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Online diary of Rohith Vemula: Resist Sangh’s sullying of Ambedkar's legacy

[Book extract] #CasteIsNotARumour is a collation of the late Dalit icon's wonderful and moving social media posts on his political struggle.

 |  14-minute read |   12-08-2016
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Educate, Agitate, Organise: Ambedkar and ASA (Ambedkar Students Association)

[Editor's note]

In 2013, Vemula was with the Students Federation of India (SFI), the students’ wing of the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M). At the time Dalit students’ associations were for him a bunch of ‘Dalit apologists’. But in 2014 he made a political shift when he became the vice president of the Ambedkar Students Association (ASA) and later the association’s organisational secretary.

Writings of the time provide clues to what compelled Vemula to become an Ambedkarite. In 2013 the University of Hyderabad witnessed the suicide of two young Dalit research scholars, Pulyala Raju and Madari Venkatesh, which led ASA to hold a series of protests including an indefinite hunger strike. The apathy of the Left student outfits during that time disappointed and disillusioned Vemula.

ASA, which was founded in 1993, by then included members from various Muslim student outfits including Kashmiri students and students from the North-East.

Vemula’s political shift was not just based on disillusionment and bitter life experiences. It was a conscious choice that came out of a belief that Ambedkarite politics – which can forge Dalit-Bahujan-Muslim alliances – could counter communal, fascist forces in India. It is not the Left but an Ambedkarite movement that will end Brahmanism and fascism in India, his writing asserts.

His adoration for Ambedkar is seen in the quotes he shared and the notes he made. Vemula was sure that Ambedkar was the greatest mind that modern India had seen.

He was a sharp critic of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi for sidelining the Ambedkarite revolution. His writing opposes the appropriation of Ambedkar’s legacy, life and work, both by the Left and the Right. As his notes turn optimistic about the establishment of ASA offshoots in various campuses in India, one feels the pulse of the Blue revolution of his dreams.

a) On Dr BR Ambedkar

August 14, 2014

"Extremism in defense of liberty is no vice, moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue."- Malcolm X

The shift of my political identity from Marxism to Ambedkarism is a conscious move to build a new future on the foundation of a more humane and inclusive society. I intend on compelling this stratified society, perforce, to take off its elitist mask of generosity and solidarity, which is a product of seamless majoritarian cultural unity or nationalism. My core intention is to challenge and expose the upper-class hypocritical advocacy of progressiveness which shamelessly maintains its ties with the oppressive structures of class, caste and gender.

[I intend –Ed.] to fight against the symbiosis of cultural chauvinism and communal politics, to popularise subaltern, Dravidian history and to shout out sharply radical realism amidst the euphoria of freedom. With my basic world view conditioned by Marxism, I dream and work for a society which Babasaheb (Ambedkar) always aspired to see.

November 6, 2014

Going through this [Ambedkar’s Waiting for a Visa], taking in the greatness of Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar’s personality and his political journey that was not influenced by any extremist ideology even after he walked through such a humiliating path.

March 28, 2015

There is a strange and funny poster on the walls of SSB (Social Science Building) titled "Sukoon and Babasaheb" by our own infamous ABVP. They ask should students dance in front of Ambedkar’s image. Firstly, dancing, singing or any kind of self-expression is not forbidden in Ambedkarite ideals like they are taboos in Brahmanical code of conduct. Idolising of icons is not permitted in Buddhism either. Ambedkar’s portrait on Sukoon dais is a symbol of liberation and freedom, hence reducing it to the concept of "Big Brother is Watching You" is maligning the personality of Babasaheb.

Secondly, the poster made me sick when it stated, "Babasaheb is as great as Vivekananda". This is a sheer insult to Babasaheb. Who is Vivekananda? What is his social or political contribution? Wearing a saffron outfit and uttering some verses won’t do any good to the masses. Vivekananda went to Chicago and addressed a gathering as "brothers and sisters of world" but the same Bengali Sadhu did not dare to spell those words on caste-riddled Indian land.

