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Abstract 52

When Rohit Speaks through Suicide: Negotiating Subaltern Resistance and Brahminical Hegemony in Deepa Dhanraj’s We Have Not Come Here to Die

Mr Indrajit Mukherjee, Assistant Professor of English, Nistarini Women’s College, Purulia,

West Bengal, India

Rohit Chakravarti Vemula (1989-2016), an ambitious science-fiction writer and a Dalit PhD scholar at the Central University of Hyderabad, represents the caste-based movement in modern autocratic India under the aegis of Narendra Damodardas Modi. His suicidal death highlights the phantasmagoric state of the Indian education system under the present administration, prompting numerous students and Dalit organisations to call for the establishment of the ‘Rohit Act’ to safeguard subaltern students from caste-based abuse and prejudice in educational institutions. This unfortunate incident gives birth to several questions in our critical faculty about the current academic scenario in our country: Who has the right to acquire education in a site where the authority forces a student to commit suicide due to his subaltern identity? Why do subalterns feel being reduced to mere thingification, and what effect does such an itemisation have on their psyche? How do we construct a model of resistance and sustenance against the prevailing hegemony of the Brahminical structure? The present paper will demonstrate how the social activist Deepa Dhanraj’s documentary film We Have Not Come Here to Die (2019) addresses these burning issues, implying a testament to the momentous occasion that mobilised student activism in India and interrogated caste-based violence in the academic space. After discussing the context of the incident, it will explore how the director provides a significant position to the gendered Dalit voice through Rohit’s mother, Radhika Vemula. The potential of suicide as a revolt and resistance of the body to the primacy of life in modern times is examined in a Foucauldian framework to illustrate several forms of power politics. Michel Foucault demonstrates how suicide “testified to the individual and private right to die, at the borders and in the interstices of power that was exercised over life” (139), critiquing the sovereign for setting up “who matters and who does not, who is disposable and who is not” (Butler 27). It emphasises “a world of reciprocal recognitions” (Fanon 170) in Rohit’s search for anything beyond human existence, exhibiting suicide in an extensive postscript on attitudes about death by stressing ontology and the existential state of being non-human. Applying these philosophical discourses, this article will finally bring to the fore how Rohit’s suicide in this documentary, “perhaps a justifiable evil” (Korich 179), becomes a final act of agential resistance, an act of bravery, one of the ‘new strategies’ of rebelling by preventing his corpses from being utilised for the profit of Brahminical apparatus.

Keywords: Dalit, subaltern, resistance, agency, identity, suicide.

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