Get the duck out of here: Rohith Vemula

India is talking about Rohith Vemula’s suicide. Many are calling it a murder. People want heads to roll. They want to taste the winds of change on their fat tongues. After all, the right to protest is crucial to societal advancement. Even Pythagorean cups must spill over, if need be.

But I don’t understand why Rohith is seen as a martyr. He killed himself, unable to cope with caste-based discrimination in the education system. The young man gave up on the fight. Even if he intended to make a statement on victimization of Dalits, it still meant there is one less person now, committed to change, in the country. His death, while it may not diminish the cause, will add precious little towards it.

Northern Pintails (male), Chennai

India needs activists like Rohith to stick around; at least, to compensate for the misguided antics of its armchair activists. Hours after the news broke about his suicide, there was public outrage. An eruption of anger against the mechanics of oppression as imposed by a tyrannical system. The atmosphere was so tense that people drew ridiculous conclusions.

Apparently, there is corruption is India. And we judge each other based on caste and religion. Even a shocking suggestion that perhaps inequalities continue to exist in our society. If only these virtual warriors had prior knowledge of it, they would have been there to voice their disapproval. And nobody would have had to die to prove anything.

The world is messed up. Such a revelation, isn’t it? Let’s strap on our seat-belts, ladies and gentlemen. It’s the dawn of anarchy. Next stop – zombie apocalypse.

Maybe it is just another case of reactive activism. A malady borne of our growing need for comfort and convenience while contributing towards seemingly-productive ideologies. It is how social media diminishes our true potential to be forces of good. We may have used technology to facilitate our ability to protest against injustice. We haven’t managed to think much about the actual protest itself.

It reminded me of an incident that had happened years ago. A few ladies were physically assaulted outside a pub in Mangalore by uncouth ultra-conservatives. Everyone was aghast over the extent of gender-bias in India. They were horrified over what had happened simply because they could specifically relate to the victimization. It didn’t matter to them, prior to this, that women from rural communities were put through far worse discrimination.

Our voices may be getting louder but they are feebler than ever before. The dissident doesn’t have a face anymore. The rebel has gone digital. He is an auto-tune, ready to say whatever has been agreed upon. Now he wants to claim that the system killed a young Dalit student. He wants to forget that corrupt politicians are also made of the same stardust. It doesn’t matter how such glorification can lead to more young minds choosing the same route to echo their sentiments. And it certainly is of no consequence that he is being manipulated by the media to take action through their sponsored channels.

It is tragic that Rohith was put in a position where he felt that he had to take his own life. It is also unfortunate that there is a homeless family living outside the High Court premises in Chennai. They were displaced due to a post-tsunami land dispute. The father stays awake until 5 AM on most days because he is afraid that his teenage daughter is under threat whenever it’s dark. There is a good chance the system, at some point, had failed him. If ever he decided to commit suicide to show us that ‘prevention is better than cure’, that wouldn’t help matters.

It isn’t with condescension that I make such inferences of matters I am not a part of. It’s just that if I see a duck, and find myself unable to identify its sub-classification – I still won’t question, whether or not, it is a duck at all.

Today, I saw Northern Pintails for the first time.

You may
swim upstream,
but first… shhhhh 
go back to sleep.

Northern Pintails (female), Chennai

(Photographs: Shollinganalur Lake, Chennaai)

An excerpt from Rohith Vemula’s suicide note

“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.

 …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.”

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30 comments

  1. Thank you for this, beautifully written, yet such a savaged issue..so many things to point out, but i ll stick with silence.
    this was a promising writer (comparing to the suicide note, how weird of me to say that!)
    also i loved these lines
    ”The dissident doesn’t have a face anymore. The rebel has gone digital”…wow

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Hard hitting. I am ambivalent on armchair activism (which I say is better than armchair casteism/racism). Knowledge is virtue.. and even among the digitized everyone is sifting through ideas and propaganda..the poor and the downtrodden as you pointed out are nowhere in this preening equation. Cannot speak for Rohit, but there is always that one too many insult/obstacle when most vulnerable. I like to think irrationally that I might have acted with more dignity(?) or level headedness given my privileged experiences till that point in life but it will always ring hollow. As always such a thought provoking write up.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Madhu! Yeah it beats passive discriminatory behaviour, but I can’t seem to ignore the vastness of the illusion of change it creates. Perhaps I just need to be exposed to more positive outcomes, if there are any.

      Appreciate the candour in your views, nanba!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. 99% of the time I throw stones at humans too. I deceive myself by saying perception is reality for many. A perception of activism and reality will reinforce a questioning, aspirational, responsible environment that somehow permeates the bourgeois voting consciousness (armchair activism 101 i guess). While always waiting for the bubble to burst. The struggle is real hain.

        Liked by 2 people

  3. I don’t know Rohit, but I do know the dissatisfaction of the relationship between humans and nature. At least he is relieved of ghost pressure that you and I must endure for a few more decades. I doubt it will change before our deaths, or even soon after.

