions countering the Goebbelsian untruths surrounding the institutional murder of Rohith Vemula


Did or did not the central minister of the BJP, Bandaru Dattatreya write to Irani on August 17, 2015, a letter in which he clearly calls the activities and vision of the Ambedkar Students Association (ASA) as casteist and anti-national?  Letter can be seen here.

Was or was not Rohith Vemula’s Research Fellowship stopped (illegally) for seven months severely constraining and humiliating him?

Did or did not, on five occasions, bureaucrats of the MHRD under Irani write directly to the Vice Chancellor (VC) Hyderabad Central University (HCU) on the matter showing an unseemly interest in the case ?

(The letters are dated September 3, 2015 from the Under Secretary referring to comments by Bandaru Dattatreya, MOS, for Labour and Employment; another dated September 24, 2015, sent as reminder, signed by Deputy Secretary to the GOI; letter dated October 20, 2015, signed by Joint Secretary, MHRD; letter dated November 19, 2015, signed by Under Secretary to the GOI). Letters can be seen here.

Do or do not these letters show an obsessive interest by the Minister, MHRD that was, in effect, putting extraordinary pressure on the VC?

Is it or is it not true that a fellow student at HCU called the Health Centre immediately after learning of Rohith being hanged and within five minutes the CMO Health Centre, Dr P Rajashree reached the spot, felt his pulse and declared him dead nullifying the Goebellian lie to the nation in Parliament that no doctor or police were allowed to see Rohith till the next day? 
[The doctor certified Rohith's death at 7.30 pm: UoH medical officer counters Smriti Irani's statement - http://www.thenewsminute.com/article/doctor-certified-rohiths-death-730-pm-uoh-medical-officer-counters-smriti-iranis-statement#sthash.tdp9MlM4.dpuf]

Is it not true that Rohith Vemula was quietly cremated without family or friends as the authorities did not want to face up to the palpable anger on campus and outside?
 
Did or did not the newly appointed Vice Chancellor, Appa Rao receive a chilling letter from Rohith Vemula on December 18, 2015 –a month before his death --that clearly indicated a warning: that by the systematic exclusion and humiliation Rohith was being pushed, and reaching, the end of his tether?

[Rohith allegedly sarcastically said in the letter that every VC of HCU should “10 mg of sodium azide to all the Dalit students at the time of admission… [and] a nice rope to the rooms of all Dalit students.” This handwritten letter should have been read as a precursor to what was coming. In the letter, Rohith allegedly goes on to say, “I request your highness to make preparations for the facility [of] ‘euthanasia’ for students like me. And I wish you and the campus rest in peace forever.” ]

Does or does this communication not squarely put the blame on the university authorities and, first and foremost, on the vice chancellor ?
[The letter traces the officially sanctioned “social boycott” of Dalit students after they took on a member of the ABVP for making derogatory remarks about Dalits. “Donald Trump will be a lilliput in front of you..”]




Did or does the VC feel at all disturbed by this communication? Does the GOI? Was there any communication between the VC, HCU authorities and Rohith and the other four research scholars between December 18, 2015 and January 17, 2016?

Were or were not the five Dalit Research scholars locked out of their rooms from January 4, 2016 onwards, compelling them to start a protest and sleep out, on the street, rubbing salt on wounds so to speak: since their research fellowship stipends had been illegally cut off from July 2015 onwards?

Were or were not the five Dalit scholars ostracised on campus and asked not even to visit the library for research, further humiliating them?

Is it or is it not true that senior functionaries of the GOI, including two central ministers (both women) have questioned the authenticity of Dalit identity of Rohith? link[4] (http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/Rohith-Vemula-was-not-a-dalit-Sushma-Swaraj-says/articleshow/50788780.cms)

After January 17, 2016 and the tragic step that Rohith Vemula took, did or did not the GOI appoint Ajit Duval, National security Advisor the Task to investigate the real caste of Rohith Vemula?  (See Certificates)
[http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/Ajit-Doval-gets-report-saying-Rohith-Vemula-was-not-a-dalit/articleshow/50749810.cms; also see http://www.thenewsminute.com/article/was-rohith-vemula-dalit-or-not-and-does-it-matter-explained-37936]

Did the trail not begin politically: with the Vice President, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) Hyderabad,  Nandanam Diwakar writing to Central minister Dattareya, (August 10, 2015), seven days before the latter writes to Irani, a letter in which wrong and exaggerated accounts of ABVP student, Susheel Kumar’s injuries are given as well as a litany of political opposition to Ambedkarites listed? Here is the letter.





Is it not true that the claim that the University’s Investigation Team had a Dalit is untrue (Irani’s claim); there were no Dalits in the team and it was in fact headed by a Brahmin?

Is it or is it not true that all claims that ABVP student leader, Susheel Kumar “was beaten up by Rohith”, made repeatedly are actually, are untrue; HCU registrar and others have rejected Susheel Kumar’s story on violence relying on medical reports show that he was admitted to hospital for appendicitis?

 Is it not true that the executive council of HCU only decided to suspend the students, that too from their hostels (Irani said they were expelled by the EC!) and that the trigger was a falsified account of a physical struggle between the RSS-affiliated ABVP and the ASA; with the former screaming “assault” and the hospital records suggesting an examination for a prior medical condition?


While Irani was giving what some have termed as a star performance in the Lok Sabha– even India’s prime minister tweeted his jubiliation at her speech-- Rohith Vemula's mother, Radhika, was at a candlelight vigil at India Gate demanding justice for her  26-year-old son. Radhika Vemula was picked up and taken to a police station in the heart of the capital when Smriti Irani was telling Parliament how condemnable it was that a "child was being used as a political tool".



