The events leading to Rohith’s suicide date back to July 2015, and reflect ongoing conflict between Dalit student politics, predicated on demands for self-respect and equality, and intolerance of progressive politics on college campuses across India. Twenty-five year old Rohith was a science student at the Central University of Hyderabad, and a member of the Ambedkar Students Association.4 In addition to fighting for the rights of Dalit students on campus, the ASA protested capital punishment, and challenged efforts to censor a film screening about murderous attacks on Muslims in the north Indian town of Muzaffarnagar in 2013. An altercation with members of the ABVP (Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad), the student wing of Hindu nationalist forces, including an alleged attack on one of its members, followed. Similar conflicts between the ABVP and progressive student groups, especially those committed to anticaste traditions of radical equality, have taken place across college campuses. For instance, members of the Ambedkar-Periyar Study Circle at the prestigious IIT Madras (IIT-M) also faced harassment and political intimidation by campus authorities in the summer of 2015. Ambedkarites’ commitment to constitutional equality is at odds with Hindu nationalists’ doublespeak regarding their investment in upholding caste hierarchy, while paying lip service to an anemic concept of social inclusion: hence the agonism between the student groups.

lil and humanodon, I'd be interested in hearing your response to this article. Not because of the cultural take of India, but because you are both involved in higher education.

    What Rohith wrote above the postscript to his note is even more devastating. It implicates the social order that has excluded him, and prevented the dreams of this radical humanist. He notes that he had always wanted to be a science writer, “like Carl Sagan,” but that his suicide note is “the only letter I am getting to write.” He mourns the fact that “The value of a man was reduced to his immediate identity and nearest possibility. … Never was a man treated as a mind. As a glorious thing made up of star dust.”


Yo bfx, been a while. It's interesting that I'm finding your shoutout now-- I'm doing a masters in conflict resolution and one of my courses this semester is on violence, which includes violence directed at the self. In fact, right now I'm supposed to be writing up a definition of one of the types of violence we've read about and the one that's been rattling around in my brain is "structural violence". Structural violence is described as "embedded" rather than direct. So, for example a punch in the face would be direct, but not necessarily structural (though it could be).

To define structural violence we need to look at institutions such as culture or law. Structural violence is not attributable to a single person or organization and in fact, is often difficult to identify because it operates invisibly (or almost invisibly). Paul Farmer describes structural violence as:

    Structural violence is one way of describing social arrangements that put individuals and populations in harm’s way… The arrangements are structural because they are embedded in the political and economic organization of our social world; they are violent because they cause injury to people … neither culture nor pure individual will is at fault; rather, historically given (and often economically driven) processes and forces conspire to constrain individual agency. Structural violence is visited upon all those whose social status denies them access to the fruits of scientific and social progress.

We also have to pin down what "violence" is. One of the scholars whose work we've been referring to the most is a guy named Johan Galtung, who wrote a paper called Violence, Peace, and Peace Research which you can find here. Essentially, there are many distinctions we have to make in defining violence, but one facet of violence is depriving others of potential or opportunity. Galtung gives the example of tuberculosis in the 18th century, stating that death by tuberculosis at the time was unavoidable and so not violence, whereas because death by tuberculosis (with the exception of antibiotic-resistant tuberculosis) today is avoidable due to the availability of advanced medicine, is violence. The fact that medical care to prevent tuberculosis today is not available to everyone, is structural violence.

Back to suicide. The gist of it is, a guy named Durkheim came up with social-causation theories of suicide which are as follows: very low social integration-> egoistic suicide, very high social integration-> altruistic suicide, very low social regulation-> anomic suicide, very high social regulation-> fatalistic suicide. Of course, Durkheim came up with those theories in 1897 and was thinking of Western countries, but may still be useful in this case. Also this:

    Survivors of suicide (i.e., relatives and friends of suicide victims) are among the at-risk subpopulations due to the possible identification with the deceased, punishment for perceived self-blame, social modeling within the family, and/or genetic transmission of psychiatric disorders and impulsivity. Also, media reports on suicide may lead to the occurrence of imitative suicides (i.e., the ‘copycat’ suicides, ‘suicide contagion’, and ‘Werther effect’), and a high incidence of suicide using a particular method (e.g., burning, asphyxiation, and herbicides) within a short period of time and use of special locations (e.g., bridges, cliffs) may be related to social transmission of suicidal behavior, including media messages.

Anyway, from what little I've read, it seems like understanding structural violence is vital. If direct violence were the only form of violence we needed to worry about, then the Cold War should have "worked" and the threat of mutual annihilation should have been enough to create "peace" but as we can see, that hasn't happened.

As for my experience with higher education, well . . . higher education is political. As in politics, the issue of money places people in a zero-sum mindset, as does the delineation of discrete departments and fields of study. I'm really not sure what can be done about that, but then again, learning how to better manage systemic change is what I'm back in school for. It's wicked hard, so I hope it pays well.

Not to be flip, but thanks for this. I know it sounds trite, but I was having trouble doing my homework and I think I have a better handle on it now. Cheers.

posted by ButterflyEffect: 960 days ago