French philosopher Paul Ricoeur demonstrates how science-fiction allows us to deconstruct our humanity in ways otherwise inconceivable in the real world. Take identity, for example. Ricoeur devises a teleportation device that could transport an individual from one planet to another, piece by piece. He asks the reader then to figure out at what point the individual’s identity is reconstructed on the other planet. Is it once the entire process is complete? When the brain and its memories are transposed? Or perhaps when the ‘soul’ finds its new destination? Identity remains an elusive subject. It can mean many things according to personal convictions and, significantly, cultural baggage. Unless identity is concretely defined within a set of parameters, its discussion will inevitably involve widely diverging formulations.
India has one of the highest rates of suicides among people between the age of 15 and 29 years. Many of these are young adults in college and university who belong to marginalised communities. Between 2007 and 2017, 20 Dalit students committed suicide in India’s most premier institutes like IIT, IIM, AIIMS, and the University of Hyderabad. Now India’s most politically vibrant campus Jawaharlal Nehru University is also on the list with the recent suicide of a Dalit M.Phil student who hanged himself on March 13. His death leaves us dumbfounded as we seek explanations and reasons as to why he chose to end his life. Many have written about it, blaming the institution for this; many, including several student activists, found it a cowardly act. They proudly refer to Ambedkar, Birsa, Phule, Periyar, Marx and who fought the fight. Such activists perceive life in binaries: cowardly and brave; bourgeois and proletariat class; exploiter and exploited; upper and lower caste. Either you become a Gandhi or a Bhagat Singh. A middle path does not appear to be an option.