There have been attempts by many, after the suicide of Hyderabad University scholar Rohith Vemula, to separate his death from the context surrounding it. This is not a Dalit issue, said Human Resource Development Minister Smriti Irani. It's a matter of depression, wrote Manu Joseph in the Hindustan Times. 'He's not even Dalit,' insisted many of the Bharatiya Janata Party's supporters, who were happy to blame it all on a Congress-liberal conspiracy.
Senior journalist P Sainath, who has spent decades covering rural India, took the mic at a protest against the administration of the Hyderabad University and delivered a speech that attempts to put Vemula's death in context. Although he starts off with ad-hominem attacks against Irani, Sainath goes on to explain how people have attempted to explain away Vemula's death.
"They say Rohith's suicide is a depression suicide, it has nothing to do with discrimination and all the things you are talking about," Sainath says. "One question is, why are some classes and castes in society more depressed than everyone else? But, there is a more cruel and venomous insinuation in this: This is not emotional depression, they are treating it as a mental health issue... this is inborn."
Sainath attempts to explain to the audience the exact nature of inequality in this country. He points out how a minuscule portion of the country's rural population have actually had access to higher education, and furthermore, how the national average for Dalits is lower than even that number.
"We're talking about a discrimination that is structural, social, economic and now being legalised," Sainath said, referring to the new restrictions on those who can contest in local elections, which disproportionately affects Dalits.
"Students of University of Hyderabad, you have taken this battle to the next level. You are in the process highlighting much larger issues, which is what I think I read from the tragic suicide of Rohith Vemula. A long time ago, French writer Victor Hugo wrote that there is nothing on earth that can stand in the way of an idea whose time has come. In India in 2016, I think that time has come. And the idea, is justice: social, economic, cultural, gender and for Rohith and a billion other Rohiths," Sainath said.