The Anatomy of Rohith Vemula’s Suicide

Rohith Vemula was slowly losing the battle from within, and no one understood him.

Updated
India
3 min read
Students protesting against Rohith Vemula’s suicide. (Photo: PTI)<a href="http://www.thequint.com/section/Hot%20Wire"></a>

Stories of suicide are difficult to digest. It isn’t just the tragedy of somebody’s death, but the dark, lonely and depressing path to it. Those who have attempted suicide often talk about how suicide isn’t easy. It takes an inexplicable combination of courage and helplessness to do that.

To gather the courage to take a rope, tie it to the roof, hang yourself and wither in pain till the rope squishes the life out of you, takes guts. At the same time, the hopelessness, diffidence and emptiness that pushes you into doing it is unfathomable. For those who have not felt these emotions, it makes no sense, and that’s why they ask, “Why did he have to do it?” and not “What should we have done to stop it?”

The value of a man was reduced to his immediate identity and nearest possibility. To a vote. To a number. To a thing.

Who was Rohith Vemula?

Rohith Vemula was a troubled mind. In his suicide letter, he writes about his love for science and his love for people. “The value of a man was reduced to his immediate identity and nearest possibility. To a vote. To a number. To a thing,” he says.

He writes about his own ‘faults’ and the lonely childhood he had, “Maybe I was wrong, all the while, in understanding world. In understanding love, pain, life, death...My birth is my fatal accident. I can never recover from my childhood loneliness. The unappreciated child from my past.”

Not so hidden in all of this is the excruciating nature of caste politics and what it does to a young child wanting a better life.

“I am Just Empty..”

Rohith, however, was no pushover. He was a fighter, a brave ideologue who stood up to aggression and communal politics. This video, which has been released by ABVP members following his death, shows him standing up to a bunch of ABVP members all alone, saying that he will tear down his posters.

When ABVP members ask him why he tore their posters, he says with a cold, dismissive look, “I saw it, I tore it. I saw ABVP and the saffron colour, so I tore it.” Rohith was a fearless, seasoned campus politician who took on powerful groups.

The most telling part of his final letter however is this: “I am not hurt at this moment. I am not sad. I am just empty. Unconcerned about myself.”

Those words took me back to a video I had seen last year. Among those trying to overcome depression, one of the most popular videos is Andrew Solomon’s “Depression, the secret we share”. In a simple, effortless and yet powerful narrative, Solomon breaks down how it feels to be depressed. And he says, “The opposite of depression is not happiness, but vitality.”

We don’t know if Rohith was medically depressed. But he was empty. He was not hurt or sad, but simply did not care anymore. He did not bother about what happened next.

I am not hurt at this moment. I am not sad. I am just empty. Unconcerned about myself.

This path to death by suicide is a tumultuous one. It’s filled with pain, self-doubt, pessimism, intoxication, lethargy, diffidence and despair. And all of it is wrapped in a fake personality which shines confidence and bravery. While the body walks ahead with vigour, the soul is crumbling from within, until one day the soul takes the body away with it to death.

Rohith was a member of Ambedkar Students Association. (Photo: Altered by <b>The Quint</b>)
Rohith was a member of Ambedkar Students Association. (Photo: Altered by The Quint)

A Collective Failure

Rohith’s suicide is the collective failure of our society. Not only are we far away from reforming ourselves, but our politics of religion, identity and caste is pushing the weak among us further into a cesspit of misery. And our lack of understanding of our minds is only making it worse.

Rohith was a Dalit. His mother was a small-time tailor, and his father a security guard at a hospital. He had a lonely childhood. He worked hard and got himself into HCU, rubbing shoulders with those with privilege. When he saw the rampant caste discrimination against him, he rose up and fought. Political parties worked against him, student groups did everything in their power to get him rusticated. He stood up to them.

But he was slowly losing the battle from within, and no one understood him. Then, he died.

(Ramanathan S works with The News Minute)

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