    Of your Northern Pintails, I thought these to be North American creatures!! Glad to see that they have infiltrated the Asian Continent as well with their tuxeo’d splendor. They are a species worth collecting. I’ve not gotten one yet is year, so no fair. Wishing you’re well Christy. Be in touch when you can!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Good one..even I felt the same… what was the point in commiting suicide rather than sticking around and facing it and bringing on a change. ..just my opinion. .If B.R.Ambedkar also would have done the same, I don’t think we would have celebrated republic day yesterday …I do feel sorry for the homeless father..

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Even if Rohit didn’t make a difference like he wanted to, still his impact in a more personalized sphere would have been so much more if he didn’t take his own life. I have no right to judge the dead, and it’s the living that causes grief anyway I suppose.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Totally agree with you here. Suicide is definitely not a solution. And what’s shame that media is making a hero out of him. It gives insane ideas to our gullible youth who think this is an easy way out of tough situations. I know it is easy to talk sitting in our comfort zones and I know those in support will argue that he was compelled to take that path, but as you said there is one person less to fight for the cause.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah SKD, it’s just such an unfortunate situation. No heroes or martyrs here. Only the insipid villainy of our species, not only in nurturing hate and discrimination, but severe obtuseness while tackling those very issues.

      Like

  6. Beautiful birds. Have you heard or seen the new discovery- the incredibly musical Himalayan thrush. Please do share whenever you set your eyes on the singing beauty. Want to hear her singing actually.

    Liked by 2 people

      1. Cool Christybharath ! I am a journalist too! I have been editing and publishing a Tamil literary journal till April 2011. Now I am planning to launch THE WAGON MAGAZINE catering to the Indian English writers and readers from south India ( both print and net versions) from April 2016. next week I will be uploading the trial version of the same. Please mail your consent for the publication of this piece ( timely) to thewagonmagazine@gmail.com. I will update you.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I am waiting for your mail my friend

        On 31 January 2016 at 22:38, verseherder wrote:

        > christybharath commented: “I ll do that! Thank you so much, I wish you all > the luck and light for this venture!” >

        Like

  7. Rohith’s note seems to reflect anomic suicide, specifically when he says “I feel a growing gap between my soul and my body….I am not hurt at this moment. I am not sad. I am just empty.” It does not seem like egoistic suicide, i.e., because he faced discrimination (“I have no complaints on anyone”). I am aware that suicides are very often a result of discrimination in our country, but this one doesn’t appear to be. In fact, it tells you that there’s so much disillusionment among thinking young people – as Rohith certainly was, from the other things he has said in this note – that life becomes meaningless. He has disconnected from everyone after acknowledging that he has received love on earth (“I know some of you truly cared for me, loved me and treated me very well”). He was of a scientific bent of mind (“I always wanted to be a writer. A writer of science, like Carl Sagan”) and perhaps couldn’t cope with the irrationality he saw everywhere. People have written extensively about this sort of suicide (Emile Durkheim), and writers like Albert Camus have advised people to ’embrace the absurd condition of human existence while also defiantly continuing to explore and search for meaning.’ Most of us face situations that highlight the futility of life, some of us – like Rohith – succumb.

    You say “There is a good chance the system, at some point, had failed him.” I think you and I differ on which point exactly, the discriminatory caste system in India, or the dysfunctional world itself, with it’s skewed emphasis on things which are anathema to people who find “people have long since divorced from nature. Our feelings are second handed. Our love is constructed. Our beliefs colored.”

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Great analysis doc, twas riveting to read, thank you. Ironic too isn’t it how writers like Kafka and Camus exited from this world, I d love to believe that they find matters pitiable.

      I had mentioned there was good chance of system malfunction as a default theory. Every institution seems to be tainted.

      I am going back to his letter to read and harvest some more thoughts on it, thanks again doc!

      Liked by 1 person

  8. my comment may draw flak. i will take the plunge to voice my thoughts.

    suicide may have been avoided.
    i believe we will never know what led him there.
    bits and pieces of evidence may never complete the jigsaw.
    when a phd scholar takes to suicide, i see education system has failed us.
    it did not push him hard to fight or challenge the system. when a farmer commits suicide he is oblivion of the other side of the world that many urban population at least witnesses in some form thus resorts to suicide.
    this boy’s case, he could have had a choice.
    whatever that battle was, the world is hard yet not so hard that it cannot heal at least one heart.
    we all will go flat one day, there are thorns in rose and when we know that both thorns and petals exist, education must prepare children to appreciate both or learn to cut the thorns.
    dumping the flower will not let us see the petals.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Very well articulated, dear friend. It makes a whole lot of sense to me. I am not sure why it would draw flak though, considering I doubt if detractors have rationality at their disposal.

      Well said again!

      Like

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