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To those ranting "Anti-national" jibes on Social media about Phd Scholar, ‪#‎RohithVemula‬ from the University of Hyderabad who committed suicide last Sunday evening, let us try and understand what Rohith Vemula stood for:

1. We may disagree with Rohith's protest against Yakub Memon's hanging, but here's the thing:

Remember that whether a democratic nation can carry out "Capital Punishment" is already a Global debate. More than 100 countries have abolished the death penalty for all crimes. . He says on Yakub Memon hanging," If death penalty is the only punishment we can offer to the convicted people, we must stop calling OUR NATION democratic. So, Rohith just stood towards 'that' side of the debate on 'Capital Punishments'

His 'Anti-Terrorism' credentials are very much evident through his FB posts where he vehemently criticizes ISIS, Patriarchy in Saudi Arabia or where he expresses strong grief and solidarity towards the Indian Jawans martyred in 2008 Mumbai Blasts or more recently in Pathankot. His words, "26th November marks the 7th Anniversary for the grisly attacks on Mumbai killing 173 people. The terrorist attacks motivated by extremist religious ideology left the nation in huge shock and it questioned our basic understanding of combating terrorism. The attacks were a demonstration of how dangerous the mix of chauvinistic nationalism and religious bigotry could be. On this day it is important for everyone of us to resolve against any extremist ideology, illogical hatred and depending upon religion to make our daily choices."

2. We may disagree with his support to Beef-Festival, but here's the thing (In his own words from his FB post):

" First of all, I am not one of those who think beef eating is eternally emancipatory. And I am not also a cultural apologist.Something is a psuedo-scientific thing, I would not wish it to be continued on the name of cultural tradition. Coming to the core aspect of my ranting, beef eating in public is not an act of reclaiming something from the history. It was to show resistance for those contemporary forces in today's India (Well, must be said the Always' India, no?) who think that they can control the others' way of life. Beef eating is an element of culture of resistance which must concern everyone rather than an exclusive Dalit resistance culture.
Eating beef and celebrating beef eating is an act of solidarity with all those who are getting murdered on this reason nation wide. If we fail to see the fact that the BJP-RSS-VHP scheme of anti-beef campaign is essentially a tool to persecute Muslim minorities in this country, we would regret for being the mute spectators of another mass unrest in OUR COUNTRY. The whole cow myth is less anti-Dalit today and more of anti-Muslim propaganda."

3. You may disagree with the initial Inquiry Committee's report which said:

"The Board could not get any hard evidence of beating of Susheel Kumar either from Krishna Chaitanya or from the reports submitted by Dr.Anupama. Dr.Anupama's reports also could not link or suggest the surgery of the Susheel Kumar is the direct result of the beating."

The above matter though is being currently investigated, therefore we must wait till the facts are completely established on this.

Finally, you may disagree with his various viewpoints, but let us hold-on and understand what Rohith stood for throughout his short life. Rohith's ultimate 'struggle' through all his actions as an activist of ASA was to use his own words from his suicide note and another post was for:

a) "The value of a man was reduced to his immediate identity and nearest possibility. To a vote. To a number. To a thing. Never was a man treated as a mind. As a glorious thing made up of star dust. In every field, in studies, in streets, in politics, and in dying and living".

b) "The shift of my political identity from Marxism to Ambedkarism is a conscious move into building a new future on the basis of more humane, more inclusive society".

.. and many more of his posts only reveal that he always dreamt to work for an INCLUSIVE, IDENTITY-LESS society which Babasaheb Ambedkar always aspired. Rohith had his own brand/idea of Nation & Nationalism which Babasaheb explains as below:

Dr. Ambedkar’s idea of nation is not only of a political or geographical entity, having a map and a flag. He didn’t subscribe to the popular definition of nation something as “large group of people living in one area with their own government, language, traditions, etc. (Cambridge Dictionary).” For him idea of nation has to have a philosophical and spiritual connotation with welfare, equity and fraternity as central themes. While explaining his idea of nation he had quoted French philosopher Ernest Renan saying that “A nation is a living soul, a spiritual principle. Two things, which in truth are but one, constitute the soul, this spiritual principle. The actual consent, the desire to live together."

Therefore, before we brand Rohith as "Anti-National" etc, let us introspect whether are we not guilty of being intolerant towards a viewpoint or action which does not go well with our understanding of Nation or Nationalism or Humanity?