Close to a month before, in a similar act the MHRD minister, Irani had, in a press conference, claimed that Rohith’s death had nothing to do with his being a Dalit.

Then Radhika Vemula had countered and I today recall those words, "I want to meet Smriti Irani and ask her 'On what basis did you declare my son to be anti-national? Your Ministry had written that my Rohith and other Dalit students were anti-national extremists. You said that he is not a Dalit. You accused him of getting a false certificate. Should I say it is because you got false certificates for your educational qualifications that you think others do so too? You stopped my son's stipend, you got him suspended from the university. You are the Minister for HRD, but you have no value for education. You can never understand how difficult it is for a Dalit to reach the stage of doing his PhD. You can never imagine the hardship, the struggle, the tears and sacrifice to reach that position. In three months, you destroyed what it had taken me 26 years to build. I am talking about my Rohith, he died at the age of 26.'"

Goebbelsian as the propaganda machine is, I do not really expect answers. There are two parallel streams at work here, one asserting, the other challenging the Indian Constitution. The war between truth, reality and propaganda is well and truly on.
 


[1] http://www.abplive.in/india-news/a-fact-check-on-what-smriti-irani-said-in-parliament-295872
[2] For the record, the writer of this article was mentioned by the Hon’ble Minister in her speech leading to several calls from the media: there were falsifications, probably deliberate here too: the Supplemenatry materials for teachers of the Don Bosco schools were prepared by me (the author of this article) in 2001; not when Kapil Sibal was a Minister; it was the Shiv Sena that had then taken objections to the manner in which Shivaji's Coronation was dealt with in the manuals.the author of the manuals has an adjudication in her favour from the State Human Rights Commission.
[4] http://www.firstpost.com/india/after-widespread-outrage-smriti-irani-claims-rohith-suicide-not-dalit-vs-non-dalit-matter-2591830.html; http://www.ndtv.com/opinion/smriti-irani-spoke-of-this-child-his-mother-wants-answers-1281036

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At the Pyre of Caste Hatred: Dalit suicides and the Media

16 Jan 2020

First Published on February 3, 2016


 
This article was written by  Shahina Nafeesa in Azhimukham. The translation is by Renu Ramanath


2010 September: To reach the village of Chinthula in Ranga Reddy District you have to travel around 60 kilometers from Hyderabad. That journey was in search of the home of R. Balaraj, who had been a Ph.D Scholar at the Central University of Hyderabad (HCU). Balraj was researching on Telugu Literature. During the second year of his Ph.D. Balraj hung himself to death. He would have become the first Ph.D. holder from his community, even from his locality. In the tiny, two-roomed house made of laterite there were Balraj’s father, mother, two sisters and brother. He was the only literate one in the household. All others did their caste occupation: tethering cattle.

The broken voice of Balraj’s mother Yadamma still echoes in the ears. She took out her son’s certificates one by one and showed them to me. Mark lists from the school onwards. Certificates carrying marks higher than distinction. From the 10th standard till post-graduation.

Rohith Vemula dreamt of writing like Carl Sagan. What was the dream of Balraj, who was researching in Telugu Literature ? His dreams are not even recorded. He had hung himself to death on a tree near his home. It’s not known whether there was a suicide note. His friend Vinod Kumar said Balraj was distressed from the very first year of the Ph.D. work.

During the first year, he was not given a supervisor. A professor used to insult him citing his caste. One day, he had reached the hostel in a totally despondent way. That day, he had told Vinod that the professor had asked him whether he could go to drive the cattle.

I went to the Chinthula Police Station. From the police records I could find that an FIR had been registered against the professor on charges of abetting the suicide. However, the Station House Officer informed me that the case was not proceeded against as there were no ‘evidences.’  The file was closed. Knowing that it would have been useless to ask him more questions, I left the police station.

Amaravathy, a Dalit girl, who was the national Boxing champion, poisoned herself in the hostel room of the Sports Academy. I met Amaravathi’s mother Lakshmi in a single room house in a narrow street of Hyderabad. She had sent her daughter to school while working as a maid. Learning of my arrival, she came to meet me from the house where she was working, in her soiled clothes. With tears in her eyes, she regretted having sent her daughter to the Sports Academy. She had to face heavy insults in the name of her caste. The coach hated Amaravathy. He would often ignore and insult her. Amaravathy took her life during the preparations for the national and international competitions.

Amaravathy’s certificates and medals lay on a wooden bench in a corner of the house. There was a large photo of Amaravathy standing in the boxing ring. The brilliant strength she displayed in the ring did not come to her help. That strength was not enough to overcome the pyre of caste hatred. Amaravathy had many victories under her belt, to her account. But, each of her failures was added on account of her caste. In each failure, she was insulted on the basis of her caste.

This fact had been revealed during the fact finding mission conducted by the National Dalit Forum regarding her death. Amaravathy’s mother’s face bears signs of where tear marks had dried up. Her endless guilt for the daughter. The question, did my daughter yearn for something undeserving…
This still lies raw, along with the thousands of wounds being inflicted during the course of a career in journalism.

Senthil Kumar, who was a Ph.D. Scholar in Physics, at Central University, Hyderabad, hanged himself in February, 2008. Like Balraj, Senthil who hailed from Salem, was also the first person to gain higher education from his community. Their caste profession was rearing pigs. Even after the first year, Senthil was not assigned to a supervisor. He had to pass in one of the four papers as part of the course work. His fellowship was stopped due that reason. This fact was also published on the notice board. Senthil had faced severe financial difficulties as the fellowship was stopped. His friends later said that the public announcement that appeared on the notice board that his fellowship would be cut as he failed in the course work had caused him great distress.

