Muthukrishnan Jeevanantham, a 28-year-old Dalit research scholar from Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), allegedly committed suicide on Monday at a friend’s house in Munirka Vihar in Delhi. J Muthukrishnan was enrolled in an MPhil programme at the Centre for Historical Studies of JNU’s School of Social Sciences. No suicide note was found.
J Muthukrishnan was a first generation learner from Salem, Tamil Nadu. He was an alumnus of Hyderabad Central University (HCU), and was proud of securing admission in JNU after overcoming lot of hurdles, including a few failed attempts in the past. He had met Rohith Vemula, a PhD scholar who committed suicide in January 2016, a few times when he was at the HCU. He had also participated in the protest meets after Rohith’s death. After one such protest where he met Rohith’s mother Radhika Vemula, he wrote:
“Dear anti-nationals, let me tell you, one day this nation’s leader is going to sell all. Just for a selfie and for a standing ovation from the outsiders. Hundreds and hundreds of Dappa Rao’s are going to kill thousands of Rohiths and they are going to say, “He/She was a gifted student”. All the intellectuals from the marginalised communities will get arrested just for mocking fictional characters. At the same time, all the leading national institutes will be headed by people who cannot even clear the 10th standard exam. These people claim dissenters as anti-nationals and seditious. They are going to kill many Rohiths, like us, just for eating beef, for being rational, for being intellectually productive for the country. But we are the real sons of this land and after we are all killed, there will be no nation.”
BAPSA, or Birsa Ambedkar Phule Students’ Association, a student organisation active in JNU, has termed J Muthukrishnan’s suicide an institutional murder. According to a statement released by the organisation, he was facing hardships in getting a research supervisor. “The discrimination he felt in this campus cannot be associated with one individual, although, it cannot be denied either. Unfortunately, there is no mechanism to address this kind of discrimination in our educational institutions. This has been a major demand by Rohith’s friends, including Krish himself, that a Rohith Act be devised to address covert ways of discrimination in our campuses. But the State has failed to do so and JNU as an institution has failed Krish. It is a collective shame that this campus should accept for the collective discrimination that it inflicted upon Krish,” the statement says.
Muthukrishnan himself had spoken about the discrimination that marginalised students face in university spaces. “There is no Equality in M.phil/phd Admission, there is no equality in Viva – voce, there is only denial of equality, denying prof. Sukhadeo thorat recommendation, denying Students protest places in Ad – block [administration block], denying the education of the Marginal’s. When Equality is denied everything is denied,” he wrote in of his Facebook posts.
There will now be a fierce debate whether Muthukrishnan faced alienation, exclusion and discrimination on the campus and whether there is a link between this and his suicide. His father has also demanded a probe by Central Bureau of Investigation. But one thing that cannot be denied is that Bahujan students do face alienation, exclusion and discrimination in educational institutions. These instances have been well documented over the years. Sukhdeo Thorat committee report in 2007 indicts All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) in strong words for failing to impart education to Bahujan students in a non-biased manner. To take one instance for illustration purposes, the report says.
“About 84 per cent of respondents [in AIIMS] mentioned that evaluation in practical and viva was unfair. About 85 per cent of them mentioned that the SC students don’t receive enough time with the examiners, as compared with the higher caste students About 40 per cent of the students also mentioned that more difficult questions are generally put to them. About 76 per cent of the respondents reported that the examiner had asked the caste background; about 84 per cent mentioned that their grades were affected because of their caste background. ”
In fact, Muthukrishnan refers to Thorat committee recommendations in his Facebook post (quoted above) and expresses his disappointment that they have not being implemented.
The major source of Bahujan students’ alienation is the presence of very few Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and Other Backward Classes teachers in the various departments of universities. According to a report, “In 2011, there were only four OBC professors in the central universities of the country. Of the 7,078 assistant professors in these universities, only 233 were OBCs.” The numbers for SCs and STs aren’t much better. Savarna teachers fail to empathise with Bahujan students and sometimes even act with malice and prejudice as the Thorat committee report points out.
The number of suicides of Bahujan, and especially Dalit students over just last one decade is alarmingly high, and should have ideally created a nationwide uproar. It is high time all the stakeholders, including state, universities, civil society and media, acknowledge how Brahminical our educational spaces are and work actively towards changing them. Every life is one too precious!