Should Rohith Vemula

Should Rohith Vemula's suicide be seen through the Dalit lens? Pinky Anand says no

The question is intolerance. The answer is dialogue.

In a scorching political climate where some voices are shouting for their right to talk and others are denying that there is any reason for concern, one often forgets to stop and actually listen to the conversation - because those speaking are simply listening to retort.

To bridge this gap, Jaipur Literature Festival brought together five strong public voices, all from different ends of the political and social spectrum to talk about 'The need to listen: dialogue versus rhetoric.'

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The panel - Sudheendra Kulkarni, Syed Salman Chishty, P Sivakami, Pinky Anand and Shashi Tharoor - had a constructive discussion on the challenges in creating opportunities for dialogue, but one speaker among them received thunderous applause when she took the bull by the horns.

A senior advocate, Pinky Anand, while speaking about the young country India is and how that leaves "no scope for major conflict", picked the Rohith Vemula suicide as an example. Stressing on how we're a "60% young nation", Anand argued that one mustn't give a caste flavour to the outrage. Her reasoning was that Vemula's death was not unlike any other student suicide, given the pressures of university education. She went on to say that bringing 'Muslim' or 'Dalit' into the news was entirely unnecessary.

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Panellist P Sivakami, however, was vehement in her rebuttal. Sivakami, who served as an IAS officer with the Tamil Nadu government for 28 years, stressed the need to both talk and listen. "The government doesn't listen to some people. IAS officers are just executives to carry out politicians' orders."

A prominent Dalit writer, Sivakami offered a wry look at reality. "I really wasn't able to do much as an IAS."

Her worldview was ratified by Shashi Tharoor when he said "we're living in this aftermath of the Rohith Vemula tragedy. There's a systematic sense of persecution. Are we willing to listen to these voices in dialogue?", he asked, perfectly zeroing in on the problem. We are all equal - but some are just more equal than others.

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Durga M Sengupta

Durga M Sengupta @the_bongrel