Prof. Sayid E. Hassan, who was the then Vice Chancellor at HCU, refused to accept that caste-based discrimination had led to the death of Senthil. His argument was that such an assumption could not be drawn. He tried to convince me that the Dalits had access to many opportunities in the Central University and that almost fifty percent of students were from Dalit communities. I just listened to him as it was not my job to argue with the VC and also because I had no strength left for the task. It is not easy to communicate with those who ask for evidence for caste-based discrimination. Such discrimination has to be experienced. Communication is just impossible especially with those who feign ignorance.

There was a large photo of Amaravathy standing in the boxing ring. The brilliant strength she displayed in the ring did not come to her help. That strength was not enough to overcome the pyre of caste hatred.

Anusha, who was a last year B.Com student at the Villa Mary College in Somajiguda committed suicide by jumping from the top of the college building. In November, 2009. The college was known as ‘College of Royal Girls.’ That a Dalit girl like Anusha had happened to reach there was another ‘fatal accident.’ She had no friends there. And she sat all alone on a bench. No ‘Royal Girls’ wanted to sit with Anusha. None of the teachers questioned this. At the end of the terrible ignominy, Anusha found a solution. In Rohith Vemula’s words, Anusha’s existence was reduced to that of a single identity. She must have experienced real isolation on that large bench.

It is not only the students who have complaints. The teachers from the Dalit community also have much to say.

Dr. K.Y.Ratnam, who was a lecturer in the Department of Political Science, at University of Hyderabad (he must still be there). His duty as the hostel warden was suddenly handed over to another teacher, of course a ‘Savarna.’ Instead, he was assigned the duty of sanitation. I still remember his words, ‘The caste statement in this action may not be understood by learning the theories of Political Science or Sociology alone.’  This teached told me that day that he does not know how someone can ever be convinced of these facts through arguments.

An Adivasi girl from Warankal who was an M.A. student in German Studies at English and Foreign Languages University tried to commit suicide by jumping in front of a train. She was saved by the local people. That was in August, 2010. After getting all the papers in the first and second semesters, she had failed in some papers in the Third Semester. With that, her stipend had been stopped. Unable to bear with the humiliation and isolation, she tried to end her life on a railway track.

It was in the background of these instances that I had set out on the journey to write on the Dalit – Adivasi persecution that was happening within the higher education sector. At the time, I was working for Tehelka. I met many Dalit organisation workers and activists in Andhra Pradesh. The studies they had conducted, the wounds they had experienced, the cases that had to be abandoned helplessly due to a ‘lack of evidence’.

However, that story which I filed, carrying so many details, was not published. It seems that what happened can be recounted now as the unquestioned dominance of Tehelka led by Tarun Tejpal has eroded; also because those who were celebrated as flag bearers of justice later turned out to be agents of injustice and misappropriation of power. The editor who was my reporting authority wrote off this story at the first reading itself. His argument was that there was no evidence to prove that these suicides were due to caste discrimination. He was a Brahmin. Later he left Tehelka and became Editor of an online portal. I do now know where he is at present.

I tried to argue that caste hatred was an experience and that recounting it may lack recorded evidence. But I could not convince him. No one takes as evidence the tears of parents who have lost their children. I know that very well.

The FIR retrieved from the heap of files in Chinthula Police Station (they may have pushed that file heap for me to see since they were sure that it was not going to harm anyone), the fact-finding missions conducted by the National Dalit Forum into the deaths of Anusha and Amaravathy, the experiences of the Dalit activists in Hyderabad, the statements given by the activists of Ambedkar Students Association, or the experiences narrated by the teachers at Central University, Hyderabad or EFLU or Osmania University were simply not accepted evidence.

As Dr. Rathnam said, how could these wounds be shown to others ? Could the martyrdom of Rohith have convinced him of this ? During a time when the farmers’ suicides were happening in succession, a senior journalist in New Delhi had commented with despair: ‘We’re working with people who have no scruples to ask why the farmer should commit suicide because the cotton crop failed, couldn’t they do cauliflower farming ? !’

Dear Rohith. May be, those who were unable to understand why Senthil or Balraj or Anusha or Amaravathy committed suicide would understand why, a little bit at least, now. They would understand it because of your martyrdom, and only because of that.

That poem which you wrote, immortalising life and death, would certainly have frightened them. Sure. In a way, I too am indebted to you. As a failed journalist. Your political standpoints, the marks you left on all battle fronts, that letter which you wrote to the Vice Chancellor, and this last poem from you – all this is evidence. Evidence, that those among us who failed, need to file away and keep safely. I had nothing with me to show those who asked for evidence then, that the deaths of Senthil, Amaravathy and Balraj, lay at the pyre of caste. Now, you have marked them as well, through your own death.

It was tough for me making a headway in the world of the English media, overruled by Brahmanism, shifting over from Malayalam journalism. For someone coming from a small town in India, studying in the Malayalam medium, at a Government school, language alone was not enough to survive in a metro. I did not have the cultural capital to make my point with an editor who spread the aura of Brahmanism through both language and body language. I could never be the Editor’s Blue-Eyed-Girl. Now I know that I need not be. And now I am proud of not being that.

Rohith, editors who hold the pen like a chisel in trembling hands to re-place the Babri Masjid in place of the controversial building erected, are a minority. I too had felt the same way as you, in those days. I too had felt many times that I too was a ‘fatal accident.’ But, now I know that you and me are right. Not them. Not them, by any means.

Let me dedicate this report that has not seen the light of the day, to you.

