17th January 2016 was the date when research scholar at University of Hyderabad and Ambedkarite activist Rohith Vemula was compelled to take his own life after being subject to rampant institutional discrimination and institutional boycott. But that is not all that Rohith Vemula should be remembered for. He was a scholar who challenged the entire structure of the public, allegedly progressive university and its Brahmanical power dynamics.
On 17th January 2018, a group of proactive students from various student groups organised the event ‘Resisting Institutional Discrimination: Lives of the Oppressed in Higher Education’, held at Arts Faculty, Delhi University. Dalit, Bahujan students from various groups such as Ambedkar Reading Group (ARG), Youth For Social Justice (YFSJ), Students Islamic Organisation (SIO) and Muslim Students Federation (MSF) put together this public meeting in memory of Rohith Vemula, Najeeb Ahmed, Delta Meghwal, Anitha and many others.
The list of speakers comprise the following:
-Jitendra Suna, Research Scholar, JNU and student activist at BAPSA
-Nidhin D Shobhana, Research Scholar, JNU
-Prof. Anju Gurawa, DU
-Prof N Sukumar, DU
-Prof Shahsi Rani Dev, DU
-Prof Keshava Kumar, DU
-Prof Ratan Lal, DU
The speeches encompassed the Brahmanical and supremacist nature of public educationational institutions and how students from non-dominant castes have to struggle to enter these educational spaces and then struggle to stay there. As well as how casteism systematically operates at the grassroots level. A particular metaphor by Professor Ratan Lal’s speech stood out where he compared Dronacharya cutting off Eklavya’s thumb to Brahmanical professors arbitrarily deducting the marks of non-dominant caste students.
A musical group called the Baudhkaro group from Jawaharlal Nehru University serenaded the audience with powerful songs. Organisers, speakers and performers alike kept up a steady pace of rousing sloganeering.
Following which students from various campuses such as Miranda House, JNU and Ambedkar University addressed the gathering regarding their experience with casteism in the campus. The experiences and anecdotes ranged from the resentment and violence directed at students who avail of reservation, debunking the myth of the progressive left who can allegedly do no wrong and a resentment towards the assertion of Avarna politics on campus.
The public meeting was also an attempt by the organisers to form a larger support group for Dalit Bahujan students in Brahmanical spaces that reek of discrimination. This public meeting represented hope in this stifling atmosphere of caste-biased educational institutions.
Two years have passed since Rohith Vemula left us and his murderers are still unpunished. But try as they might, Rohith Vemula will not be forgotten. He initiated that rupture which fragmented the stranglehold of the Brahmanised university. The legacy he left behind is one of a complete structural overhaul of this vile hierarchy and its politics of only catering to the privileged.