He wrote discriminatory paragraphs against Dalits (ati-sudhras) and women. This guy’s writings were so unscientific that all his works are kept in metaphysics section in bookstores. The obnoxiously "intelligent" minds in ABVP has tried to tie the legacy of Ambedkar to Hindutva figures!

rohithvemula-caste-u_081216053143.jpg Candle light vigil for Rohith Vemula. 

April 12, 2015

Appropriation of Ambedkar:

It is depressing that even on his 124th birth anniversary there is a need to liberate Babasaheb’s image from the clutches of Brahmanical forces.

When alive, Ambedkar was questioned, scorned for his stand on MK Gandhi and his "idea of free India". He was portrayed as a "gaddar" [traitor] for his nonsubscription of an ambiguous power transfer in the name of freedom. He demanded an overhauling of social structures and inclusive development. His endeavour to grant dignity to unrecognised communities of our country is one of the greatest revolutionary movements in the world. He was called a sectarian not just by then Hindu nationalists but also by those intellectuals opposing the former.

Today, the same sections are brimming with enthusiasm to own his legacy. In this regard I would like to express some of my thoughts here.

- Babasaheb Ambedkar was against cultural oppression in the name of religion. His opposition on the hegemonic history of Hinduism in our country is recorded clearly in his writings and speeches.

- Babasaheb stood equally afar from the dubious nationalist ideology of the then Congress party. He exposed the duplicitous concern of the Congress on the liberation of Dalits and minorities.- Ambedkar’s aversion towards Hindu scriptures was based significantly on their misogynist ideology. He dedicated his whole life for bringing gender equality.

- He was an unconventional Socialist. He was against totalitarian, authoritative government and plutocracy. He advocated state’s responsibility on preserving natural resources. He advocated for a state government which will take care of its citizens. At the same time, he strongly warned against dictatorial tendencies of the Soviet-style socialist state.

- He was against capitalism. He was against the exploitative and iniquitous character of a feudal society. He formed labour unions. His first political party was the "Independent Labour Party". Eight-hour working day and maternity leave Bills were pushed and achieved under his tenure as the Union law minister.

- He was a republican. He believed that rules and laws must be made keeping the local conditions on account. He envisioned a self-sustaining country which does not get influenced by conceited rich nations.

- He was a radical non-violent activist. Whenever there is a discussion on nonviolence, we only credit Gandhi. But Ambedkar, who hailed from a very oppressed community never instigated a violent act though he personally faced humiliation. He respected everyone’s right to live a life based on equality. He never lost his hope on attaining a free society through peace and democracy.

- He didn’t subscribe to Marxism, not just because of his Fabian supervisor, but because he studied the ground realities of India. He was critical and suspicious about the methodology of Marxian movements. He was also wary of the possible easy slip of Marxist movements into anarchism. Beyond all, he understood that the oppression in India is not just economical but also cultural.

- He was a great visionary who envisioned unified struggles that transcend religious, caste and gender divisions among all the suffering communities. He himself represented Muslim league of that time in Houses. He even took efforts to form alliances with then Left groups, though that didn’t yield any results.

- He embraced Buddhism for its anti-Brahmanical (anti-Hindu) history and reinvented the basic form of Buddhism in the name of "Navayana Buddhism".

The efforts of BJP, Congress and other non-political reactionary forces to own his legacy in the name of nationalism is a threat to Ambedkarite struggles. They are embracing Babasaheb not out of any concern towards Dalits but because of the inevitable need to appropriate him for their power struggles. That too, thanks to political reservation achieved by Ambedkar.

History seldom lies, if you forget what these Brahmanical, hegemonic ideologies did to us earlier, we are bound to revisit our slavery days.

"Nothing in the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity."- Martin Luther King Jr.