At the Pyre of Caste Hatred: Dalit suicides and the Media

First Published on February 3, 2016


 
This article was written by  Shahina Nafeesa in Azhimukham. The translation is by Renu Ramanath


2010 September: To reach the village of Chinthula in Ranga Reddy District you have to travel around 60 kilometers from Hyderabad. That journey was in search of the home of R. Balaraj, who had been a Ph.D Scholar at the Central University of Hyderabad (HCU). Balraj was researching on Telugu Literature. During the second year of his Ph.D. Balraj hung himself to death. He would have become the first Ph.D. holder from his community, even from his locality. In the tiny, two-roomed house made of laterite there were Balraj’s father, mother, two sisters and brother. He was the only literate one in the household. All others did their caste occupation: tethering cattle.

The broken voice of Balraj’s mother Yadamma still echoes in the ears. She took out her son’s certificates one by one and showed them to me. Mark lists from the school onwards. Certificates carrying marks higher than distinction. From the 10th standard till post-graduation.

Rohith Vemula dreamt of writing like Carl Sagan. What was the dream of Balraj, who was researching in Telugu Literature ? His dreams are not even recorded. He had hung himself to death on a tree near his home. It’s not known whether there was a suicide note. His friend Vinod Kumar said Balraj was distressed from the very first year of the Ph.D. work.

During the first year, he was not given a supervisor. A professor used to insult him citing his caste. One day, he had reached the hostel in a totally despondent way. That day, he had told Vinod that the professor had asked him whether he could go to drive the cattle.

I went to the Chinthula Police Station. From the police records I could find that an FIR had been registered against the professor on charges of abetting the suicide. However, the Station House Officer informed me that the case was not proceeded against as there were no ‘evidences.’  The file was closed. Knowing that it would have been useless to ask him more questions, I left the police station.

Amaravathy, a Dalit girl, who was the national Boxing champion, poisoned herself in the hostel room of the Sports Academy. I met Amaravathi’s mother Lakshmi in a single room house in a narrow street of Hyderabad. She had sent her daughter to school while working as a maid. Learning of my arrival, she came to meet me from the house where she was working, in her soiled clothes. With tears in her eyes, she regretted having sent her daughter to the Sports Academy. She had to face heavy insults in the name of her caste. The coach hated Amaravathy. He would often ignore and insult her. Amaravathy took her life during the preparations for the national and international competitions.

Amaravathy’s certificates and medals lay on a wooden bench in a corner of the house. There was a large photo of Amaravathy standing in the boxing ring. The brilliant strength she displayed in the ring did not come to her help. That strength was not enough to overcome the pyre of caste hatred. Amaravathy had many victories under her belt, to her account. But, each of her failures was added on account of her caste. In each failure, she was insulted on the basis of her caste.

This fact had been revealed during the fact finding mission conducted by the National Dalit Forum regarding her death. Amaravathy’s mother’s face bears signs of where tear marks had dried up. Her endless guilt for the daughter. The question, did my daughter yearn for something undeserving…
This still lies raw, along with the thousands of wounds being inflicted during the course of a career in journalism.

Senthil Kumar, who was a Ph.D. Scholar in Physics, at Central University, Hyderabad, hanged himself in February, 2008. Like Balraj, Senthil who hailed from Salem, was also the first person to gain higher education from his community. Their caste profession was rearing pigs. Even after the first year, Senthil was not assigned to a supervisor. He had to pass in one of the four papers as part of the course work. His fellowship was stopped due that reason. This fact was also published on the notice board. Senthil had faced severe financial difficulties as the fellowship was stopped. His friends later said that the public announcement that appeared on the notice board that his fellowship would be cut as he failed in the course work had caused him great distress.

Prof. Sayid E. Hassan, who was the then Vice Chancellor at HCU, refused to accept that caste-based discrimination had led to the death of Senthil. His argument was that such an assumption could not be drawn. He tried to convince me that the Dalits had access to many opportunities in the Central University and that almost fifty percent of students were from Dalit communities. I just listened to him as it was not my job to argue with the VC and also because I had no strength left for the task. It is not easy to communicate with those who ask for evidence for caste-based discrimination. Such discrimination has to be experienced. Communication is just impossible especially with those who feign ignorance.

There was a large photo of Amaravathy standing in the boxing ring. The brilliant strength she displayed in the ring did not come to her help. That strength was not enough to overcome the pyre of caste hatred.

Anusha, who was a last year B.Com student at the Villa Mary College in Somajiguda committed suicide by jumping from the top of the college building. In November, 2009. The college was known as ‘College of Royal Girls.’ That a Dalit girl like Anusha had happened to reach there was another ‘fatal accident.’ She had no friends there. And she sat all alone on a bench. No ‘Royal Girls’ wanted to sit with Anusha. None of the teachers questioned this. At the end of the terrible ignominy, Anusha found a solution. In Rohith Vemula’s words, Anusha’s existence was reduced to that of a single identity. She must have experienced real isolation on that large bench.

It is not only the students who have complaints. The teachers from the Dalit community also have much to say.

Dr. K.Y.Ratnam, who was a lecturer in the Department of Political Science, at University of Hyderabad (he must still be there). His duty as the hostel warden was suddenly handed over to another teacher, of course a ‘Savarna.’ Instead, he was assigned the duty of sanitation. I still remember his words, ‘The caste statement in this action may not be understood by learning the theories of Political Science or Sociology alone.’  This teached told me that day that he does not know how someone can ever be convinced of these facts through arguments.

An Adivasi girl from Warankal who was an M.A. student in German Studies at English and Foreign Languages University tried to commit suicide by jumping in front of a train. She was saved by the local people. That was in August, 2010. After getting all the papers in the first and second semesters, she had failed in some papers in the Third Semester. With that, her stipend had been stopped. Unable to bear with the humiliation and isolation, she tried to end her life on a railway track.

