Rohith Vemula’s suicide was a protest

Agnes Amala, PhD scholar, centre for human rights department and ASA member, spoke to Mona Ramavat.

 |  4-minute read |   18-01-2016
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The Ambedkar Students Association (ASA) sees research scholar Rohith Vemula’s suicide on campus at university of Hyderabad as a Dalit versus non-Dalit issue.

In August 2015, after Akhil Bhartiya Vidhyarthi Parishad (ABVP) representative, Susheel Kumar posted a remark that called ASA members “goons” on his Facebook wall, we never imagined we’d lose one of our brightest minds less than six months later. Rohith Vemula, a PhD scholar who committed suicide on Sunday has left the student community on campus shocked and it is a huge loss for the ASA.

An apology was demanded from Susheel Kumar, which he obliged to. However, he alleged that he was intimidated by about 30 ASA members and beaten up too. But the medical examination confirmed no such claim.

When the issue was brought before the university administration, both parties were issued a strong warning. Following this, a month later, five dalit students including Rohith were suspended for a semester.

Also read: Dalit scholar Rohith Vemula's suicide note

After student protests, the then Vice Chancellor (V-C), professor R P Sharma revoked the suspension and announced that a fresh inquiry will be made into the matter.

Eventually, in December last year, the five students were expelled from their hostels with their rooms locked with restrictions on all campus facilities except their classrooms and the library.

The expulsion was initiated by the current V-C, professor Apparo Podile, without any fresh inquiry. They were sleeping out in the open and protesting for the last 14 days. Rohith had a wheezing trouble and yet he didn’t have a choice but to sleep out in the cold.

Rohith, we are told always called his mother back in Guntur a couple of times a day. Since she didn’t hear from him all of yesterday, she happened to call one of his friends to find out if all was well. That is when we realised that he wasn’t to be seen anywhere yesterday.

He was found hanging from the fan on Sunday in one of the research scholar rooms on campus. Ironically, it was a banner that we use for welcoming SC/ST and dalit fresher students at the beginning of the academic year, that was seen around his neck, through the window of the room.

It is sad and disheartening how a rationally thinking and intellectually driven student like Rohith ended his life. He was not cowardly, nor overtly emotional. He was one of the most balanced ones among us.

He enjoyed talking to the other students and shared his views with them about practically anything. Over the last couple of days, we saw him quiet down a bit. He was around on Saturday. We attended a meeting together. On Sunday, he was gone.

It is only clear that the expelled students were subjected to exploitation, discrimination and a form of humiliation.

Also read: Rohith's suicide was not due to 'personal problems', read his letter to V-C

We feel that the V-C, professor Apparao Podile eventually initiated the expulsion of the these five dalit students under pressure from external influences including BJP MLC, Ramchandra Rao and minister for labour, Bandaru Dattatreya, who had reportedly described the university as a den of "casteist, extremist and anti-national politics" in a letter to the ministry of HRD.

It is disappointing that the V-C didn’t come forward to address our issues while we were protesting, nor did he come to see Rohith’s dead body.   

Some of Rohith’s close friends say:

"Although he held a post graduate degree in science, he was deeply interested in the social sciences and so many of us used to approach him for questions relating from sociology to political science. He was very well read and articulate. In the last 14 days that we were out protesting, he managed to read at least ten books." -  Kiran Kumar Goud, MPhil student, political science department.

"He was a very sorted person. His Facebook posts also were intellectual rather than casual." – Uma Maheshwar Rao, PhD scholar, political science department

"It wasn’t depression that led him to suicide; rather I would call it his protest. Rohith Vemula was fighting for self-respect. It was a clear dalit versus non-dalit issue, with the expulsion initiated without any proper inquiry. We were discriminated against at every level. When we were expelled, he once asked me, 'if a man is reduced to a mere identity (dalit in this case) what is the value of a man?' As far as this issue is concerned, I would say it was political pressure that claimed an innocent life. If the systems that exist in the university would have functioned democratically, perhaps the issue wouldn’t have gone this far."  - Prashant Dontha, PhD scholar, economics department, and one of the five expelled students

(As told to Mona Ramavat)

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