Know Babasaheb. Resist BJP’s appropriation of his legacy appropriation.

rohithvemula-caste-u_081216053331.jpg Rohith Vemula warns against the Hindutva forces' attempt to appropriate the legacy and politics of Dr BR Ambedkar.

August 15, 2015

This year I am going to celebrate August 15. It is the day Babasaheb Dr BR Ambedkar founded Independent Labour Party (ILP) in 1936. The day is a symbol of unity among oppressed sections. Workers, women, Dalits and the peasantry, the sections which are severely affected by the blend of Brahmanism and Capitalism, should unite and wage war against all odds.

"We have two enemies. Brahminism and Capitalism." - BR Ambedkar.

"Capitalism. Downfall." - Christopher Hitchen’s last words.

August 27, 2015

I am not inferior to anyone. And I have Ambedkar on my side.

October 28, 2015

Not left, not left liberals and not even left radicals. Only radical Ambedkar can liberate us.

December 25, 2015

Manusmriti Bonfire (Burning), December 25, 1927

Dr Ambedkar organised the Second Depressed Classes Conference in Mahad on December 25, 1927 during which Manusmriti (the single, most responsible document sanctifying slavery of untouchables) was burned. Burning of the Manusmriti was a revolutionary step which proclaimed right to equality and justice and sought to denounce the inhuman unequal laws of scriptures.

Burning of Manusmriti conveyed the message that [by] challenging such social practices (casteism) the untouchables have defied such laws and will not take them anymore.

December 6, 2015

Ambedkar Parinirvan Divas

He stood for us. He lived and died for us. Today the nation remembers him and no one remembers the chamchas who stood against him.

rohithvemula-caste-u_081216053614.jpg Rohith Vemula's mother and brother convert to Buddhism on Ambedkar Jayanti to protest against the caste atrocities.

 

b) The ASA Family

Ambedkar Students Association is a Dalit students’ outfit founded in the University of Hyderabad after the implementation of Mandal Commission’s recommendations on SC reservations in 1991. The outfit, which started out with just a handful of Dalit research scholars in 1993, now has 800 members and other supporters.

ASA has a history of leading resistance movements in the university. In 2002, 10 of its cadre were rusticated after they protested the demotion of a Dalit faculty member, KY Ratnam, from warden’s post to that of overseer of sanitation work. The rustication was mooted by the then chief warden, P Appa Rao, who later as the vice chancellor of UoH ratified penal action against Vemula and four other Dalit research scholars.

Until 2007 the ASA used to be an ally of the Students Federation of India in students’ union elections. But in 2008 the outfit fielded its own candidates. In 2014, an ASA alliance with Vemula as its vice president and Dontha Prashant as its president won the students’ union election. The student outfit which primarily focused on the implementation of affirmative action in the 1990s later became the leading voice in protests against Dalit student suicides caused by administrative apathy, academic discrimination and systemic failure of the university.

Though it lost the elections in 2015, the outfit remains powerful. It opposes not just the Bharatiya Janata Party’s youth wing, Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad, but also the Communist Party of India’s youth wing, Students Federation of India. Vemula wrote a lot about ASA and its politics as it occupied a large part of his student life.

September 27, 2014We won! We made it! The vision of ASA-UoH to become rulers instead of being ruled has become a reality after 20 years of ASA’s hard work in our campus. The vision to become leaders instead of being the ones who are led. The recent victory of ASA led United Democratic Alliance (UDA) in UoH Students Union elections conveys this message clear and loud.

There are several ways of looking at this victory.

I, personally, see this victory as a statement that we, Dalit-minorities in intellectual (!?) spaces like central universities are not lesser than any other person or group; not only in academics but also in political activism; [It is a statement –Ed.] that we also can set the terms and put both the Right and Left wing groups in their place. This victory is also a statement about the end of an era in which progressive theologists took for granted, taught and guided subaltern sections.