It was in the background of these instances that I had set out on the journey to write on the Dalit – Adivasi persecution that was happening within the higher education sector. At the time, I was working for Tehelka. I met many Dalit organisation workers and activists in Andhra Pradesh. The studies they had conducted, the wounds they had experienced, the cases that had to be abandoned helplessly due to a ‘lack of evidence’.

However, that story which I filed, carrying so many details, was not published. It seems that what happened can be recounted now as the unquestioned dominance of Tehelka led by Tarun Tejpal has eroded; also because those who were celebrated as flag bearers of justice later turned out to be agents of injustice and misappropriation of power. The editor who was my reporting authority wrote off this story at the first reading itself. His argument was that there was no evidence to prove that these suicides were due to caste discrimination. He was a Brahmin. Later he left Tehelka and became Editor of an online portal. I do now know where he is at present.

I tried to argue that caste hatred was an experience and that recounting it may lack recorded evidence. But I could not convince him. No one takes as evidence the tears of parents who have lost their children. I know that very well.

The FIR retrieved from the heap of files in Chinthula Police Station (they may have pushed that file heap for me to see since they were sure that it was not going to harm anyone), the fact-finding missions conducted by the National Dalit Forum into the deaths of Anusha and Amaravathy, the experiences of the Dalit activists in Hyderabad, the statements given by the activists of Ambedkar Students Association, or the experiences narrated by the teachers at Central University, Hyderabad or EFLU or Osmania University were simply not accepted evidence.

As Dr. Rathnam said, how could these wounds be shown to others ? Could the martyrdom of Rohith have convinced him of this ? During a time when the farmers’ suicides were happening in succession, a senior journalist in New Delhi had commented with despair: ‘We’re working with people who have no scruples to ask why the farmer should commit suicide because the cotton crop failed, couldn’t they do cauliflower farming ? !’

Dear Rohith. May be, those who were unable to understand why Senthil or Balraj or Anusha or Amaravathy committed suicide would understand why, a little bit at least, now. They would understand it because of your martyrdom, and only because of that.

That poem which you wrote, immortalising life and death, would certainly have frightened them. Sure. In a way, I too am indebted to you. As a failed journalist. Your political standpoints, the marks you left on all battle fronts, that letter which you wrote to the Vice Chancellor, and this last poem from you – all this is evidence. Evidence, that those among us who failed, need to file away and keep safely. I had nothing with me to show those who asked for evidence then, that the deaths of Senthil, Amaravathy and Balraj, lay at the pyre of caste. Now, you have marked them as well, through your own death.

It was tough for me making a headway in the world of the English media, overruled by Brahmanism, shifting over from Malayalam journalism. For someone coming from a small town in India, studying in the Malayalam medium, at a Government school, language alone was not enough to survive in a metro. I did not have the cultural capital to make my point with an editor who spread the aura of Brahmanism through both language and body language. I could never be the Editor’s Blue-Eyed-Girl. Now I know that I need not be. And now I am proud of not being that.

Rohith, editors who hold the pen like a chisel in trembling hands to re-place the Babri Masjid in place of the controversial building erected, are a minority. I too had felt the same way as you, in those days. I too had felt many times that I too was a ‘fatal accident.’ But, now I know that you and me are right. Not them. Not them, by any means.

Let me dedicate this report that has not seen the light of the day, to you.

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Rohith’s death: We are all to blame

16 Jan 2020

First published on January 19, 2016


 
Supply Sodium Cynanide and a Rope to every Dalit student-Rohit to the VC a month before he took his life

 
This letter, dated December 18, 2015 has not been so widely quoted nor has it gone viral. It is a comment on all of us, especially those of us in the media, that we failed to read the warnings or feel the anguish.  After all it is since August 2015 that the social boycott and ostracizing of Dalit students, including Rohith was systematically afoot. That is close to five months ago.
 
Nearly a month to the day that he tragically gave up the struggle to live and took his own life, on December 18, 2015, a hand-written letter from Rohith Vemula to Vice Chancellor Appa Rao says it all. Taunting and tragic, the note will now be read as a precursor of what was to come. In a hand-written scrawl that hints at acute desperation, he says, “Your Excellency (addressed to the Vice Chancellor Appa Rao) “make preparations for the EUTHANASIA for students like me from the Ambedkarite movement…and may your campus rest in peace forever.”
 
The letter traces the officially sanctioned “social boycott” of Dalit students after they took on a member of the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) for his derogatory remarks to the Dalit students. “Donald Trump will be a Lilliput in front of you,” Rohith tells Appa Rao then offering a piece of chilling advice. “Please serve 10 miligram of Sodium Azide to all the Dalit students at the time of admission…Supply a nice rope to the rooms of all Dalits students..”The text of the letter can be read here and a scanned hand written copy seen here.

   


Now we know, and fret over the fact that his Rs 25,000 per month stipend (as of all his other suspended colleagues) was stopped after suspension and he had to borrow money, even from home, to survive the struggle. Now that he is dead we listen to the plight and anguish of his family. Why did we not listen before? As the isolation and anguish built up to make Rohith take a step so final that it signalled no return? Yes, we are all to blame.

“After the stipend was stopped, his family was struggling to support him. He borrowed Rs 40,000 from a friend and was living frugally. Almost every day, he used to say that his money was stuck,’’ said Velmula Sankanna, a fellow PhD scholar and one of the other five students who were suspended. “In December, Rohith wrote an angry letter to the V-C, sarcastically asking him to provide euthanasia facilities for Dalit students. Since then, he was scared to go to the administration building and ask about his stipend. He became silent and withdrawn. He said that he was falling into depression because he was being defeated by the system at every turn. He blamed himself, his caste, and the circumstances around him. He did not take much interest in anything except studies,’’ added Sankanna, a close friend.

