Published: 20th March 2017
I used to call him Thalaiva: Dalit student Muthukrishnan's hostel mate recalls how the Rajini fan in him was alive till the end
During a condolence speech, JNU scholar Jithendra Suna talks about what it's like to be a Dalit student in JNU and how that pressure got to Muthukrishnan, driving him to commit suicide last week
A week after the shocking suicide of JNU student J Muthukrishnan, the reasons for his suicide are being probed - not too vigorously, say some - and they're run through conspiracy theories that range from him being anti-national to his vociferous support for the cause of Dalit students. We may never know the truth. But what we do know is that Muthu, fondly known as Rajini Krish, because of his insanely high fan obsession for Superstar Rajinikanth, came to JNU with high aspirations and dreams of becoming a historian. He actively fought for justice in the Rohith Vemula movement. "I used to call him Thalaiva, he loved to be called Thalaiva. I had warned him once, 'you have to be cautious about the Centre for Historical Studies centre. You have to think what kind of questions you are raising in the classes. You have to be careful," warned his friend Jitendra Suna.
Little did he know that it was too late. Jitendra opens up about his own experiences as a Dalit student and why he could relate to everything that Muthukrishnan went through, during a concdolence meet at BAPSA. We have reproduced excerpts here that will shed light on the kind of guy he was...
I am Jitendra Suna, and I am from a remote village named Pourkela in the District Kalahandi, Orissa. I completed my high school from B R Ambedkar Uchhavidyapitha Pourkela, but never really knew who Dr. Ambedkar was. When I was in 8th standard I lost my mother, she was the head of our family. My mother wanted to send us to a science school but she died and my family did not have enough money to send us to a science school.
In Greener Pastures: Muthukrishnan told his friend 'I can handle it'
After completing my plus two (higher secondary) I came to Delhi for earning some money. I used to go to work with my brother. He was working in IGL (Indraprastha Gas Limited) as a helper, I also joined as helper. There was one fellow worker, I am unable to remember his name now, but his last name was Murari. He always used to ask my brother, 'what is the meaning of Suna'? My brother always tried to divert the issue and never mentioned his surname and caste.
Untouchability and caste practices are like a barbarous phenomena in my village as well as throughout Orissa. In my childhood I used to have a close friend who was from my village. I used to invite him to my home on special occasions and ask him to have food with us at my home. He would eat only after we requested him many times. Whenever I used to go to his home, I would be given some food outside the home, not even in the veranda. After having food I used to wash the utensils and give them back. This was because I was from a Dalit community
Jitendra Suna, M.Phil research scholar at Jawaharlal Nehru University
It was a day-to-day phenomenon; it was the 'commonsense' of our life. I could not think that it was wrong or right, because I have seen it since I was born. One day when talking to my friend I went near to the door, his mother suddenly got furious when she saw that I had touched the door. She suddenly shouted at me saying, "how dare you come inside my home, you are like fallen water of roof that cannot enter inside the room". I was shocked. I was not able to think what to say at that moment. I stood there like a statue for a minute. I sat down and after few minutes I was able to talk and asked my friend, "henta ken (is it so)?" Then he said 'yes, what will people say if you will come inside the room, it's not good'. After that incident I was not able to sleep, eat and talk properly, I was totally disturbed and depressed. I stopped going to his home. That time I did not know that there is an act called Prevention of Atrocities (SC/ST) Act or an act against the practice of untouchability. Even when Dalits knew about these acts, they could not do anything about those abhorrent, heinous, and degrading practices.
WATCH Jitendra's speech at BAPSA
In one of the courses, I wrote an assignment with proper footnoting, quotation, citation and had given logical/critical as well as coherent arguments. The Professor in charge asked me in front of the whole class, in front of my fellow classmates regarding the assignment, he said: 'Is it really you who has written it or someone else has written it for you?' I was taken aback. I replied, 'sir, I have written it on my own'. Yet he insisted: 'tell me the truth I will not do anything'. I replied, "sir, I have learnt footnoting and improved my writing skills and I have written the assignment on my own'. Still he did not believe me. I could not make any further argument in my support as the professor did not want to believe that it was actually written by me. So I stopped arguing with him anymore. That day I realised even perseverance and mettle come with their share of humiliation and negation.
Most of the students were 'convent' educated or from Delhi University and other reputed universities. The composition of class was such that brahmin and upper caste students were dominating. Everyone believed that, if you are fluent in English and you speak like a parrot, that makes you intelligent. The savarna students make their own ghettos, special kind of ghettos. To use Babasaheb's notion of caste formation, it was an 'enclosed class' where certain groups of students enclosed themselves while blocking others from entering their sacred Brahminical space.
This blocking of others and making of the enclosed class is a product of hypersensitivity of their own caste identity and superiority which produces others as lower and inferior beings. This blocking may not be intentional but the space is so brahminical, violent and oppressive that it will not allow others to incorporate in that space
Muthukrishnan enacting a 'Thalaivar' scene the day he died
I hardly had friends in two years of my post graduation in CHS, as experienced by Muthukrishnan. I had three-four other classmates and friends but they were not in my subject, they were in Ancient History. They were from OBC background, we used to help each other in writing our assignments, especially helped each other with English. I used to go to the centre only for my class, official work, and assignment presentations and when I had to ask something to teachers, otherwise I used to spend my time with my friends who were not from my centre. I remember few of us used to ask critical questions to the teachers for which we have faced discrimination. I was the only person who used to ask unconventional questions, most questions used to be from an Ambedkarite perspective. Except few students, almost all would be silent in the class. This silence is a kind of politics, this silence is silence of agreement of their Brahminical narrative, and this silence is a strategy to maintain good grades in the class.
Muthukrishnan, lovingly known as Rajini Krish came to JNU with high aspirations and dreams of becoming a historian. He actively fought for justice in the Rohith Vemula movement. After few months of his admission in JNU, he got the Jhelum hostel where I stay. I used to call him Thalaiva, he loved to be called Thalaiva. I had warned him once, 'you have to be cautious about your CHS centre. You have to think what kind of questions you are raising in the classes. You have to be careful. This centre is very much Brahminical'. He used to tell me that 'I know these people brother, I will handle it'. Most of the time he used to spend in the centre and library in order to prove himself. To prove that he was no less than the savarnas. I relate with the pressure, alienation, exclusion and humiliation that he was undergoing at the centre. He had shared this experience with his friends. Muthukrishnan said that he was seen and treated as dead man
Jitendra Suna, M.Phil research scholar at Jawaharlal Nehru University
Babasaheb Ambedkar gave me the courage to be a storyteller of his marginalized community like Rajini Krish. Rajini Krish is no more with us to tell his stories. After coming to the Centre for Historical Studies, I started hating history. This hatred is accumulative pressure of Brahmin-Savarna professors who make me hate history. They taught me how Gandhi fought against untouchability. I ask, if Gandhi and Congress fought for democracy, fought against caste, untouchability, why I am a subhuman, an animal in 21st century in my village, in your society and in this very university?
(The speech was made at BAPSA and was originally published on roundtableindia.co.in)