Rohith’s caste is being challenged and protest is being countered on the ground that he was not a Dalit
Death made Rohith escape the torture he felt at the hands of individuals but he could not escape caste. Henceforth he couldn’t even escape patriarchy, the classification process of the state and the right to have an independent world view irrespective of his parentage. But Rohith is not the first case. Even BR Ambedkar under whose guidance our Constitution was forged, which empowered millions of Dalits, tribals and women, died a broken man. Despite his conversion to Buddhism, in death, caste overtook him. It defined him, defiled him, revered him, celebrated him, codified him, and ultimately consumed and re-produced him as a ‘parha likha’ Dalit who wrote our Constitution.
Perhaps this is the reason why the discourse post Rohith’s suicide has entered its most critical phase and that being whether he was actually a Dalit or an imposter masquerading as one. The issue here is whether his exact social origin made any difference to the way Rohith lived his life in the campus as a Dalit student. It also brings us to the paradox of Hinduism that despite acknowledgement to the power of karma, the curse of origin often overtakes its merit. So despite Rohith’s commitment to Dalit politics, Dalit identity, Dalit world view and Dalit organisations, it’s his mixed parentage that has become the eye of the political storm. It is this genetic consummation which is being used to define him as to who he was and will be in future. This definition itself is patriarchal and imposes motive to Rohith which in a subtle way accuses him of living life under a false identity and taking benefits from the state. Even in the case that his father was an OBC and his mother a Dalit, patriarchy prevails and gets celebrated in political circles.
BJP’s charge that Rohith belonged to other backward caste and was actually not a Dalit robs Rohith of dignity after his death. It robs Rohith of his belief and ideology, and dismisses campus discrimination, felt up close and personal, as blown out of proportion. It locates Rohith as an imposter and those protesting on the issue as consumer of a false hero. Whether he lived a hero or died a hero is irrelevant to the predicament of Dalit existence in the country, but the narrative around his death tells us that even today long after BR Ambedkar is gone, caste continues to be the principal tool in forming an individual, his politics and his world view.
Even change of religion, geography and association becomes irrelevant when caste reveals an individual to the society. This is the reason why BR Ambedkar converted to Buddhism despite empowering millions of Indians, because in the end he was not talking about reformation in the system but leaving the Hindu fold as it is primarily defined by caste and not spiritual ecosystem. The debate to locate Rohith within the caste perimeter can have major consequences. BJP must refrain from it. Sometimes listening and correction is better than social engineering. The former can heal and the latter can open old wounds.