We did not rise to feel, see or appreciate the seriousness implicit in the warnings. In August 2015, a questionable mode of ‘suspension’ of five singled out students of the Ambedkar Students Association (ASA) followed by the arbitrary stopping of their scholarship stipend, further followed by their being locked out of their rooms from January 4, 2016. Yet they fought on, sleeping out near the shopping complex in the cold. Awaiting fair hearing, democratic space for protest(s) and justice.

From the night of January 4, 2016 until today the sleep out protests continue.
 
After the tragic and unnecessary loss of the life of a budding science scholar, a proud Ambedkarite, will justice and fair hearing happen? Yesterday in a fully articulated representation to PL Punia, Chairperson of the National Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Commission, the Joint Action Committee for Social Justice, University of Hyderabad (UoH) has demanded:
 

  • Punish the Culprits under the SC/ST Atrocities Act:
  • Banadaru Dattareya, Union Cabinet Minister of State for Labour and Employment 
  • P Appa Rao, Vice Chancellor
  • Professor Alok Pandey, Chief Proctor
  • Susheel Kumar, ABVP President
  • Ramchandra Rao, MLC 
  • Remove P Appa Rao from the post of Vice Chancellor
  • Employ a family member of Rohith Vemula at the University of Hyderabad and give his family Rs 50 lahs in compensation
  • Drop the fabricated cases against five Dalit Research Scholars immediately and unconditionally
  • Revoke the suspension of Students immediately and unconditionally 

 
The Anger Spreads; Demands for resignation of Vice Chancellor Appa Rao
 
Anger and grief are potent combinations and both were visible in plenty at the mortuary of the Osmania Hospital on Monday, January 18 where Rohith Velumal lay, a day after he tragically ended his own life. His mother’s anguished cry says it all, ““I used to proudly tell everyone in my village that my son was doing PhD at Hyderabad University. Today, I have come to collect his dead body.’’ The family is from Gurazala near Guntur, his mother a tailor and father, Manikumar a security guard at the Hyderabad University. Rohith has two siblings, an elder sister and a younger brother.
 
Over 1200 students of the University of Hyderabad (UoH) participated in a rally on Monday evening and have resolved to protest on Tuesday, January 19 and not allow the university to function until the current Vice Chancellor, Appa Rao steps down. Before the rally, his close friends and colleagues, along with his family were present at the cremation of Rohith in Hyderabad. (see Image story)
 
Simultaneous and spontaneous protests continued through the day yesterday at Hyderabad, Vishakhapatnam, Mumbai and Delhi. The road outside Shastri Bhavan, the office of Smriti Irani, the Ministry for Human Resources Development (MHRD) was cordoned off akin to a war zone (see pictures). In Hyderabad, a visit from the chairperson of the Scheduled Caste/Scheduled Tribes Commission allayed feelings somewhat.
 
Though it is Rohith is the one who has made the most recent and most tragic sacrifice, the question is whether it will still open India’s eyes and hearts?

We read every other day not just of the social boycott of Dalit children in the mid day meal schemes. In ‘Dravidian’ politics ruled Tamil Nadu colour bands on Dalit students brand them with their caste. There is little political, social or cultural outrage. The television channels, packed as they are with ‘journalists’ most of whom sport a myopic caste consciousness of the elite Indian that simply excludes any mention of discrimination or exclusion while badgering home ‘the banner of tolerance’, rarely flag anti-Dalit atrocities as an institutional ill to be faced squarely then remedied.
In ‘progressive’ west India the discrimination takes similar forms, and examples abound. In Phugana, three young Dalit children, one a baby was burnt alive in a burst of Rajput rage.

Just like the Blacks fought (and have barely won) the Civil Rights battle in the West – last year’s incidents at Fergusson are evidence of how thinly layered this success is –it is privileged India, caste Hindus who need to hang their heads in acknowledgement, first, and the, shame.
 
We need to internalize what Dalit students experience when they enter schools, colleges and universities and break the glass ceiling and enter India’s famed institutions of higher learning, the IITs, the IIMs and Universities.
 
Not only is the percentage of Dalit students who enter higher educational institutions small. They are subject to insidious caste practices and exclusion that batters the hard earned self-esteem. A dangerous argument of ‘meritocracy’ cloaks well organized money and caste induced privilege.

This everyday institutional and societal exclusion and othering needs to be acknowledged squarely by each and one of us.
 
It is time we ask difficult ourselves some hard and uncomfortable questions.
 
What kind of history do we teach? Who are our heroines and heroes?
How many Dalits are there in the media, print and television?
How many Dalits in Institutions of power and governance?
 
The Dalit experience says that entering the corridors of elite educational institutions like Indian Institute of Technologies (IIT) and Indian Institute of Managements and Central Universities for scores of Dalit students is like walking into a living hell, where the fear of being shamed and humiliated hangs heavy on the heart and soul of every student.
 
Before Rohit, we lost Senthil Kumar and Nagaralu Koppalas, also in the Central University of Hyderabad. Have these earlier losses, deaths of young men in their prime been internalized and taught the UoH any lessons worth learning? The recent and continuing unfair suspension of Dalit scholars would appear to suggest that no lessons have yet been learned.
 
Is India willing ready and able to accept her Not So Hidden Apartheid?

Rohith’s death: We are all to blame

First published on January 19, 2016


 
Supply Sodium Cynanide and a Rope to every Dalit student-Rohit to the VC a month before he took his life

 
This letter, dated December 18, 2015 has not been so widely quoted nor has it gone viral. It is a comment on all of us, especially those of us in the media, that we failed to read the warnings or feel the anguish.  After all it is since August 2015 that the social boycott and ostracizing of Dalit students, including Rohith was systematically afoot. That is close to five months ago.
 
