Rohith Vemula’s suicide, the PM’s sharing of grief and the university’s ex-gratia payment to his family have been given an epic dimension by the media and the public. It’s been packaged as an act of honor and sends out the wrong message.
By Bikram Vohra
Guess everyone has their own selection of demons in the head. Dark places and dark thoughts. And, for sure, Rohith Vemula, the student who committed suicide in Hyderabad Central University, causing a nationwide protest, had his share, little goblins that caused havoc in his mind. Specters of fear that supposedly pushed him over the precipice.
So overwhelming was the anger in the public that even Prime Minister Narendra Modi had to state that India had lost one of its sons. This clearly was to calm things down and tota-lly eclipsed the wrong behind the act of the young lad taking his life.
What is a matter of great concern is the epic dimension given to the suicide card by the media and the public. It has been packaged as an act of honor and the message to our youth is scary, hell, yes, it is scary. That if all else fails and you want to get your way, go ahead and kill yourself.
This is a frightening aspect and needs to be addressed frontally. We cannot give suicide per se a clean chit and make it a viable option. It is not a trump card. That approach sits very uncomfortably and it is regretful that legitimization has been given to death at one’s own hands.
Forgotten in the maelstrom of outrage is the fact that suicide is illegal. That the pain and suffering caused to the family, to the boy’s parents and his relatives, his friends will never be mitigated. An act of suicide is dren-ched in malice and there exists in the youth some vague idea that by dying they will get even. It is the ultimate selfish act.
Section 309 of the Indian Penal Code lays down punishment for attempted suicide but obviously nothing much can be done if the effort is a success. The maximum punishment is imprisonment for one year. A sub-clause in the Section, however, demands 10 years of incarceration for the abetment of a suicide.
The fact is that suicide is illegal. An act of suicide is drenched in malice and there exists in the youth some vague idea that by dying they will get even. It is the ultimate selfish act.
That means that any encouragement to any individual to take his life is open to char-ge. Although India has been trying to decriminalize suicide, this bill has not yet become good in law. Interestingly, India’s lawmakers and both Houses of parliament wish to interpret the committing of suicide as an act by a person who is mentally unstable at the time of this task.
As such, Section 309 gets predicated to the Mental Health Bill of 2013 under which the individual is not a criminal but has a mental condition for which the government must then provide medical aid. Clearly, this would mean a different sort of incarceration, albeit in a mental asylum.
INCENTIVE FOR SUICIDE?
This is where it gets riveting. When the intimidated varsity offered `8 lakh ex-gratia to the grieving family of Vemula, it established a precedent that skates precariously close to abetment. On record now is an incentive to commit suicide. Whichever way you slice it, the law is duty bound to interpret it as an encouragement. In a na-tion where even poor marks in school can create a sense of low self-esteem enough to make a person leap to one’s death, much of the fear and guilt could be assuaged by the thought of a financial package being handed over to the next-of-kin.
In the case of Vemula, he felt done in by the system and the prejudice shown to him because of his caste. Whether that was an afterthought to his rustication is still not certain. In a few days after being expelled, five students, including Vemula, camped in a tent. The other four did not commit suicide or contemplate it.
Let’s recap why they were expelled. They had allegedly attacked an ABVP leader. Now, if they did engage in an act of violence, what difference, under law, does the caste of the attackers make? While everyone is in agreement that political parties should be prohibited from exploiting students, the cruel fact is that these students did cause a provocation. Now, nobody bothered about their plight or whether they were being railroaded until this young man killed himself to either prove a point, get the expulsions removed (which they consequently have been) or because he was simply mentally unstable.
The rage is plastic and smacks of opportunism. Screaming students who now dip their napkins in his blood were totally unresponsive when the boy was in the tent, so let’s not seek virtue where none exists. Misplaced indignation has a certain stench about it.
Back then to the legal basis of the government’s move to sanction the grant. It does set a legal precedent. Children who lose out on examinations can now expect Mummy and Daddy to be compensated. Farmers whose crops fail can expect an official benediction. Victims of acts of “shame” or sagas in the saving of male honor can hope that someone will at least give their lives a financial worthiness. Those whose “mental” stability is temporarily shifted into insanity on grounds of deep debt, unrequited love, bullying or harassment, sexual exploitation, all of them are now eligible
Look, it is a hard world out there. This world does not owe us anything, not even a living. There are hundreds of thousands of people with huge problems. Massive hassles. Exploited, victims of injustice, derailed, beaten by the caprice of fate, paying the price for being in the wrong place at the wrong time, cheated, made into scapegoats, sick, physi-cally challenged, grief-stricken, suffering a wide swathe of prejudice, not for a few weeks, but for years and they persevere. They do not kill themselves. The other four students did not choose to die. They fight on. Give them some credit. We have almost made them feel they are losers for wanting to live on.
Section 309 of the IPC lays down punishment for attempted suicide. The maximum punishment is imprisonment for one year. A sub-clause in the Section, however, demands 10 years of incarceration for the abetment of a suicide
Which one of us is not faced with mountains that seem insurmountable? Yet, which one of us would be proud if a loved one committed suicide? Would we understand it, would we feel a surge of achievement and nod wisely and say, we understand? I doubt that very much.
Nor is it an act of courage. You are not saving someone from a burning building. Nor being a martyr to your flag and country. There is nothing heroic about this. It is a sad and total waste of life. There is no virtue in this death, nothing to romanticize. It is a regular and integral part of college life. The classic victim of prejudice and apathy. No redeeming feature except that one human being was hounded into ending his life or concluded this was the only way he would get attention.