The scepticism with which many of us scroll through social media updates turns into keen interest when we come across posts by the recently deceased, especially if the latter have died in tragic circumstances.
The last message J Muthukrishanan, or Rajini Krish as he called himself on Facebook, posted on the social media platform speaks of inequality, drawing on an example from his own life, as he was wont to in many of his posts. The 27-year-old Dalit research student at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), New Delhi, was not one to shy away from the hard truths, which he brought vividly to life in his inimitable telling.
In a style that seems characteristic of him, Krish, as he was known to his friends, referred to himself in the third person, as "Jeeva's son" (elsewhere he includes his mother, Alamelu, too, in the description), as if he was keeping a clinical distance between two entities: the living human hand that typed the testimony and the person whose experiences it was trying to recreate.
The story he recounted was heart-wrenching, one of humiliation and insult while trying to bring back dried fish from the market to his family. Ignored by a friend and ostracised by a bus-full of passengers, Krish was rudely shown his station in life, relegated to him by the virtue of his birth and caste. Here's the full post.
Since his alleged suicide on Monday, tributes from friends have been pouring in on Krish's Facebook page, bristling from shock, grief and anger. Jeevanandam, Krish's father, has alleged foul play. His son had gone to Delhi, having endured a long and hard struggle, to study, he said, not to kill himself.
His classmates remember him as an intelligent and hardworking who spoke to everyone he met and was usually cheerful. His charm, wit and goofiness are apparent from many of his Facebook posts too. Even amidst the horrific incidents he recalled from his life and those of others, he often injected a shade of humour, however wry.
It took Krish several attempts to get into JNU. Unable to clear the qualifying examinations or the interview to the MA and MPhil-PhD programmes multiple times, he didn't give up. Not only did he save money "like an ant", as he said, he rewrote his personal statement 38 times, improved his English (the language proved to be one of the hurdles), before he finally cracked it. His pride, tinged with a self-deprecating humour, was evident from the photograph he posted of himself after getting through the prestigious institution.
For a young man so full of fight, undaunted by poverty or the bigotry of caste since his early years, such an exit seems particularly incredulous. While the police probe into his death, Krish has left behind his words in his blog DALITerature, as well as on social media, which keep the warmth of his feelings and the courage of his conviction burning for posterity.
Like Rohith Vemula, a PhD student at Hyderabad University who he knew and admired, Krish spoke against the blight of caste in the sharpest of terms. After Vemula committed suicide in 2016, he posted about his "anna" (brother), a fellow crusader in the struggle for equality, who he had met all of six times but felt profoundly impressed by.
When Vemula's mother came to join the students demanding justice for her son's death, Krish sat next to her, looking at her as though she was his own mother. In a post outlining that encounter, he portrayed a dire picture of the future, where the anarchy that currently infects the fabric of society would assume a horrific form. His words are graphic and haunting.
Dear anti-nationals, let me tell you, one day this nation's leader is going to sell all. Just for a selfie and for a standing ovation from the outsiders. Hundreds and hundreds of Dappa Rao's are going to kill thousands of Rohiths and they are going to say, "He/She was a gifted student". All the intellectuals from the marginalised communities will get arrested just for mocking fictional characters. At the same time, all the leading national institutes will be headed by people who cannot even clear the 10th standard exam. These people claim dissenters as anti-nationals and seditious. They are going to kill many Rohiths, like us, just for eating beef, for being rational, for being intellectually productive for the country. But we are the real sons of this land and after we are all killed, there will be no nation.
Shockingly, the wave of public sympathy, from the honest to the hypocrite alike, for "gifted students" that Krish had predicted have come pouring in, almost on cue, with a bitter, scathing irony, since his death.
Elsewhere Krish writes about his beloved grandmother, Sellammal, who he thought of when he first saw the Taj Mahal. A sanitary worker at a school all her life, she had told her grandson she found dignity in cleaning 'somebody [else's] kid's ass' than being dependent on her offspring. When Krish informed her he was leaving for Delhi and asked for financial help, she managed to scrounge together ₹40 for him. Her grandson seemed to have embraced her fiercely independent spirit like a legacy, remembering her on Facebook after she died, since he couldn't make it back home for her last rites due to lack of money.
The other significant influence on Krish was Kabali, superstar Rajinikanth's blockbuster movie, where he plays a character who stands up to the oppression of caste. So moved was he by the grit of this role, Krish posted a video on Facebook, mimicking his famous "Kabali da" dialogue.
The frustration that is so palpable from Vemula's collected writing, edited by journalist Nikhila Henry after his death and published by Juggernaut Books as #CasteIsNotARumour: The Online Diary of Rohith Vemula, comes through in Krish's anguished post after Vemula's suicide. Almost shaking with rage, he resorts to all caps, calling out the double standards of democracy, demanding answers, knowing all too well that there would be nothing but stony silence in response.
"We are made of Stardust and Dewdrops. We are amazing, even without worldly accomplishments. Because we are not ordinary," Vemula had written in October 2014, two years before he would chilling refer to star dust again in his parting note from the world. "The value of a man was reduced to his immediate identity and nearest possibility. To a vote. To a number. To a thing," he wrote before killing himself. "Never was a man treated as a mind. As a glorious thing made up of star dust. In every field, in studies, in streets, in politics, and in dying and living."
Vemula's lament finds resonance again in Krish's death — in the sudden extinction of the fire of activism that burnt bright in him and continues to do so in the words he's left behind.
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