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Rohith and Lisa

1. People in the play

Sutradhar

The narrator

Dr V Ajay Sree Chandra (Ajay)

Student at Indian Institute of Sciences (IISc), Bengaluru, India. Ended his life on 27 August 2007. 

 

Dr Balmukund Bharti

Student at All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), Delhi, India. Ended his life on 3 March 2010.
 

Jaspreet Singh

Student at Govt Medical College (GMC), Chandigarh, India. Ended his life on 27 January 2008.


Manish Kumar

Student at Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Roorkee, India. Ended his life on 6 February 2011.


Payal Salim Tadvi

Student at Topiwala National Medical College and B.Y.L. Nair Hospital, Mumbai, India. Ended her life on 22 May 2019.


Rohith Chakravarti Vemula

Student at Hyderabad University, India. Ended his life on 17 January 2016.


WITH
Akhilesh “Akki” Jha

The only son of an Indian land-owning (zamindar) family, Akki has always been pampered. While he grew up shuttling between Patna and New Delhi, home was always the zamindar ki haveli. Akki has two elder sisters and a younger brother, but he knows that he will have to take on the responsibility of the family, the business and the family lands one day. But for now, he is enjoying studying Management & Economics at this British university. Akki’s family has a conservative outlook, steeped in the mainstream patriarchal culture of Bihar, which Akki has never questioned. He revels in the respect and perceived adoration as the “zaminder’s son and heir” both from his extended family who look up to his father and grandfather, and all the people in his district. 


Hari Ramakrishnan

Hari is from New Delhi and doing a MA in Big Data Studies. His career goal is a tenured chair at a university, teaching and researching. Hari is a proud Hindu Indian and believes in the superiority of his religious beliefs. He visits the local temple in the university town as often as he can. But he also has made a small temple on a table in a corner of his room so he can seek God’s blessings every morning. Hari is comfortable with the social norms he has grown up with but loves the freedoms he experiences in the university, now that he is no longer living under his parents’ eyes. So Hari’s favourite pastime is debating and a member of the same student association as Sam. He frequently participates in campus discussions around life in India, which he defends to the best of his ability. 


Latha “LG” Guruswamy

LG is a third-generation non-resident Indian (NRI), the youngest of two daughters of her doctor parents. Her family and Sam’s are neighbours in a small tourist-attraction town close to the university. She has been friends with Sam and Lisa since high school. LG is studying law but takes a keen interest in sociological topics and belongs to a sociology study group. Latha is in a live-in relationship with Zara, a journalism student at the university she met in the study group. Latha’s parents are unaware that she is a lesbian, or that she is in an existing relationship, and are scouting around for a suitable boy for their beloved daughter.


Lisa Holmes

Lisa is studying sociology. She is Black British. Her grandparents came to Britain from the Caribbean on the Windrush. Lisa grew up in a single parent household, with her mother working two low-wage jobs to keep the family together. Lisa is well clued into the social pressures and concerns that come with her background and is determined to fulfil her grandmother’s dream of having an academic in the family. But she knows how to keep her life well-balanced and has been together with Sam since high school. They live together in rented student accommodation. Lisa also loves gospel singing and is part of her local church choir.

 

Manu Mathuru

Manu is from New Delhi and came to this university four years ago for his MA in Anthropology on a scholarship and has stayed on do to his Doctorate in Development Studies as he was won a grant for it. He did his Bachelor’s rom St Stephen’s College in Delhi. Manu enjoys debating and that’s how he met up with Hari on campus. They hold opposing views on many subjects, but their mutual respect and common Indian background has resulted in an unlikely friendship.


Samir “Sam” Kulkarni

Sam is a second-generation NRI with a liberal upbringing, doing his MA in Management Science and Engineering. Sam’s father is a wealthy corporate and his mother is a society lady, on the board of many charities. Sam has bolstered his limited first-hand exposure to India with reading, watching films/documentaries. He loves discussing many aspects of India with his friends and family back home. Lately he has joined many WhatsApp discussion groups, which he thinks helps him understand current affairs quickly.


