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Mainstream, VOL LIV No 6 New Delhi January 30, 2016

Safeguard Constitutional Values

Saturday 30 January 2016, by SC


As we approach yet another Republic Day our thoughts invariably go back to Babasaheb Dr Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar, the architect of the document embodying our Constitution, that imparted meaning and substance to the freedom we achieved from foreign rule on August 15, 1947. That document was adopted on January 26, 1950 precisely 66 years ago.

The events of the last few days have traumatised the entire nation beyond measure. The suicide of a Dalit research scholar, Rohith Vemula, in the University of Hyderabad, a centrally administered institution, is indisputably a case of institutional murder. The Ambedkar Students Association, the organisation to which Rohith belonged, had held a protest in the UoH in the recent past against the disruption by the BJP’s student wing, the ABVP, of the screening in the Delhi University of a documentary film on the Muzaffarnagar communal carnage. Thereafter Rohith and four other ASA members had been charged with having attacked an ABVP leader. This charge was found to be fictitious in the face of medical evidence and lack of testimony from the side of the security staff. Yet the students were suspended due to pressure from a BJP MLC.

The suspension was later revoked by the then Vice-Chancellor and a fresh enquiry was promised. However, in effect not only did the suspension continue, no fresh enquiry was held mainly due to the intervention of the BJP’s Secunderabad MP and Union Labour Minister, Bandaru Dattatreya. Moreover, an official order issued subjected the five Dalit students to a virtual social boycott—that is, preventing them from accessing hostels and library and also from contesting student union elections. Dattatreya wrote to the Union HRD Minister, Smriti Irani, accusing the ASA of “casteist, extremist and anti-national” activities citing as an example the ASA’s protest against the execution of Yakub Memon besides raising the patently false allegation of the ASA’s attack on an ABVP leader opposing the protest. Then the MHRD under Irani swung into operation: four letters were written within three months urging the University authorities to take prompt action against the so-called ‘anti-national activities’. Under such pressure the former VC’s decision to revoke the suspension of the five students, including Rohith, was revoked.

This is the backdrop against which Rohith was driven to commit suicide. The Dalits have suffered for too long but under the present regime run by the RSS their condition has become intolerable. Rohith’s suicide brings this out in sharp relief.

The Narendra Modi dispensation has heightened anti-Muslim feelings thereby fanning communal conflagration in various parts as has been witnessed in Muzaffarnagar on one side and aggravated caste tensions by systematic attacks on Dalits on the other. This is the naked reality.

If the nation has to march towards progress and allround advancement it can ill afford to endure such social tensions any long. It is thus imperative that all secular, democratic and forward-looking forces unite to safeguard the basic values enshrined in our Constitution now under constant threat from those in power. That is the least we can do to protect the image of Dr Ambedkar from further desecration. And that would be the best way to observe the Republic Day this year.

January 24 S.C.

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