Justice for Fathima Latheef: Normalisation of Islamophobic violence in Indian institutions

Fathima Latheef

The institutional murder of nineteen year old Fathima Latheef at IIT Madras has once again hogged the national limelight on the oppressive nature of India’s higher educational institutions, especially technical institutions. The stark irony of anti-caste movement is the mocking fact that the very educational institutions established to ensure upward mobility of marginalised sections continue to benevolently patronize the neo-casteism. The advent of backward classes to the world of education, hitherto monopolised by upper castes, with the prodding of reservation led to some cosmetic changes, while the larger questions of caste and religious identity still haunt the educational institutions.

While the caste subjugation is manifest through various, surreptitious demonstrations, the entrance of assertive new generation of Muslims festeredthe vicious thoughts of Islamophobia. Accentuation of right wing hegemony after Mandal and Masjid politics brought the Muslim progress also into serious loggerheads with the Brahmanical disdain. The Muslim community taking up educational route for empowerment forsaking the forlorn political solutions has practically incensed the traditional edifice of Brahmanism. Alarming increase in the Islamophobic rhetoric is the foul cry against the Muslim community attempting to rally along New India.

The suicide of Fathima Latheef follows the league of martyrs like PayalTadvi, RohitVemula and the abduction of Najeeb who were hapless prey to the Brahmanical ploy to psychologically alienate and eliminate the assertive Dalit and minority students and down the lane clear the institutions of ‘less meritorious students’.

In her suicide note Fathima Latheef had named SudarsanPadmanabhan as the motive for the extreme act.Religious discrimination and lack of emotional support to the distressed mind is said to be the cause of suicide. ‘Dad, my name is problem’ as mentioned by her in her note, encapsulates the tragic incident. Brazen act of professor to deny the mark she was worthy for because of her religion definitely might have hurt the tender mind of nineteen year old student. The emotional trauma of institutional injustice pricked the dignity of the student leading to suicide.

The casteist hegemony is on a crusade to psychologically hurt the self-respect of Dalits and minorities and marginalise them from upward mobility.. Students from backward classes are hastily labelled as inferior in the merit and unfit to compete with upper caste students. By committing suicide after succumbing to caste tirades of Brahmanism, students from Dalits and minority communities are losing the battle for honourable existence in independent India. Moreover, these tragic incidents will douse the emerging passion among oppressed classes to pursue higher studies in prestigious institutions.

In order to objectively analyse the suicide of Fathima Latheef and take precautions not to recur institutional murder anymore, two myths needs to be busted. First, the blanket vindication of all suicides only as inability of Dalits and Muslims to withstand the academic pressureof elite institutions is far from reality. The citation of academic pressure behind the suicide is a veiled attempt to portray these institutions as a preserve of learned upper castes. The hollow argument could be easily blunted if we take the statics and patterns of suicides. Why the academic pressure is stacked only against Dalits and Muslims who are more exposed to the harsh realities of life compared to pampered life of upper castes?

The second faux pas, often deliberately committed by the left, is the denial of religious or caste underpinnings behind the tortures leading to violence. This narrative of left comes from their limited understanding of caste and religious discriminations ubiquitous in India. In their ideological compulsion to disown caste and religious aspects of social discrimination, the incredulous left intelligentsia toe the identical line of caste and Islamophobic proponents.

The Islamophobic violence in Indian campuses is not a discreet phenomenon today. The Islamophobic violence in India is fundamentally at contrast with the massive forms often reported from the west. But the harsh fact isthat it is and will be dominating the discourses regarding Muslims in India. Its political expression is a pet topic of right wing, whereas intellectual Islamophobia is prevalent and well-entrenched, especially within academia. The BJP’s social reengineering under Modi regime according insignificant space for Dalits in Brahmin dominated Hindu structure, has erroneously signalled the bogus inclusion of disadvantaged Hindu sections into wider Hindu society; thus signalling Muslim identity as the most potent enemy to confront with. This changed perception is attributed as the reason for increasing Islamophobic violence in India.

While the investigation is in full swing in the case, efforts to give immunity to  the culprits need to be opposed. Authorities need to ensure that the educational space is inclusive bereft of caste or religious prejudices. Islamophobic violence is clear affront to our secular ethos and need to be dealt with sternly. By restoring justice to the bereaved family of Fathima Latheef, the state and institution will help improve the progress of Muslim and Dalit communities.

Mubashir VP,  MA Islamic Studies,  Jamia Millia Islamia





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