Hyderabad Central University PhD student Rohith Vemula ended his life and left a note for us. The note is one of the most profound ones that I have come across. It is a question of philosophy as well as of society that makes individuals. This letter is so rich in its words and meanings that, even after a suicide being central to it, it’s deep in its simplicity and intellect.
Here is an excerpt which I would like you to read:
“I am writing this kind of letter for the first time. My first time of a final letter. Forgive me if I fail to make sense.
May be I was wrong, all the while, in understanding world. In understanding love, pain, life, death. There was no urgency. But I always was rushing. Desperate to start a life. All the while, some people, for them, life itself is curse. My birth is my fatal accident. I can never recover from my childhood loneliness. The unappreciated child from my past.
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.
People may dub me as a coward. And selfish, or stupid once I am gone. I am not bothered about what I am called.”
Before we start judging a person as coward, we must remember a very simple fact that it pains when the doctor inserts a needle in our flesh even for our own good. Here, someone ended his life. People jump off the roofs, in front of a coming train, poison themselves, slit their throat, shoot themselves in mouth etc. These are as violent as they sound apart from being extremely painful last experience for the person.
Can a coward pull the trigger when the shotgun is in his/her mouth? Can a coward light the matchstick after pouring kerosene all over her body? Can a mad person execute a perfect plan to kill him/herself by making sure he/she will die for sure after doing the act? Mad people can’t calculate and cowards can’t take the bravest step. Mad and coward people die or get killed, they don’t commit suicides.
So for a moment, let’s stop judging them with our simple words as if blaming the government for a dirty road. Someone decided to kill himself. He can’t be a coward.
The letter from Rohith explains it when he says, “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. People may dub me as a coward. And selfish, or stupid once I am gone. I am not bothered about what I am called.”
Rohith’s expression is a question to the society that look what have you made of an individual. The society creates an atmosphere where a PhD fellow becomes ‘unconcerned about’ himself and realises ‘that’s pathetic’.
The question is why? There is no need of your judgemental adjectives. He knows what he is doing. He knows this habit of carrying on and go on living is not worth the trouble, as Camus says.
Albert Camus writes, “It (suicide) is merely confessing that that “is not worth the trouble.” Living, naturally, is never easy. You continue making the gestures commanded by existence for many reasons, the first of which is habit. Dying voluntarily implies that you have recognized, even instinctively, the ridiculous character of that habit, the absence of any profound reason for living, the insane character of that daily agitation, the uselessness of suffering.”
Rohith’s letter is in line with what Camus says about absurdity of life and the moment of consciousness when one decides, ‘that’s it’. The point of realisation might be anything. It can be the indifference of a friend, society, the culture of a place which forces him to feel empty.
This absence of thoughts gives birth to the question: should one carry on or quit?
We can’t judge him as a coward. His words are truly philosophic and convinces me why the hell should one live when there is no reason to do it. An individual is an individual first, later on he is a son, brother, friend and family. When the fundamental of existence is questioned, the first thought is related to the person.
In that moment, however selfish it sounds, individual is concerned about his own existence in philosophic ways: should I continue for the sake of living, for the sake of society, for the happiness of my family and friends, or should I analyse whether or not should I continue in ‘absence of any profound reason for living’?
The character of a human is fundamentally selfish. Selfish in the sense that it all ends at ‘will I be happy/content doing something?’ This content/happiness can be borne our of others happiness that you seek. Their happiness might bring calm to you.
But what to do when there is an absence of that reason to be happy or keep others happy (for your happiness) as you realise there is no point in doing that. Why should I live for others when I never chose to come to this world in the first place! This question is not common but it exists for some.
The recognition of the self that the social aspect of living is too much to handle, ‘not worth the trouble’, the trigger is pulled. We must recognise the fact that self is prepared by the society, it is reared by the society and the society expects it to live in the norms created by a majority.
Rohith Vemula is a rebel against the majority which builds identities, thoughts, thought processes and social boundaries. Rohith is an intellectual of finest order. He is neither mad nor coward.
He became an enlightened soul prior to the moment he ended his life. He hit the realisation that we, entangled in our lives with our reasons to live, don’t always come across or convince ourselves to counter. Rather than pulling a paralysed self around (and inside) the fences built by society (however ridiculous and thorny they are), Rohith said a big NO to the majority and its ways.
The majority is not always right, not for everyone. That’s why there are suicides and there are so may of them. People change the bus for another stop. People fly to other places in search for something. The society has only one thing to do: make yourself easy and comfortable for all those live inside your premises.
It must look for ways to counter this existential question. It must stop assigning identities and prioritising which one must stay at top and what are the privileges it must command whereas the bottom most identity is devoid of any such receptions.
Think life as a journey where you don’t find the place good enough for you and you decide to end the journey there and start afresh. Here, death is the only way out of that journey to start afresh. Just because we are not sure what happens after the death, we can’t judge people for deciding to go to Swiss Alps after he was mid way in to the African Safari. Maybe, he didn’t like the heat or the lions. That’s it. Just because you like the heat, why judge people who seek cold places!