Fathima Latheef: Public memory versus memory of the margin

By Raniya Zulaikha, TwoCircles.net

Memory is often a construct. There are many factors influencing the popular memory such as movies, newspapers, books and so on. One best example of such a construct is around the imageries of B.R. Ambedkar and M.K. Gandhi. Gandhian stories, his contribution to independence struggle as well as his death remain part of legendary history. While Ambedkar is mostly celebrated as a mere constitutionalist, but Ambedkar as an intellectual, wonderful mind and the one who questioned caste from the very foundations is never known, celebrated or is under a veil. Power structures, more precisely Brahmanical forces try hard to obscure the visibility of Ambedkar in order to prevent the so-called turbulence in the public sphere.

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Fathima Latheef, a student of IIT Madras, from the very moment of her martyrdom has been veiled or her visibility being denied. An institutional killing has been merely narrowed down to a case of suicide due to academic pressure. Fathima with her brilliant academic records had questioned the same simple narratives. Why is the cause of death obscured? Why couldn’t a country erupt to a massive protest? If it is not Islamophobia, then what is it?

This question strangles my mind as a student for the past one year. Fathima is still out of popular memory after a few moments of death. In other words, she is somewhere in the Brahmanical archives of killings of Muslim bodies. Being in a predominantly Brahmanical academic space with the brilliance was the first mistake every Muslim like Fathima could commit and Brahmanism will take away your life and erase you out of the memory. This act of omission limits our deaths into the realm of sacredness.

Fathima left a note to this world, where she clearly mentions the name of a professor and the problems of her existence being a Muslim girl and discrimination against her Muslim body. Her note could not find a value beyond the procedurals of a suicide note. The potential questions raised throughout her living experiences were erased in the very first moment. Many define it as her academic inability to withstand the pressure. It was by any means the second brutal killing in the public sphere after Rohith Vemula in the recent past. Oh! What else could you expect from Brahmanical state or nation?

Fathima’s death raises the question of justice. How minorities in the country are being treated in higher institutions. Therefore, the fight for Fathima and Rohith and many to count, who are no longer here, are a struggle for all of us. While the authorities are trying hard to erase these Bahujan lives from the memories, they are unable to do so because of the suicide notes left by them. It is a delusion that the subject can be reduced to arguments that suicide is caused by stress and a lack of social interaction.

There were even those who fabricated stories around the date of “November 8th” chosen to commit suicide. The underlying strategy was to portray suicides as a phenomenon created by a virtual conflict and bring the burden of death to themselves. But their suicide notes are able to compose something stronger than such narratives. Thousands of people vow to become another Fathima and Rohith every time they return to their last words.

Whatever the mainstream narrative, there shall be a day when Fathima will erupt as a thunderstorm on the Brahminic public sphere. Her note shall be raised as the foundation to jeopardize many similar narratives. A memory of margin deeply rooted with injustice against the discriminated minority of the nation before and after the death. The memory gives plenty of potential threat to the very foundations of Brahmanical public sphere. The memory shall erupt as rupture.

Fathima, our sincere prayers are for you, that you lived in the margins as a hero. You are one of the few who lives among us through death.


Raniya Zulaikha is a student of Political Science at Ramjas College, DU