An unfortunate suicide by a Jawaharlal Nehru University scholar, named Muthukrishnan, was reported on Monday this 13th March. His being a Dalit revived memories of another suicide by a Dalit scholar, Rohith Vermula, in another University over a year ago. But while the latter (Rohith) had been involved in various controversies, agitations and confrontations with the University authorities and rival student union for more than a year, the former (Muthukrishnan) had (happily, it seems) participated in Holi celebrations that morning and later departed for the residence of a friend to have lunch. On reaching his friend’s house , he complained of sleep deprivation having worked on his assignment till late at night, latched into a room ostensibly to have some sleep but was later found hanging to death.
2. His being a Dalit was initially held to be a coincidence by his fellow hostelers , students and teachers. His fellow students even appealed that the matter be not politicized. However, his father, suspected foul play (not discrimination) due to the position of his son’s body and wanted a case to be registered invoking provisions in the SC/ST Act A student’s Union, BAPSA, also jumped in claiming that the deceased faced casteism wthout giving any concrete instances.The police did register a case and are investigating it from all angles.The politicians and some intellectuals did not fail to perform their act and hit out at the authorities for the happening giving the issue a Dalit hue.
3. Muthukrishnan’s life story is nothing short of being inspiring the way he, in spite of being born to very poor parents, battled/ struggled relentlessly to educate himself. He raised money by doing menial jobs, “saving like ants”, even went hungry on occasions and ultimately managed to qualify for the PhD course in JNU after facing repeated failures in his post graduate exams and admission tests to JNU. During all these struggles, he must have faced various kinds of discrimination. But obviously, he was not the one to give up. Obviously,he did not go through all this to one day end his own life when he was very near his goal. The police have, therefore, done well to decide to investigate his death from all angles.
4. Casteism is a fact of life in India. Not only Dalits but all castes suffer discrimination in one form or the other socially.However, discrimination against Dalits was the severest historically. They were even treated as untouchables. However, on attaining independence, India took vigorous steps to put the situation right. Not only was any kind of discrimination against Dalits made unlawful and severely punishable, the Constitution of the country also provided for reservations in government jobs and in institutions of higher education for Dalits to accelerate their economic advancement.Apart from reservations, eligibility conditions were also relaxed in their favour. Dalits have been enjoying the benefits of these provisions for well over 65 years and have in the mean-while reached high positions in governments (like Ministers and high officials) and in all other spheres. We now have Dalits in high positions in all spheres like judiciary, medicine, education, engineering, science etc. They are also enjoying benefits of reservations in institutions of higher education equipping them for good status in life.
5. Yet whenever any thing untoward happens to a Dalit in an individual capacity in government service or in an educational institution, attempts are made to politicise the issue and make it appear that the problem has arisen just because the individual is a Dalit. We are presently having a very extra-ordinary case of a High Court judge . Justice Karnan, who, faced with issues of his functioning as a judge, has accused Chief Justices of Madras and Calcutta High Courts and seven judges of Supreme Court of acting against him because he is a Dalit. This is a practice that many Dalit persons adopt when sought to be proceeded against for any individual lapse. This attitude is, however, likely to weaken the legislation intended to protect Dalits as a class.
6. The need is for all concerned to act responsibly. Every issue should be dealt with on merit.. Dalits should realise that discrimination is a part of life and does not affect Dalits alone.Suicides have also been committed by other students e.g.in Kota. Come to think of it, do the reservations in favour of Dalits not constitute a kind of discrimination against others? Every thing has to be considered in the context of its effect on and in the interest of the Society and the country as a whole.