Seven years ago, I was a post-grad student at the University of Hyderabad, living the best of my student days, dreaming a dream of becoming a firebrand journalist. Feisty debates around all kinds of social issues with my diverse cohort at North shopcom (shopping complex, a common public area in UoH) were a daily occurrence.
January 17, 2016, was no different. Until it was.
There was an unusual commotion that had the attention of everyone. I walked towards the crowd to find out what happened. A student had hung himself in the NRS hostel they told me. Who they didn’t know. Friends and I followed students to NRS.
A ripple of sound got louder. Echoes of “it’s Rohith”, Which Rohith? One of the suspended ASA (Ambedkar Students Association) guys. We all knew him. We’d run into him just the previous day at shopcom; he lived close by in Velivada, the Dalit ghetto as did the other suspended students. Exchanged smiles.
From that moment on, time seemed to be in slow motion. It took weeks to reconnect to the world.
On January 17th, 2016, Rohith Vemula, a Dalit and a PhD scholar from the University of Hyderabad, was killed by the cruelty of an institution that was meant to nurture him. His death ought to be a daily reminder to those who believe the caste system no longer exists in Indian education institutions or urban India; for anyone who claims we all are equal and enjoy equal opportunities.
Sadly it doesn’t.
So I’d like to, on this birthday of India’s great constitution, take the opportunity to offer resources that shed some reality on our modern education spaces.
Start with The Steady Drumbeat of Institutional Casteism, a study by multiple organisations, including the Forum Against Oppression of Women, Forum for Medical Ethics Society, Medico Friend Circle, and the Peoples’ Union of Civil Liberties, Maharashtra, that dives deep into the issue of caste-based discrimination in Indian higher education, specifically in medical and engineering colleges.
You can also look at the diversity deficit in IIMs, IITs faculty posts and how India’s caste system limits diversity in science.
Take in this episode of the Anurag Minus Verma podcast, where Buffalo Intellectual discussed how casteism in Indian academia operates in a ‘sophisticated manner.’
Rohith wanted to be a writer like Carl Sagan and was conscious about his surroundings, the “immediate identities,” nature, and the socio-political structure of society. He chose to be politically vocal. His death and final words fundamentally changed something in me and the way I look at the world around me.
I hope to honour him with how I live my life being the change.