The setting

In a space in the university town of Bristol, UK. The six university friends are chilling out on a warm Saturday night after a day out in the city.


Acknowledgement

Some of the dialogues in this skit are reproduced or paraphrased excerpts from the documentary series Death of Merit. This series of documentaries was prepared by a team of Insight Foundation, New Delhi. We thank Insight Foundation for their permission to use the excerpts.

 

2. Script for Rohith and Lisa

Note: depending on number of people, Rohith and Lisa's dialogues may be read by two people or the same person. The facilitator will let you know.


Ajay
Jaspreet: My parents … ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ignored me …


Rohith: I want to become a writer of science, like Carl Sagan. But in educational institutions where liberal and humanist ideas are supposed to prevail, we Ambedkarite students were targeted and suspended on a complaint by RSS's student wing, even the state and central minister got involved in our suspension and rejection of fellowship. The only source for my education and the sustenance of my family.


Ajay
Balmukund:
Akki:
Manu
Sam
Hari
Sam
Latha “LG”
Manu
Akki
Sam
Manu
Latha “LG”
Sam
Hari: Aah!!!!!


Lisa: What happened?


Hari: I just … ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... merit?

 
Lisa: And then to get rid of reservations Akki, all you have to do is create a level playing field. A good starting point I would say is for the government to provide free and good quality primary education for all -- everyone goes to their neighbourhood school, no “choices”! But the awful stories I’ve read about Indian government-run schools, so neglected and the education is often of poor quality. In reality, those who can afford, take private coaching, But what if I don’t have the money for private coaching? 


Latha “LG”
Manu
Akki: Cultural capital means …


Lisa: That kids subconsciously absorb some “messages”, whether spoken or unspoken. So in a family where going to elite English-medium unis and colleges is something everyone does, a kid will often automatically think of following the same path – it’s because there’s an unspoken culture of certain kind of education being part of that family’s collective identity. I mean, Akki, how many times was this discussed even in your home in the village? Or did you just “know” you would go to uni after school?


Hari
Sam
Manu
Latha "LG"
Sam
Manu

---- Pause for 2 seconds ----

Jaspreet
Manish
Jaspreet

---- Pause for 2 seconds ----

Ajay

---- Pause for 2 seconds ----

Payal

---- Pause for 2 seconds ----

Ajay

---- Pause for 2 seconds ----

Balmukund: I used to … ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... like this?

---- Pause for 2 seconds ----

 

Rohith: I would not be around when you read this letter. The value of a man was reduced to his immediate identity and nearest possibility. To a vote. To a number. To a thing. Never was a man treated as a mind... 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 … Some people, for them, life itself is a curse. My birth is my fatal accident ... If there is anything at all I believe, I believe I can travel to the stars. And know about other worlds … If you, who is reading this letter, can do anything for me, I have to get seven months of my fellowship …. Please see to it that my family is paid that …Do not shed tears for me. Know that I am happy dead than being alive. ...For one last time, Jai Bhim … 

---- Pause for 2 seconds ----

Balmukund

---- Pause for 2 seconds ----

Payal: I am … ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... her?

---- Pause for 2 seconds ----

Rohith: I heard that after I had gone, there was a debate on whether I was a Dalit or from some other backward class … despite having submitted an SC certificate to the university at the time of admission. No one in the institutions and government was worried why any student would have been so pressurised so as to commit suicide! The discussion was only: what caste was he? 

---- Pause for 2 seconds ----

Ajay: I am … ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... be recognised … 

---- Pause for 2 seconds ----

Rohith: I had been expelled for protesting against the highhandedness of the authorities. Sleeping out in the open since 4th Jan, when the doors to my room and those of my fellow protestors were illegally locked, even though we had been quietly studying in our rooms following our suspension. Ambedkar taught us that fighting is the only option left to break slavery. Education should be available to everyone, irrespective of caste or religion. I gave up my life for my right to education!

---- Pause for 2 seconds ----

 

Sutradhar:  

Video to play

Sutradhar

END

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