Nearly a month to the day that he tragically gave up the struggle to live and took his own life, on December 18, 2015, a hand-written letter from Rohith Vemula to Vice Chancellor Appa Rao says it all. Taunting and tragic, the note will now be read as a precursor of what was to come. In a hand-written scrawl that hints at acute desperation, he says, “Your Excellency (addressed to the Vice Chancellor Appa Rao) “make preparations for the EUTHANASIA for students like me from the Ambedkarite movement…and may your campus rest in peace forever.”
 
The letter traces the officially sanctioned “social boycott” of Dalit students after they took on a member of the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) for his derogatory remarks to the Dalit students. “Donald Trump will be a Lilliput in front of you,” Rohith tells Appa Rao then offering a piece of chilling advice. “Please serve 10 miligram of Sodium Azide to all the Dalit students at the time of admission…Supply a nice rope to the rooms of all Dalits students..”The text of the letter can be read here and a scanned hand written copy seen here.

   


Now we know, and fret over the fact that his Rs 25,000 per month stipend (as of all his other suspended colleagues) was stopped after suspension and he had to borrow money, even from home, to survive the struggle. Now that he is dead we listen to the plight and anguish of his family. Why did we not listen before? As the isolation and anguish built up to make Rohith take a step so final that it signalled no return? Yes, we are all to blame.

“After the stipend was stopped, his family was struggling to support him. He borrowed Rs 40,000 from a friend and was living frugally. Almost every day, he used to say that his money was stuck,’’ said Velmula Sankanna, a fellow PhD scholar and one of the other five students who were suspended. “In December, Rohith wrote an angry letter to the V-C, sarcastically asking him to provide euthanasia facilities for Dalit students. Since then, he was scared to go to the administration building and ask about his stipend. He became silent and withdrawn. He said that he was falling into depression because he was being defeated by the system at every turn. He blamed himself, his caste, and the circumstances around him. He did not take much interest in anything except studies,’’ added Sankanna, a close friend.

We did not rise to feel, see or appreciate the seriousness implicit in the warnings. In August 2015, a questionable mode of ‘suspension’ of five singled out students of the Ambedkar Students Association (ASA) followed by the arbitrary stopping of their scholarship stipend, further followed by their being locked out of their rooms from January 4, 2016. Yet they fought on, sleeping out near the shopping complex in the cold. Awaiting fair hearing, democratic space for protest(s) and justice.

From the night of January 4, 2016 until today the sleep out protests continue.
 
After the tragic and unnecessary loss of the life of a budding science scholar, a proud Ambedkarite, will justice and fair hearing happen? Yesterday in a fully articulated representation to PL Punia, Chairperson of the National Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Commission, the Joint Action Committee for Social Justice, University of Hyderabad (UoH) has demanded:
 

  • Punish the Culprits under the SC/ST Atrocities Act:
  • Banadaru Dattareya, Union Cabinet Minister of State for Labour and Employment 
  • P Appa Rao, Vice Chancellor
  • Professor Alok Pandey, Chief Proctor
  • Susheel Kumar, ABVP President
  • Ramchandra Rao, MLC 
  • Remove P Appa Rao from the post of Vice Chancellor
  • Employ a family member of Rohith Vemula at the University of Hyderabad and give his family Rs 50 lahs in compensation
  • Drop the fabricated cases against five Dalit Research Scholars immediately and unconditionally
  • Revoke the suspension of Students immediately and unconditionally 

 
The Anger Spreads; Demands for resignation of Vice Chancellor Appa Rao
 
Anger and grief are potent combinations and both were visible in plenty at the mortuary of the Osmania Hospital on Monday, January 18 where Rohith Velumal lay, a day after he tragically ended his own life. His mother’s anguished cry says it all, ““I used to proudly tell everyone in my village that my son was doing PhD at Hyderabad University. Today, I have come to collect his dead body.’’ The family is from Gurazala near Guntur, his mother a tailor and father, Manikumar a security guard at the Hyderabad University. Rohith has two siblings, an elder sister and a younger brother.
 
Over 1200 students of the University of Hyderabad (UoH) participated in a rally on Monday evening and have resolved to protest on Tuesday, January 19 and not allow the university to function until the current Vice Chancellor, Appa Rao steps down. Before the rally, his close friends and colleagues, along with his family were present at the cremation of Rohith in Hyderabad. (see Image story)
 
Simultaneous and spontaneous protests continued through the day yesterday at Hyderabad, Vishakhapatnam, Mumbai and Delhi. The road outside Shastri Bhavan, the office of Smriti Irani, the Ministry for Human Resources Development (MHRD) was cordoned off akin to a war zone (see pictures). In Hyderabad, a visit from the chairperson of the Scheduled Caste/Scheduled Tribes Commission allayed feelings somewhat.
 
Though it is Rohith is the one who has made the most recent and most tragic sacrifice, the question is whether it will still open India’s eyes and hearts?

We read every other day not just of the social boycott of Dalit children in the mid day meal schemes. In ‘Dravidian’ politics ruled Tamil Nadu colour bands on Dalit students brand them with their caste. There is little political, social or cultural outrage. The television channels, packed as they are with ‘journalists’ most of whom sport a myopic caste consciousness of the elite Indian that simply excludes any mention of discrimination or exclusion while badgering home ‘the banner of tolerance’, rarely flag anti-Dalit atrocities as an institutional ill to be faced squarely then remedied.
In ‘progressive’ west India the discrimination takes similar forms, and examples abound. In Phugana, three young Dalit children, one a baby was burnt alive in a burst of Rajput rage.

Just like the Blacks fought (and have barely won) the Civil Rights battle in the West – last year’s incidents at Fergusson are evidence of how thinly layered this success is –it is privileged India, caste Hindus who need to hang their heads in acknowledgement, first, and the, shame.
 
