A young girl aspiring to be an IAS, studying in what has been ranked as the Best (Girl’s) College in the country, takes her life in despair when she receives a notice from her college authorities to vacate her hostel room unless she clears the dues within the deadline. Her family is too poor to manage the sum. And the bright youngster, who had—despite the un-level playing field—been competing with the best and the brightest in the land and had ‘won’ a place, decided that she couldn’t be a burden on her family any longer.
According to reports, she had been tense and increasingly desperate (though not outwardly depressed) as she feared that her inability to cope with digital classes may lead to her failing miserably in the exams. She couldn’t afford even a second-hand laptop. She decided not to chase a dream—a dream for a better future for herself and her family—that had turned into a nightmare and exited this cruel world. The grief-stricken and hopeless father, a motor mechanic in Telangana, has expressed the hope that the government takes steps to ensure that no other family suffers a tragic loss like this.
It may seem to some, that the shattered dreams of an individual are of little consequence in a country of 1.35 billion people confronted with so many complex challenges—a diabolical enemy at our border, a pandemic that refuses to subside and has played havoc with the economy, and a society deeply divided along caste and sectarian fault lines. One could add to this ever-growing list the ideological battle between ultra-nationalists trying to impose their vision of a glorious mythic past on contemporary India and those who choose to identify themselves as liberals and secular-democrats.
Unfortunately, these words have acquired strange meanings, far removed from their original intent, in India today. The western concepts of Liberalism, Secularism and even representative Democracy have mutated into what for the self-styled vigilante ‘patriots’ are alien apparitions. They use ‘Libtard’ as a damning abuse after which there is no scope for a fair trial or due process of law. The Grand Visionaries of Right and Left can dismiss the death of dreams of individuals for the Greater Good, but they do at their own peril. No vision can survive—far less, be realised—if the unnamed and faceless masses don’t share it. There has to be correspondence and overlap between dreams of an individual and the ambition and aspiration of national leaders.
We have been so preoccupied with ‘achievements’ and unprecedented ‘accomplishments’ of the governments—both at the Centre and the states—that we have little time to notice the flickering flames struggling against the wing being extinguished by apathy. The headlines celebrate not only launching of rockets to place multiple satellites in orbit and our capacity to supply vaccines to all the needy in the world, but also of the stunning performance of cricketers competing in the IPL tamasha and suicides of celebrities or those who allegedly were forced to commit suicide as the rich and the powerful owing them huge sums of money refused to pay up.
The words ‘abetment to suicide’, once only of interest to students and practitioners of Law, have become a household phrase—a debased cliché. Isn’t it pertinent to ask that who all abetted the suicide of the underprivileged girl in Telangana—a student of the prestigious LSR College? Only the soul-dead, stone-hearted among us can shrug their shoulders and say, “Didn’t the poor girl know that she was daring to dream and trying to keep alive something that was stillborn?” She dared to dream but what about the people who cared not a whit about her dream or were prepared to share some of their ‘savings’ or contribute to a fund that deals not only with national calamities but provides succour to scholars in similar plight? Could the college have taken a more compassionate view and extended the deadline for clearing hostel dues?
We must hasten to underline that it’s not the case of one individual who has now become statistics in cases of suicide. The person dying by one’s own hand may be a debt-ridden marginal farmer, a migrant labour or a daily wage-earner who is unable to feed his family after the lockdown, or a victim of rape unable to live with ignominy and knowing with certainty that the criminals will never be punished for their crime, especially if they enjoy political patronage or are shielded by caste kinsmen.
Whenever elections are near we are deafened by the noise of the number of laptops and bicycles that have been distributed to needy students, particularly girls. They just seem to exist on paper. Ditto for scholarships announced. We are left musing the paraphrased lines of the Punjabi poet ‘Pash’: “Nothing is more dangerous than the death of our dreams!”
Former professor, Jawaharlal Nehru University email@example.com