January 17, 2023, marks the 7th death anniversary of a Dalit research scholar who died by suicide in 2016, Rohith Vemula. The 26-year-old student, in his harrowing suicide note, stated that his life was merely an accident.
A complaint was registered against Vemula for raising “issues under the banner of the Ambedkar Students Association”. The complainant in this case was the local unit of Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), the student wing of the BJP.
The complaint by the ABVP was taken up by Union Minister Bandaru Dattatreya, who later forwarded the complaint to the then HRD minister, Smriti Irani. Vemula’s fellowship of Rs. 25,000 was cancelled after the minister told the university to look into the matter.
Remembering #RohithVemula today. We will NOT forget this institutional murder of this scholar who could have become one of the India’s finest intellectuals. We all will live your thoughts, brother. Till the End.✊ pic.twitter.com/zQ1IbKGYCD
— Dr.RS Praveen Kumar (@RSPraveenSwaero) January 17, 2023
After his expulsion from the hostel, Vemula along with his four other friends set up a tent on the campus and began a relay hunger strike. In January, Vemula wrote a note and committed suicide. In his last note, he stressed his dreams which were to be left unfulfilled, and also mentioned that his “birth was his fatal accident.”
After his death, there were several doubts over Rohith’s caste. The government even put out records stating that he belonged to the Other Backward Castes and was not a Dalit.
Rohith’s mother was born to migrant labourers. However, she was later adopted by a woman from an upper caste named Anjani Devi. In a report to the Hindustan Times, she goes down memory lane to talk about the times when Rohith’s mother was adopted.
“Caste? What is caste? I am a Vaddera (OBC). Radhika’s parents were Mala (SC). I never bothered about her caste. She was like my own daughter. I married her to a man from my caste.”
Rohith’s mother was married off to a man named Mani Kumar, a Vaddera. The couple had three children, Rohith being the middle one. Reports suggest that Mani was an abusive man, but he became even more violent when he found out the real caste of his wife.
“Mani 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 (Rohith’s mother) in a report to Hindustan Times.
However, the same report suggested that not everything that Rohith’s adopted grandmother stated was the truth, as his friends narrated a different version.
“Radhika aunty and her children lived in her mother’s house like servants. They were expected to do all the work in the house while the others sat around. Radhika aunty has been doing the household work ever since she was a little girl.” said Riyaz, Rohith’s friend.
We miss you dear Rohith Vemula. It is your martyrdom which energizes crores of Ambedkarite students on university campuses and they assert their voices more strongly. The STAR still shines. pic.twitter.com/CJ711SaXEZ
— Mission Ambedkar (@MissionAmbedkar) January 17, 2023
Rohith Vemula Shahadath Din.🙏
Anna, your martyrdom has brought a revolution. You are always an inspiration of crores of Ambedkarite students to assert their space in the universities. We want to live life like you, not death. pic.twitter.com/7vkHgg7AwJ
— Suraj Kumar Bauddh (@SurajKrBauddh) January 17, 2023
The struggle to fight for justice, in this case, is still on. Several opposing forces to the government state that Vemula’s death was a blatant failure of the system and an extension of their discriminatory practices.