Picture courtesy: https://quintype-01.imgix.net/thequint/2016-01/454344d8-bb18-4b29-914ada6128478183/Parul-Rohith.jpg
This article was written by Ayushi Raghuwanshi, a student of NALSAR, Hyderabad.
A young scholar pursuing his PHD in the HCU committed suicide leaving behind an open-ended suicide note. Ever since then, the country is trying to make sense of the causes of his death by relying upon the suicide note and the background in which such a step was taken by him. The open-ended note has an intrinsic quality at it’s disposal i.e. to be used as a blank paper by various identity groups and parties to write the summary of the events leading to the suicide, much to their own advantage. On one hand, the political parties are pressing on their non-culpability by pointing to Rohit’s last words which blame no one but himself for his suicide. On the other hand, the Ambedkar association (ASA) along with the other political parties are making it a case of institutional murder of a ‘dalit’ scholar. However, irrespective of which side of the story appeals the most to the conscience of the public at large, there is one thing which can be asserted with much certainty: The conscience of the nation is disturbed on confronting an unjust behavior in the elitist of institutions of the society i.e a university- a harbinger of a much sought valuable entity i.e. knowledge.
EDUCATION AND DISCRIMINATION:
At the level of schooling we often come across instances of a lower caste student being discriminated by the upper caste teachers and students. In such instances, there is an internalization of a strong expectation of failure and worthlessness (due to loss of dignity) by the student who then performs below his/her actual potential. In such a scenario it is difficult to reach a level of exceptional achievement in one’s field of knowledge. However, even if an oppressed person (in this case due to caste) performs exceptionally well at the primary level of education, the battle is still on. The life of Rohit was a depiction of this struggle. He mentioned in his note that “I can never recover from my childhood loneliness. The unappreciated child from my past”(it would be naive to believe that it was an experience totally unrelated to his dalit identity ). Furthermore, although he crossed all hurdles of prejudices and discrimination from his childhood to become a diligent scholar, his identity as a dalit could not be seen as disjunct from his other identities. So the question then arises as to whether his identification as a dalit was the major hurdle for him?
IDENTITY AS A DISABILITY:
For a person to live with dignity with a wholistic experience of life, he/she needs actual capabilities and opportunities. This is reflected by Amartya Sen in his “Idea of Justice”. By capabilities, he means the ability to reach a particular end and achieve a particular goal. As a complement to this theory, American philosopher Martha Nussbaum points out that life which is not reduced to nothingness due to various factors like oppression and discrimination is one of the basic human capabilities which each person must have. However, in Rohit’s case, it can be inferred from his sentence : “I feel a growing gap between my soul and my body” that he was disenchanted with his life and thus he lost a priceless capability to live a dignified life.
An antithesis to the idea of capability is “disability’. In general sense, disability would refer to a handicap or resourcelessness ect however, caste is also a disability which hinders one’s normal life in such a manner so as to put that person at a disadvantaged position. In Rohit’s case, his identity as a dalit played a disabling role at various instances in his life immediately before his death. He was expelled from his college along with four other ‘dalit’ students for being guilty of persecuting a student belonging to another political association. Ever since then his struggle against the university was seen as a struggle of a dalit against an abysmal politics. Even after his death a victimhood has been attached to his dalit identity and is cited as a factor which dominated many decisions of the university. But if we examine the anguish related to such a victimization, it is clear that his identity on one hand became a unifying point of all other victims of caste oppression whereas on the other it is the same entity which lead to the oppression during his life and remains a point of discussion after his death.
Rohit stated in his note that “The value of a man was reduced to his immediate identity and nearest possibility”. This reflects the anguish of being disabled by his identity as dalit to the exclusion of an identity as a human mind who fancied stars and galaxies. In this he shows his helplessness in being born with an identity which became a cause of all his troubles ( he wrote that “my birth is my fatal accident”) and maybe a cause of his abrupt and unfulfilled end.