Like Bhagat Singh, will Rohith Vemula's death serve a higher purpose?

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Like Bhagat Singh, will Rohith Vemula's death serve a higher purpose?


How we live our lives is usually a matter of choice. How we die is seldom of our choosing. Few people choose the time, place and manner of death. Unfortunately, most of those who do so are victims of pressures perceived to be insurmountable. In death, they seek an escape. Others are victims of disorders brought about by chemical imbalances, which in turn are often caused by stresses and strains. Very few embrace death with a cool and calculated rationality for a higher cause and reason. Bhagat Singh fell into that category. His death was one of the few that captured popular imagination and galvanised a nation to fight for a greater purpose.

On October 30, 1928, freedom fighter Lala Lajpat Rai was assaulted by a British superintendent of police, James A Scott, during a protest. Though he died of a heart attack three weeks later, doctors believed that his death was hastened by the injuries sustained in the earlier incident.

Seeking revenge, Bhagat Singh assassinated John Saunders, another British police officer, the following month and escaped capture. On April 8, 1929, Bhagat Singh and BK Dutt threw a bomb in the Central Legislative Assembly “to make the deaf hear”, as their leaflets described. The duo then showered these leaflets into the chamber while shouting “Inquilab Zindabad!” and “Long live the proletariat!”.

Even though they could have escaped, Bhagat Singh and Dutt allowed themselves to be arrested. They wanted to use their court appearances to kindle patriotism in the hearts of the people. Bhagat Singh surrendered his automatic pistol, the same one he had used to kill Saunders, knowing fully well that the weapon would be the damning proof of his involvement in the assassination. He was convicted and hanged at the age of 23. His story stirred the nation and he still remains an inspiration to young India.

Was the suicide of Rohith Vemula, a Dalit student at the University of Hyderabad, somewhat similar? While I have no doubt that some of Vemula's compatriots might think so, it is clear that the circumstances were very different. Bhagat Singh beckoned death and chose to make a statement of propaganda through it. Rohith Vemula – his rather eloquent suicide letter makes this amply clear – was a victim of an oppressive system, or one he considered so. In it, he expressed his inner turmoil and his reasons, both explicitly and succinctly

“My birth is my fatal accident. I can never recover from my childhood loneliness. The unappreciated child from my past. Maybe I was wrong, all the while, in understanding world. In understanding love, pain, life, death. There was no urgency. But I always was rushing. Desperate to start a life. All the while, some people, for them, life itself is curse. My birth is my fatal accident. I can never recover from my childhood loneliness. The unappreciated child from my past. 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.”

While his suicide was tragic, it was not for the cause of “Inquilab Zindabad!”. The incident has nevertheless been truly politicised and is now at the centre of yet another political storm and churn. It may even have lasting consequences for the Sangh Parivar, and it is in this way that the suicide might yet serve a higher purpose, albeit a partisan one. This has prompted a virulent campaign on social media, unleashed by acolytes of the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh.

Sullying his legacy

Two criticisms currently predominate. One is that Vemula protested against the hanging of 1993 Mumbai serial blasts convict Yakub Memon. Why is this a litmus test of a person’s patriotism? There are several people in this country – the writer included – who perceive the hanging to be a miscarriage of justice. Most of those who opposed the hanging opp



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