Hyderabad: Four years after his suicide, Rohith Vemula’s memory lives on, at the University of Hyderabad campus and outside as well. Scores of students gathered at the Velivada on campus — a protest site built by Vemula and his colleagues after being suspended by the administration in 2016 — to raise slogans hailing him along with Dalit icons such as B.R. Ambedkar, Kanshi Ram and Jyotirao Phule.
The students also raised slogans in support of Payal Tadvi, the doctor from Mumbai who committed suicide after facing caste-based harassment, and P. Pranay, the Dalit youth who was killed by his father-in-law for marrying the daughter.
Vemula and four other student-colleagues were suspended after they were accused of assaulting an ABVP leader. Indicating caste-based discrimination in his suicide letter, Vemula famously wrote: “My birth is a fatal accident.”
The Ambedkar Students Association (ASA), to which Vemula belonged, organised a meeting on campus to mark “Rohit Shahadath Din”, to bring attention to caste-based discrimination. Vemula’s mother Radhika was invited to garland her son’s bust; she broke down while doing so. It was also attended by the parents of Payal Tadvi and Pra-nay’s father P. Balasw-amy. Chief guest AIMIM chief Asaduddin Owaisi, however, dropped out of the meeting.
Shahal, a student of the communication department and member of ASA, said Rohith Vemula continued to be an important person on campus. Though he enrolled in 2017 after Vemula died, he knew about the sordid affair. “I spoke to countless seniors who knew Rohit personally, worked and lived with him.”
Shahal said his seniors had told him about the problems they faced during the episode. “Some of them had to sleep in the open (during their sit-in protest after the suspension),” he said. Shahal said the Rohith Vemula episode is remembered with a “mixture of hope and hopelessness”.
Prashanth Dontha, one of the four suspended alongside Vemula, said the four years since the ordeal “have been very long”. Dontha said police cases filed against him and the others have made their lives difficult. “I tried to apply for a passport sometime ago,” he said. “It was denied due to the chargesheet against me (in the assault case).”
Dontha said Vemula was missed. “His was a fearless voice. He spoke up against everything he considered wrong. I am happy to see that he has not been forgotten. Solidarity marches in his memory are being organised across the country,” he said.
Dontha, a research scholar in UoH, cried foul that while he and his colleagues have been chargesheeted, the complaint of caste-based discrimination against the vice-chancellor has not yet been investigated.
The student community has also accused the administration of trying to erase Vemula’s memory. The previous night, the administration reportedly ordered the erasure of the Preamble and quotes of Ambedkar graffiti-ed near the Velivada. Inyivan, the president of ASA, said this was not new.
“In the past, they tried to remove the Velivada structure entirely. They always do this at the dead of the night, when we aren’t there to object. Four years on, Rohit’s memory still haunts them,” he said.