Deconstructing the Dance of Death in Universities


It was the day when everyone was done with the vibrant and cheerful day of Holi. Little did we expect that death would dance around the ambiance of a politically charged JNU campus. It was a day when a Dalit M. Phil scholar, Muthukrishnan studying at the JNU, committed suicide by hanging himself from a ceiling fan at a friend’s place in Munirka Vihar. It was the day of suicide of a person who had written odes on Rohit Vemula. Now, the person who wrote these odes has gone. It was the last Holi in JNU for a student who had burnt the mid night oil to achieve his dream of getting into the campus. Was his dream much more than getting into prestigious university? Was his wish to make his death facilitate and mobilise a renewed political tsunami like that of Rohit Vemula? Amid all these unanswered questions, a brilliant scholar remains unheard and unsaid amid exclusionary politics inside campuses.
Our imaginations quickly link the pattern of suicide with that of Rohit Vemula’s suicide in the Hyderabad Central University. However, when a student of JNU- a university always remains electrified by highlighting issues of exploitation and exclusion of Dalits, Adivasis and minorities commits a suicide, it sends a serious message and a prognostication that something is missing in digitally Modi-fied India. It opens questions of ill-treatment and suicides of scholars in universities. It brings the issue of universities as sites of resistance to deal with the vicarious and poisonous tendencies of an exclusionary political system. A political structure where committing suicide is a choice to deal with the pains of mind, as university administrations continues to muzzle the dissenting voices across the campuses.
What we have seen is that politics, whether good or bad, after the suicide, results in massive uprisings and demands of justice. However, it fails to bring a coherent and concrete political discourse to end the victimisation of oppressed sections of society. This opens the debate of dissent in universities. University student politics are nowadays defined by myriad issues: the death of one issue leads to the birth of another. The universities and university professors waste much energy clarifying to the nation (pun intended) what is national and anti national. What is good nationalism and bad nationalism? However, the function and priorities of universities is much more than researching and debating nationalism.
The critical inquiry of the suicide of a scholar is much more than death of the Dalit scholar. His Facebook posts resonate with a desire and yearning for an egalitarian world. His posts reflect the world he wanted to live. His death will bolster the debate of the Rohit act. However, away from linking his death to social media posts rests his past of living with rags, his mental geography poisoned with anxiety, his purse in want of money. Thus, his suicide should also open up the debate of strengthening counselling cells in universities, opening minority violence cells to report the crimes against them, improving facilities to monitor the people who are in their primary stages of anxiety. To add a layer of poignancy to the saga, it pains one to see a PHD scholar of JNU by the name Ghanshyam who lost his mind and is found 24 x 7near a dhabha. Perhaps Ghanshyam made a choice not to commit suicide but live a silent death amid the peppery and savoury smells of tandoori chickens.
Away from the eclectic debates of this suicide on TV sets and the cosy ambiance of Munirka Vihar lies a land that was once a paradise on earth. This lost paradise rests in public imagination where no such student suicides occur. However, here death dances in streets and lanes in myriad avatars. It takes the form of bullets and pellets which either makes a student to taste death or death in life. So when students die on the streets of Kashmir, do they cease to be students? When the student prisoners taste the dark dungeons, do they cease to be students? They also have their last posts resonating with the idea of a decent and peaceful life. Their desire to protest on the streets is to give political expression to their angry minds, which are bored with the mucky and nauseating political discourses. They get bullets and pellets for demanding the right to a dignified life and freedom from political alienation. However, one fails to observe the healthy reporting of students who lost their lives on the streets of Kashmir.
As I was writing this, I imagined Dylan rephrasing his lines that popped up in my mind. How many Rohit Vemula’s need to die, till there is no need for Muthukrishnan to die? How many students have to die on streets of Kashmir until no students need to die? How many deaths will it take to awaken the world that too many have died in Kashmir? How many ears must we have before we hear that too many died in Kashmir? The answer lies in a resolution of the Kashmir conflict.
— The author is pursuing Gender and Women studies program at Delhi University and can be reached at: