Rohith Vemula’s suicide is a firm reflection of how Universities and “Systems” perform Institutional Murder: of the mind, of the spirit, and of the students- particularly from the Bahujan communities.
On 17th of January 2016, Rohith Vemula, a Ph.D. student from Hyderabad Central University (HCU) hanged himself, after failing the fight against the system again and again, and again- all his life. He was suspended and expelled from the university due to the involvement of Bandaru Dattatreya, the then Minister of Labour and Employment and MP from Secunderabad (presently the Governor of Himachal Pradesh).
Dattatreya had written a letter to HRD Ministry-at the behest of ABVP members of HCU, claiming the university to be “a den of casteist, extremist and anti-national politics”- that was forwarded to the Vice-Chancellor P Appa Rao. This led to suspension and expulsion from the hostel of 5 students of the Ambedkar Student Association, including Rohith.
Since July 2015, the University also stopped paying his entitled scholarship. This is not a new tactic, a lot of prominent universities create administrative delay for Junior Research Fellowship (JRF) scholarships of marginalized students, particularly those who are active voices and belonging to lower class-caste circles, as a part of their vendetta politics.
Administration tends to think that their power to sit on scholarships is equivalent to ownership over marginalized students- their entitlements, and their hard work. Rohith was one of them. One of those for whom the scholarship money was the only way to sustain. One of those who spoke against the practiced casteism and ill doings in the University. One of those who did the mistake of being vocal and political while being marginalized. One of those had to face social isolation of being a Dalit all his life. One of those who had to see his mother Radhika, work through a marriage with an alcoholic and abusive husband and then struggle alone to meet ends for her and her children. One of those, who worked as a construction worker in his teenage, support his family and his own education. One of those, whose brother had to starve his way inside the Pondicherry University.
In his hometown Guntur, his estranged OBC father is a security guard and his Dalit mother was a tailor. I have purportedly mentioned their castes. Why? Because the government, their Intelligence Bureau and their friends in the media (including Arnab) wanted to prove that he is not a Dalit and his suicide was due to “personal reasons”.
“First, let me praise your dedicated take on the self-respecting movement of Dalits on the campus. When an ABVP president got questioned about his derogatory remarks on Dalits, your kind personal interference into the issue is historic and exemplary… I request your highness to make preparations for the facility’s ‘euthanasia’ for students… Please serve 10 milligrams of Sodium Azide to all the Dalit students at the time of admission…Supply a nice rope to the rooms of all Dalits students.”
Because Dattatreya, BJP MLC Ramchandra Rao, and VC Appa Rao, were charged with abetment of suicide under the Prevention of SC/ST Act, which collapsed when he was proven otherwise. Rohith’s admission to the University was based on the Scheduled Caste Certificate, but he is not a Dalit.
The twenty years of his childhood and teenage in a one-room house in Dalit Ghetto at Prakash Nagar, Guntur does not make him a Dalit. His mother’s identity, a Dalit adopted by Vaddera family, only to be treated as a servant and married off at 14 years of age (while the other “sisters” and “brothers” were graduates) did not make him a Dalit. His mother’s identity does not make him a Dalit. A mother has no role in a child’s identity, even if she singlehandedly did everything for him.
“Mani (Manikumar Vemula) was always abusive. But after he discovered my caste, he became even more violent. He would beat me almost every day and curse his luck for being cheated into marrying an untouchable.” said Radhika Vemula.
On 28th January, comedian Kunal Kamra heckled the Chief Editor of Republic TV, Mr. Arnab Goswami, for propagandizing Rohith Vemula’s death in 2017 as a suicide for “personal reasons” and delegitimizing the casteist oppression by questioning the caste of Radhika Vemula. He has been banned by 4 airplanes till now.
The delegitimization of Rohith’s caste status by the media did not change the perception of the people. He wished in his suicide letter that he will reach to stars after death. Here, he is and will always be- a star, a motivation for the Students Who Struggle. A man of social struggle, a lover of science- fascinated by nature, and the internet. Rohith, your struggle, has given your mother Radhika, strength, and courage to fight the casteist systems in different parts of India, with different students. She fondly tells them, “I’ve lost my Rohith, but I’ve found so many more Rohith in this struggle”.
Happy Birthday, Rohith.