Rohith Vemula's mother paid the price for being Dalit

She has had serious health issues, but is still being ruthlessly put under the scanner to judge her caste status.

 |  3-minute read |   07-02-2016
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It has been nearly a month since the students fraternity and human rights activists have been advocating justice for Rohith Vemula, the Dalit student who was humiliated and traumatised by the Hyderabad Central University (HCU) administration to the extent that it led him to commit suicide on December 17, 2015.

There was a twist in the story after external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj's assertive testimony that Rohith Vemula was not a Dalit. Instead of ensuring a fair trial, the investigative agencies spent public money, energy and time in probing whether Rohith was a Dalit.

If the case has to be evaluated rationally, it needs to be analysed from a feminist angle too.

Rohith was not the only victim who was hounded because of the class structure and the caste system. His mother Radhika Vemula, like many other Indian women, has been a victim of the patriarchal mindset of the society, starting from her childhood.

Also read: All politics pale in front of Rohith Vemula's mother's loss

Radhika was born to Dalit migrant construction labourers of the Mala group and was then adopted and brought up by a Vaddera woman Anjani from Guntur. Though she was adopted by a well-educated and well-off family, she could not enjoy the comforts as the biological children of her adoptive mother did. She lived in her adoptive house as a domestic worker and did not receive good education.

She became a victim of child marriage when she was married off at the age of 14 to Vemula Mani Kumar of the Vaddera community. Her Dalit status was kept secret even after her marriage until someone leaked to Radhika's husband that his wife was actually an adopted child, belonging to Mala community (a scheduled caste), and not a Vaddera as he had thought her to be.

Since then, Radhika's husband started to abuse and humiliate her and ultimately abandoned her for being a Dalit in 1990. She, along with Rohith and two other children, rented a one-room house for over two decades from 1990 in the Prakash Nagar area of Guntur district in Andhra Pradesh and brought her children up all alone, working hard at her sewing machine.

Also read - Rohith Vemula: BJP-RSS fuelled his death. Now they are mocking it

The area where she used to live in had a ghetto of around 40 Dalit families where most of the people were daily wage labourers and their similar financial background helped in a strong bonding among them.

Even after divorce, Radhika's husband visited Prakash Nagar and harassed her, and she had to be rescued by her neighbours in the locality. After spending over two decades in Prakash Nagar in penury, she finally shifted to a two-room house in Savitribai Nagar of Nallapadu area, a couple of years ago.

It is more disturbing and heartbreaking that Radhika who has had several bouts of high blood pressure and chest pain is still being ruthlessly put under the scanner to judge her Dalit status. This is ample example of a society that is still dominated by patriarchy and caste hierarchy, epitomised by the cruel claim that a child belongs to the father even after the father abandons the mother.

It is the high time that we wake up and end this patriarchal hegemony which always leads to the subordination and subjugation of women.


Shah Alam Shah Alam

An alumnus of Aligarh Muslim University, currently working as an assistant professor of Women’s Studies at Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi.

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