We may say that Rohith committed suicide because of the events, the Social Boycott through the external influences and the might of political powers viz: MLC, MP, Union Ministers etc that followed in the campus. However, the fact is that he took such a step for more "FUNDAMENTAL" reason, principles and concerns about the society around, quite evident through his letter. How the VALUE OF MAN who deserves to be TREATED AS A MIND and a glorious thing made up of star dust has been reduced to some IMMEDIATE IDENTITY throughout his various lifetime experiences. We must admit that there has to be something wrong with the campuses and society around when we have the alarming figures available on Dalit students committing suicides due to PREJUDICE around. By the way, Rohith wasn't a mere student but a Phd Scholar who achieved the Phd seat without using his SC status. So the 'incompetence', 'reservations' argument for suicides does not hold in case of Rohith but only the argument of Prejudice he faced does. This is evident when he suggests to VC for a Rope, Sodium Azide, Euthanasia to Dalit students "With a dire, to use If they feel like reading Ambedkar". Clearly, he appears disturbed with a fact that one cannot survive (due to caste-prejudice) with Liberty in the University if one asserts the views of Ambedkar in open. Rohith finally lost the hope about the fundamental ideas of human life and the world which he aspired for. This is evident from below words in his suicide note:

"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. Our originality valid through artificial art"

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"Not speaking about caste cannot eradicate the caste.... It just makes the discrimination nameless!!! And our activisms are not Identity politics, they are struggles for recognition." -  Rohith Vemula
Expelled_students_forced_to_vacate_hostels
Rohith proudly carrying the "dangerous substance" while he was expelled (socially boycotted) from the hostel.

 

As they say, Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people. While quitting from this world, Rohith manifests that he was a Great mind, one, by NOT blaming "PEOPLE" (even enemies) and two, NOT any EVENTS but three, purely his IDEAS about the human life & his world-view behind his decision to depart from his life.

People (driven by some ideologies around) who in a way are celebrating Rohith's death, the only thought which comes to mind is "Maut bhi jinki aanko me ashk nahi laati, kaise maan le ye insan ki aulaade hain". However, poetic response to radical jibes is less engaging hence less democratic approach towards dissent, hence the above piece..

The students from all social backgrounds have stood-up now, for this is not an issue of one caste, one person, and one incidence. This is the issue of Human rights and about Liberty, Equality, Fraternity and Justice.

Let's hope and wish we 'Understand' (if not agree with) Rohith apart from the ideological debates around, at least after he is gone, to use his words again.."in search of another world from the shadows towards the stars, HAPPY DEAD THAN BEING ALIVE".

 

By Pratik Tembhurne

One Last time,

JAI BHEEM, Rohith !

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Narendra Dabholkar was a notable rationalist from Maharashtra who quit a flourishing medical practice to devote time to social reform and had founded the Maharashtra Andhashraddha Nirmulan Samiti to combat superstitious beliefs among people. He was brutally murdered after receiving threats from religious fanatics for many years. Extremists condemn him for opposing Hinduism. Liberals endorse him in principle. Yet, given that most of his work happened in Marathi, most Indians commenting on him have little idea of what thoughts the man promoted.

This marks the first of hopefully many efforts to make his thoughts accessible to a wider audience and my small contribution to promoting rationalism among people.

This is the first of three parts translating the speech into English..

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Lokahitawadi (Gopal Hari Deshmukh) was born in Maharashtra in 1823 and Prabodhankar Thakeray died in 1973. Maharashtra has a 150 year tradition of social reformers who examined prevalent folk traditions. There were Lokahitawadi, Mahatma Phule, Savitribai Phule, Dnyanoji Mahadev, Godkar, Ranade, Gopal Ganesh Agarkar, Rajarshi Shahu Maharaj, Tukadoji Maharaj, Ghadge baba, Babasaheb Ambedkar, Swatantryaveer Vinayak Damodar Sawarkar, Hamid Dalwai and Prabodhankar Thackeray. Such an unbroken stretch has not been the fortune of any other state in India. And if we consider them to be schools of learning for social reformers, each headed by a learned guru, then Mahatma Phule was the learned guru of them all.