We need to internalize what Dalit students experience when they enter schools, colleges and universities and break the glass ceiling and enter India’s famed institutions of higher learning, the IITs, the IIMs and Universities.
 
Not only is the percentage of Dalit students who enter higher educational institutions small. They are subject to insidious caste practices and exclusion that batters the hard earned self-esteem. A dangerous argument of ‘meritocracy’ cloaks well organized money and caste induced privilege.

This everyday institutional and societal exclusion and othering needs to be acknowledged squarely by each and one of us.
 
It is time we ask difficult ourselves some hard and uncomfortable questions.
 
What kind of history do we teach? Who are our heroines and heroes?
How many Dalits are there in the media, print and television?
How many Dalits in Institutions of power and governance?
 
The Dalit experience says that entering the corridors of elite educational institutions like Indian Institute of Technologies (IIT) and Indian Institute of Managements and Central Universities for scores of Dalit students is like walking into a living hell, where the fear of being shamed and humiliated hangs heavy on the heart and soul of every student.
 
Before Rohit, we lost Senthil Kumar and Nagaralu Koppalas, also in the Central University of Hyderabad. Have these earlier losses, deaths of young men in their prime been internalized and taught the UoH any lessons worth learning? The recent and continuing unfair suspension of Dalit scholars would appear to suggest that no lessons have yet been learned.
 
Is India willing ready and able to accept her Not So Hidden Apartheid?

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Do Dalits & Adivasis not suffer religious persecution, asks anti-CAA meet

26 Dec 2019

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“The Modi government has sought to camouflage its real intention of undermining Article 14 by stating in the CAA is about providing shelter and citizenship to persecuted religious minorities from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan in India, with the exception of Muslims. But what about Dalits’ religious persecution in India? Our survey suggests that 90% of villages prohibit entry of Dalits into temples.”  

“We would be demanding from the Government of India to create a new register, of the villages which don't permit entry of Dalits into temples, irrespective of  religion. Also, we would be demanding that from the Prime Minister declare India untouchability free on the next Independence day, August 15, 2020.”
- Martin Macwan

Former BJP MLA from Rajkot, now independent Dalit leader Siddharth Parmar, told the gathering that the current fight is between the Indian Constitution, authored by Dr BR Ambedkar, and those who want that the country to live by the codes scripted in the ancient treatise Manusmriti. “The real intention of the government is revive Manusmriti, which codifies inequalities, even as undermining the equality focus of the Constitution”, he said.

In a similar vein, Uttam Parmar, a South Gujarat Gandhian activist, said, “CAA and NRC are not just about excluding Muslims, as our rulers are propagating. It’s about seeking exclusion of Dalits, Adivasis, Other Backward Classes, who have been legally recognized equal by the Indian Constitution. Our rulers are unable to reconcile themselves with the revolution brought about by Gandhiji and Dr Ambedkar through the Constitution by providing equality before law. They are trying to divide the country on communal lines. It is well known who pitted Dalits against Muslims during the 2002 Gujarat riots."

Renowned academic Prof Ghanshyam Shah, recalled the historic day of December 25, 1927, 92 years ago, when Dr Ambedkar’s launched his campaign against Manusmriti by burning and said, “The Manusmriti burning wasn’t just burning of a book. It was a symbolic gesture to burn the idea of inequality, codified in the ancient treatise.” He wondered whether, through CAA, India was following Pakistan by making religion as the basis for citizenship. “Our rulers must remember, India’s Constitution is not Pakistan’s, which provides supremacy to a particular religion”, he said.

Do Dalits & Adivasis not suffer religious persecution, asks anti-CAA meet

dalits

“The Modi government has sought to camouflage its real intention of undermining Article 14 by stating in the CAA is about providing shelter and citizenship to persecuted religious minorities from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan in India, with the exception of Muslims. But what about Dalits’ religious persecution in India? Our survey suggests that 90% of villages prohibit entry of Dalits into temples.”  

“We would be demanding from the Government of India to create a new register, of the villages which don't permit entry of Dalits into temples, irrespective of  religion. Also, we would be demanding that from the Prime Minister declare India untouchability free on the next Independence day, August 15, 2020.”
- Martin Macwan

Former BJP MLA from Rajkot, now independent Dalit leader Siddharth Parmar, told the gathering that the current fight is between the Indian Constitution, authored by Dr BR Ambedkar, and those who want that the country to live by the codes scripted in the ancient treatise Manusmriti. “The real intention of the government is revive Manusmriti, which codifies inequalities, even as undermining the equality focus of the Constitution”, he said.

In a similar vein, Uttam Parmar, a South Gujarat Gandhian activist, said, “CAA and NRC are not just about excluding Muslims, as our rulers are propagating. It’s about seeking exclusion of Dalits, Adivasis, Other Backward Classes, who have been legally recognized equal by the Indian Constitution. Our rulers are unable to reconcile themselves with the revolution brought about by Gandhiji and Dr Ambedkar through the Constitution by providing equality before law. They are trying to divide the country on communal lines. It is well known who pitted Dalits against Muslims during the 2002 Gujarat riots."

Renowned academic Prof Ghanshyam Shah, recalled the historic day of December 25, 1927, 92 years ago, when Dr Ambedkar’s launched his campaign against Manusmriti by burning and said, “The Manusmriti burning wasn’t just burning of a book. It was a symbolic gesture to burn the idea of inequality, codified in the ancient treatise.” He wondered whether, through CAA, India was following Pakistan by making religion as the basis for citizenship. “Our rulers must remember, India’s Constitution is not Pakistan’s, which provides supremacy to a particular religion”, he said.

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