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How Do Revolutionaries Die?

By Daljit Ami

15 February, 2016

To our immense grief, after Rohith Vemula, Navkaran has also committed suicide. This suicide is yet another in the long list of suicides but it also illustrates complex questions related to the spate of suicides in recent times. Navkaran was a full timea ctivist of a communist group Revolutionary Communist League of India (RCLI). He was 22 years old. His last post on Facebook was pictures of the demonstration by students of Panjab University, Chandigarh in solidarity with Rohith Vemula. It is ironical that when the people were discussing Rohith Vemula's last letter, Navkaran was composing his suicide note. Like Rohith Vemula, Navkaran too does not address anyone or sign off with his name on his letter. Reading the letter breaks one's heart but since someone who sought a drastic overhaul of the present scenario writes it, it is necessary to read it. The letter is composed of stand alone sentences:

Maybe I should have decided to do this a long time back but what stopped me was my cowardice.

The time has come. Right from the beginning I have believed the chosen time will come. It has been a strong firm belief in the inevitability of this time. I am exhausted upon containing the twin thoughts inside me. I don’t have as much goodness as those with whom I joined hands. Maybe that is why I could not keep up pace with them. Friends, please forgive me.

I also seek forgiveness from a tender loving soul. Please forgive me. I am a deserter but not a traitor.


I have taken this decision out of my own weakness. I am left with no greater task to perform. If possible, please make a little concession for me when you think of me.

The great rupture in the words of this letter can perplex a reader. From the letter it is clear that those who knew Navkaran closely and spent their daily routine with him will better understand some of hiswords. The letter tells us that Navkaran could not feel the kind of 'goodness' he sensed in his friends and keep up pace' with them fully and he felt 'exhausted' so he kept putting away the decision but at last 'chosen' time arrived when instead of his 'cowardice and weakness' he prefered to death. Besides the rupture that the words of the letter cause, one aspect of his character comes to the fore: he is composing the letter with great caution. The question that the letter raises is: how were the terms 'deserter' and 'traitor' used in the environment in which he lived?

Navkaran's and Rohith's letters are significant because both of them were engaged activists. Navkaran's letter de-layers a complex aspect of Rohith Vemula's letter. Rohith asks his Ambedkar Students Association family for 'forgiveness for disappointing all of you,' and Navkaran asks his comrades to deal with his death with some 'concession'. Rohith says 'people may dub me as a coward. And selfish, or stupid once I am gone. I am not bothered about what I am called,' (after my death). Navkaran says 'I am a deserter but not a traitor'. Rohith explains his condition, 'I am not hurt at this moment. I am not sad. I am just empty. Unconcerned about myself. That’s pathetic. And that’s why I am doing this.' Navkaran says, '(now) the time has come. Right from the beginning I have believed the chosen time will come. It has been a strong firm belief of inevitability.'

Both the letters are also significant because they are from the same time frame. Until their last breath, both Rohith and Navkaran remained active with their organizations. Both of them wanted to bring in the revolution. What can be a better reason to live than to strive to change the times, be part of a revolution? We know that those who are sensitive, filled with empathy, choose to become activists. Those engaged in a resistance to the dominant systems are the cream of the society. Although this notion of ‘cream’ is not unquestionable.

Organizations or movements that seek change function as a state within their area of influence. The organizations or movements may or may not overthrow the system but their writ rules over activists. If activists are shaped by the policies of the system they are resisting or fighting against, they are also influenced by the discipline of the organizations to which they belong. The dream and search for a new human determines the behaviour of those engaged in the common goal. The question that arises is: how does alternative politics treat those who suffer under the onslought of systemic decadence? Organizations engaged in revolutions argue that people should throw away their humiliation and systemic shackles and walk the path of rebellion. In the past few years the often repeated call is that instead of suicide the oppressed should mobilize, organize and join groups which are on the path of protest.

Organized people grow with individualsensitivity to collective sensibility. Organizations push person to realize that the reason for the pain is not individual failure or fate but systemic oppression. They build camaraderie among the oppressed. Theyprioritise one's energies towards common goals. Theybreak the bondage to shame, socially defined acceptable behaviour or the need to hide oneself and give the space to come out in the open and participate with a group as a social being. Yet, we need to ask: how much gap exists between the promise/assertions and the practice of revolution?

Rohith and Navkaran's suicides demand that the assertions of those who 'seek to change the times' be analysed. If Rohith commits suicide after a protest meet then his comrades need to reflect upon how did someone who lost faith in the system and sought to drastically change the times lack the warmth and nourishment need to live and fall prey to suicide? The resistance organizations who explain away the death by saying their friend 'left from emptiness' need to also consider their own failure in creating a system which would have kept Navkaran alive. If the system seeks to throttle those who call for a revolution, why do those who wish to resist ignore the heartbeats of their fellow beings while they endeavour to become machines for the execution of the revolution?
The dominant political system maintains that the reason for suicide were personal. It seeks to absolve itself of the blame of being the killer. On the other hand the revolutionaries label every question against their method to malicious campaigns or being a conformist to the system. As a result, when the revolutionaries lose their infatuation with the revolution they turn their face from all forms of resistance. Many of them from their own experience declare such resistances meaningless.

If the current system labels the questions asked on Rohith as 'anti-national' or 'naxalite' or 'against Hindutva', those engaged in changing the times label the questions as 'malicious campaigns' or 'traitors to the cause'. Yet, these questions must be repeatedly asked. Paash said, 'If those engaged in changing the times won't die from fever.' If Paash were alive today, he would have said, ‘they won't die from analyses either.’

We need to ask ourselves: when he had so many friends, why did the revolutionary Rohith Vemula find life empty? Why Navkaran finds suicide inevitable? Why are they asking forgiveness and concessions?

Daljit Ami is an independent filmmaker from Punjab and have made about a dozen documentary films on different issues of Punjab. I have worked as freelance journalist for about two decades. I have worked with Punjabi Tribune, Day and Night News and BBC Hindi. Recently I have translated Amandeep Sandhu's novel Roll of Honour from English to Punjabi as Gwah De Fanah Hon Toh Pehilan.

Amandeep Sandhu translated this article from Punjabi. He is working on a non-fiction book on Punjab.



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