Remembering Rohith Vemula: On his sixth death anniversary, a look at the PhD student's demise and its aftermath

Remembering Rohith Vemula: On his sixth death anniversary, a look at the PhD student's demise and its aftermath

FP Staff January 17, 2022 15:17:40 IST
Remembering Rohith Vemula:  On his sixth death anniversary, a look at the PhD student's demise and its aftermath

File image of students and activists mourning the demise of Rohith Vemula. PTI

"Rohith Vemula was murdered by discrimination & indignities against his Dalit identity. Even as years go by, he remains a symbol of resistance and his brave mother a symbol of hope. For fighting till the very end, Rohith is my hero, my brother who was wronged," said Congress leader Rahul Gandhi on the sixth anniversary of the death of the PhD student and Dalit scholar.

On this day in 2016, the 26-year-old research scholar at the Hyderabad Central University (HCU) took his own life.

We take a look back at his death and its aftermath:

Rohith Vemula’s death

The 26-year-old studying at HCU died by suicide after he was suspended along with four others after a complaint by the local unit of the Akhil Bharatatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), the student wing of the BJP.

Vemula’s fellowship of Rs 25,000 was suspended for raising “issues under the banner of the Ambedkar Students Association” (ASA).

The ABVP’s complaints against the ASA was taken up by Union minister Bandaru Dattatreya who forwarded them to the then HRD minister Smriti Irani who asked the university administration to look into them.

Vemula found it difficult to manage his expenses and after the he and the four other students were removed from their hostel rooms, they set up a tent on the campus and began a relay hunger strike.

On 17 January, 2016, Vemula committed suicide with a banner of the ASA and left behind a searing note talking of unfinished dreams and how he felt his “birth was his fatal accident”.

In his suicide note, he expressed his pain, writing, "For some people life itself is a curse. My birth is my fatal accident. I can never recover from my childhood loneliness. I am not hurt at this moment. Not sad, just empty. That is pathetic. That is why I am doing this."

Call for Rohith Act

Following his demise, many students, activists and teachers demanded that universities implement a 'Rohith Act'. The demand was made by members of the JAC for Social Justice.

The purpose behind this legislation would be to ensure legislative protection for students from marginalised communities in higher educational institutions.

 

Politics over his death

Vemula's death shocked not only academia but also galvanised the Opposition against the Narendra Modi government.

A number of Opposition leaders, particularly from the Congress, made a beeline to the University of Hyderabad campus to show solidarity and claim that Vemula’s death was symptomatic of the discrimination that Dalits were facing under the Modi government.

The issue quickly devolved into a war of words between political parties, with the BJP accusing the Congress and other parties of misusing a family’s grief while Rahul Gandhi alleged that ‘our universities are being encroached upon. Rohith's voice was muzzled. We need a law which doesn't let students' voices in colleges and universities be stifled’.

Remembering Rohith today

In honour of Rohith Vemula, Twitter is buzzing with tweets from all walks of life. Take a look at some of the tweets that ensued.

With inputs from agencies

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