But as we clap on hearing his name, I'd like to share an example. We know that Savitribai [Phule] had started teaching girls and those who opposed her used to throw filth on her clothes as she passed on the way to school. So she used to carry a spare sari to change into for teaching, on reaching school. But what we don't know is that at that time, there were pamphlets circulated in Pune, which if I tell you now, you will laugh. They said that this Phule says women should be taught to read and write, but women must not be taught to read and right at all. Why? Because if women learn to read, they will read bad/obscene books. No idea how the man who learned to read knew this... Women who learn to read will read inappropriate books and women who learn to write will write naughty letters to their husbands.

You are laughing, Phule's father didn't laugh. He called Phule and ordered him to stop teaching girls. Phule asked, "Why?". He replied, "Our religious tradition says so. Learning isn't a woman's work, her arena of work is the kitchen and children.". Phule retorted, "Whatever was written in religion may be written, I have decided that I will teach women." Phule's father said that that wouldn't do and that everyone had to obey religious strictures.  Phule refused to obey. His father said that if he wanted to teach women, then it would not be in his home.

And because a 21 year old Mahatma Phule and his 18 year old wife Savitribai Phule stepped over the threshold and left their home in order to teach women, you 40-50 women [in the audience] are sitting here confidently.

Which brings me to this incident. A woman from the pardhi community from Amravati, who didn't have water where she lived, filled water at the school next door. The school headmaster thrashed her badly. Ignore that she was beaten. She was beaten, there was police investigation of the headmaster's actions, that is not the point. What was worse was that because a woman was touched by a man not related to her, their caste panchayat excommunicated the woman, her husband and her two children, didn't allow them to live in the settlement, forced them to sit under a tree and fined them 31 thousand rupees. Of this, they were able to pay only ten thousand. Ashok Pawar, an anti-superstition activist from that community wrote the story of this injustice for the Sadhana weekly magazine which I edit. I was astonished to find that a reader I had never met, a retired teacher called Bhigde, sent me 21 thousand rupees in cash, requesting that it be given to the caste panchayat "because our community will take at least another 500 years to repay these sins." Where is Mahatma Phule? The money was sent to the caste panchayat. This is the reality.

Today, we are fighting for an anti-superstition law, the bill for which is before the upcoming winter assembly, what is it called? It has the name of our subject.  Maharashtra Prevention and Eradication of Human Sacrifice and other Inhuman, Evil and Aghori Practices and Black Magic Act, 2011 (it was passed in 2013, after he was murdered). The discussions you are having about inhuman and inappropriate traditions, how long has it been since the law has been proposed? Only 18 years. It has been approved by the Assembly five times in these 18 years.

In 1829, Lord Bentinck passed a law banning sati practice and our shastris and pandits went to court claiming that the immolation of the wife after the death of her husband is our religious tradition. Lord Bentinck did not agree. The pandits asked, what would happen of her character/reputation? That is when Lord Bentinck started a seven rupee pension. He faced criticism over meddling in matters not of his religion or trade. He replied that if he saw a woman burn and did nothing, he'd be useless as an administrator.

Even today, people throw stones when a wish is fulfilled [speaking of specific orthodox tradition]. If I threw stones, I'd be arrested for stone pelting, but thousands throwing stones is appreciated as religious faith. And there is no law for this. They ask, which law should be used.

It needs to be understood. Not all traditions are bad. Dharma-shastra (religious rules) say that a Ganesh idol should be of the earth (made of mud/clay) and it should be immersed in flowing water. In earlier times, there was plenty of mud and rivers had plenty of flowing water. Make a nice clay idol, and the texts prescribe that it shouldn't be larger than the span of a palm, and use it for worship. Then, return what was taken from nature back into nature. But a hundred years ago, you didn't have plaster of Paris, toxic paints and gigantic idols. Maharashtra's population had not reached 11 crore. Can the same practice be continued now?

We suggested, that the idols not be immersed in the river. If you see the Mula Mutha in Pune, it is more like a sewer than a river. But people would throw the idols in there. Then we decided that we would take the idols as donations after the religious rites were over. Senior scientist Vasantrao Gowarikar and I stood there to accept donated idols. People who called themselves protectors of Hindu religion came and stood next to us, with loud religious bells and whenever we started to speak, they'd ring the bells loudly so that we couldn't be heard. Their did not accept our questioning of their religious tradition to dispose off idols in flowing water.

Then we went to the High Court, and Supreme Court and all the decisions were in our favor, and now, what we were suggesting is an official order from the environment ministry.

What does this tell us? We need reform.

Narendra Dabholkar's speech on tradition and superstition - English translation Part 2

Part 3 coming soon.