The thumbing performance of Ms Smriti Irani, Union Minister for Human Resource Development, in the Parliament on February 25 on the arrest of Kanhaiya Kumar, students’ union president of Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), and the tragic death of Rohith Vemula, a Dalit research scholar at the Hyderabad Central University (HCU), is indeed captivating. Particularly, her English accent and connotation sound to be good to hear than the other law makers. Apart from the resounding words and quotes, it bears nothing but a political rhetoric. As she quoted Shakespeare’s Macbeth in her speech in the Upper House, ‘Fair is foul, foul is fair’, the lines from the masterpiece itself sums up her whole speech, ‘full of sound and fury signifying nothing’.
The key issue boiling in the premier universities of the country, stretching from Hyderabad to JNU is nothing to do with sedition or anti nationalism. Nor it is politics. Though the Left and the Right parties try to fish in the troubled waters. To the right wing Hindu parties and outfits, the death of the Dalit scholar Rohit Vemula is a political tool to ignite the so called feeling of nationalism. The same game plan is well orchestrated in the JNU campus also. What we can see is the self declared champions of nationalism; the RSS and the BJP are on a nationwide campaign on the alarming situation of anti national elements in certain campuses. The ruling party could build an aura of panic and paranoia across the country with the help of mainstream national media and of course, the social media following the two incidents in two universities.
For the Left, it’s an opportunity to mobilise their rank and file against the fascist attitude of the ruling party. They present themselves as the patrons of free speech and freedom of expression.
The seminal point here is not the anti national slogans raised by the students of JNU or glorification Afzal Guru, the Parliament attack convict , who was hanged to death but the cast ridden Indian society. It once again proves that the disposition of Indian community is based on casts. If we fail to address this central question, the whole exercise will be in vain. Smrti Irani can flout the allegations of the casteism, but it is the fact. Any explanation without considering the deep rooted elements of casts is nothing but beating around the bush. The causes of the social alienation and tumultuous dissents of the marginalised that often transgress the parameters of sedition are the manifestation of revolt against the social segregation. In a way it is turned as a protest against the government.
If you can listen to the words of Rohits’ mother or Kanhaiya Kumar’s family, their aspirations sound to be similar. One can draw out the feelings of a community that is socially outcast. The disappointment and desperation born out of the social ostracism have virtually made them ‘anti nationals’.
Unfortunately, Smriti Irani, who vigorously defended the government stand on both controversial issues, neither minced any words to attack her political antagonists nor didn’t go in detail on the root cause of the whole events, the curse of casteism. Rather, she was vociferous on political mudslinging. The Vice-Chancellors of all central universities are appointed by the congress government, Afzal Guru was hanged by the UPA government, Rohit was not given proper medical attention by the Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) led state government and so on. So what? Two wrongs do not make a right.
Nobody will disagree with the fact that the death of the Dalit scholar of Hyderabad University was a suicide. But it was the culmination of a series of events that involves racial attacks. Of course, the student wing who confronted and attacked the Dalit group was none other than ABVP, the student arm of BJP. Remember, Rohit was the president of Ambedkar Students Union, an organization that stands for the rights of Dalit students. Why the Dalits are forced to organise under the banner of Ambedkar Students Association (ASA) instead of opting the main stream student unions? The answer is simple. The student community that belongs to the backward casts is not accommodated well in these unions. Or they do not feel comfortable. To be precise, the declared aim of the Dalit organization is the social justice, which is denied to them for centuries. For the other student organisations, the policies are different. For the Dalits, the primary concern is social equality and justice.
The issue of cast and racial discrimination are not all new. But the fact is that the emergence of BJP as a ruling party and the consolidation of right wing outfits have widened the social schism between different casts. Again the feeling of alienation has been increased among the Dalits. This undeclared social isolation have often lands the Dalits and back ward students in the camp of ultra revolutionists to be dubbed as anti nationals and unpatriotic.
We could see the sparks of this revolt in the JNU campus. Listen to the words of Kanhaiya Kumar. Though he belongs to left wing organisation, his thoughts are similar to Rohit Vemula. He loads the principles of Ambedkar and longs for a social disposition where cast never matters. The underlying fact is cast. It’s no wonder that here also the student wing who took the cudgel against the dissenting voice is ABVP under the cover of nationalism. Indeed it’s a concerted effort to divert the attention from the cast to nationalism, an easy and credible way to isolate the political opponents. That is exactly what echoed from Smriti Irani’s speech in the Parliament.
(The views expressed are personal)