As Lyndon B Johnson [former US president –Ed.] said: "Yesterday is not ours to recover, but tomorrow is ours to win or lose." The victory we achieved in the name of Babasaheb [Ambedkar –Ed.] should be seen as an opportunity to eliminate the derogatory prejudices students have against us.

We gave speeches and spoke so far and students voted us. Now is the time to act, work and prove ourselves.

rohithvemula-caste-u_081216053744.jpg Rohith Vemula's political activism as part of the Ambedkar Students Association is at the heart of his writings.

April 17, 2015

Some "eco-sensible" students of the campus seem to be shaken by ASA’s posters on celebration of Ambedkar’s birth anniversary. Well, it is heartening to see the "apolitical", "unmoved" students talking and thinking about "things" lately.

Posters will not occupy spaces on walls permanently [like] stencil sketches Yes, we pasted posters on the walls. We wanted Ambedkar to be seen at all the corners of this campus. We wanted to bring a festive look before celebrations of Ambedkar’s birth anniversary. And we are not afraid of asserting that by temporarily taking up spaces.

This ought to irk opposing forces. This is obviously a sore sight for the people who always wanted to point out pitfalls in our movement. And that is OK. We bore [that burden –Ed.] before and we will face it now.

Pasting posters is not an "ugly" and "disturbing" act for the same reason that protests are not a "nuisance" or "noise". Pasting posters is not a great "ecological" damage for the same reason that effigy burning is not a threat to [the] ozone layer.

Stop exaggerating or desperately scorning something for the only reason that you don’t agree with it.

I wonder where these people were when saffron flags were setup in the same educational institution and ground water was used for Holi celebrations on campus.

Weren’t that more dangerous than pasting posters, dear eco-activists?

September 21, 2015

Professor Podile Appa Rao is the new vice chancellor of the University of Hyderabad. Whoever may it be [any VC –Ed.], our destiny is always at stake. We will have existence if we fight and we will perish if we rest. The names change, but the system remains same. So, don’t give a shit about him and think on improving our methods of resistance.

October 10, 2015

[After the ASA-led United Democratic Alliance lost the Students Union elections –Ed.]

Dear brother parties,

Narayan Kajrolker. Ever heard this name? He defeated Ambedkar in elections.

All those who are making merry, cheering the defeat of ASA in the elections, must understand that this fratricidal tendency is more harmful to their "agency" than to the ASA.

PS: Last night, after the results were declared it was only ASA that said Jai Bheem! and raised slogans of Babasaheb. That spirit will not come out of electoral edge. It comes from love towards Ambedkarism.

October 10, 2015

Greetings to the winners of Students’ Union Election-2015! Greetings to the conscious student community for resisting and standing against communal Hindutva forces and for giving a mandate against aggressive majoritarian politics that has gripped the nation.

Being an ASA member, I am very happy and proud of the standpoint I took this election. The fact that even the opposition had to formulate their alliances and policies based on the terms defined by ASA’s years-long struggle in itself is a testimony of the moral victory of our politics. And I am happy that we have got some time now to reorganise and enhance the methods of our resistance.

"Anytime you find someone more successful than you are, especially when you’re both engaged in the same business – you know they’re doing something that you aren’t."- Malcolm X

November 27, 2015

[On ASA’s win in Pondicherry University –Ed.]

Pondicherry is just the start. There will be no major student movement across the nation that does not reckon Ambedkar’s name. Trust me it will be as sweet as it sounds. Jai Bheem!

caste-is-not-a-rumou_081216051218.jpg #CasteIsNotARumour: The Online Diary of Rohith Vemula; Edited by Nikhila Henry ; Juggernaut Books; 2016

[Excerpted with permission from #CasteIsNotARumour: The Online Diary of Rohith Vemula, edited by Nikhila Henry, published by Juggernaut Books and available on the Juggernaut app.]

Writer

Rohith Vemula Rohith Vemula

Rohith Vemula was a PhD scholar at University of Hyderabad and became an icon of Dalit struggle after his painful suicide on January 17, 2016.

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