|Students of Jawaharlal Nehru University protest in New Delhi on Sept. 3, 2016 demanding a speedy investigation into the death of scholar Rohit Vemula of Hyderabad University, who committed suicide on January 17, 2016. (Photo by Bijay Kumar Minj)|
The suicide of a Dalit research student at New Delhi's prestigious Jawaharlal Nehru University because he could not withstand caste-based discrimination is a matter of grave concern for rights activists and church people.
The body of 28-year-old J. Muthukrishnan was found hanging at a friend's residence on March 13. While there was no suicide note, he wrote on Facebook on March 10 that he was facing discrimination for being a Dalit. "When equality is denied everything is denied," he said.
Father Z. Devasagaya Raj, a rights activist and secretary of the Indian bishops' Office for Dalits and Indigenous People is worried. "It is a warning for all of us to explore why Dalit students are taking such drastic steps," he said.
Muthukrishnan's death comes after another Dalit research student Rohit Vemula committed suicide on Jan. 17, 2016 after he faced caste-based discrimination. "My birth is my fatal accident," he wrote in his suicide note.
A medical board at New Delhi's All India Institute of Medical Sciences conducted an autopsy and confirmed Muthukrishnan killed himself. The board said the death was due to asphyxia on March 14.
Father Raj said Dalits and tribal students are harassed in educational institutions because elite groups are threatened "when they see a student who they consider lower-class excel."
Thomas Franklin Caesar, a Supreme Court lawyer and Dalit activist, said whether suicide or murder, "it was unfortunate" that police registered a case after almost 40 hours "because the delay can influence the case."
"No one is there to raise their voice for Dalits in society or in courts. Since Dalit people are too [socially] weak to retaliate, it is safe to attack them," he said.
Dalit means "trampled upon" in Sanskrit and refers to groups of people who were once considered untouchable and outside the four-tied Hindu caste system. About 60 percent of India's 25 million Christians are of Dalit and tribal origin.
Although the caste system is outlawed, social discrimination continues. According to the National Crime Records Bureau, 47,064 crimes against Dalits were registered in 2014, up from 33,655 in 2012, an increase in line with the rise of Hindu nationalism.
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