ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Response from an Adivasi

Confronting Everyday Humiliation

This article aims to add to the debate on nationalism from the standpoint of an Adivasi. Rethinking the issue of university agitations from a subaltern perspective will contribute to the ongoing critical engagement. While student organisations should not be narrow-minded or indulge in polarisation of castes or communities, it also does not make sense for the ruling party to monopolise freedom of speech against caste oppression, communal violence, and any kind of discrimination faced by people.

The student agitation after the tragic death of Rohith Vemula was not a new phenomenon in Indian universities. In 2006, a committee headed by Sukhadeo Thorat was appointed to investigate Dalit suicides in elite-dominated central universities. The present government neither considered the report nor the anger of Dalit students, and instead labelled the situation as a grave internal security threat to the country. One can find a similar pattern in instances of repression against student movements in university communities as well. When the subaltern learns to speak democratic vernaculars, the response from the dominant elite may come in the form of repression of the marginalised. Democratic struggles that arise from the ground do have the potential to challenge the historically determinated power relations in which the marginalised find themselves. What has gone wrong in these student movements then?

A vicious campaign has been launched by some vested interests against the Dalits and the Adivasis, hiding their discrimination of backward classes and lower castes behind the accusation that students’ organisations have been violating rules. Discrimination, as seen in Vemula’s case, has alarmingly risen in many educational institutions. In the case of the five Dalit students of the University of Hyderabad who were suspended, the fellowship was an important source of money for their higher studies. As per the Ambedkar Students Association (ASA), 12 Dalit students ended their lives in the University of Hyderabad since it came into existence in the early 1970s (Hindustan Times 2016). Therefore, one cannot see this situation in isolation as is being projected by some political parties and leaders.

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