On January 17, 2016 Indian news channels began reporting the suicide of a PhD student from University of Hyderabad. Nearly 10 days later, his death has not only made national, but international news, and has also shaken the ruling Government of India. We dig a little deeper into the life and death of a student by the name of Rohith Vemula, who might be changing the course of Indian politics.
Rohith Vemula was always a bright student, showing interest in the field of Science. He first joined the University of Hyderabad to earn a Masters in Science, but later continued to pursue his PhD at the same University. What separated him from the other students there was his caste – a system that has been in hot debate and the cause of sporadic unrest all around the country since Indian Independence. Rohith Vemula was a Dalit, counted as a Scheduled Caste or Scheduled Tribe. Though his caste are openly considered as “backward”, he stood out, being a philosopher and intellectual, speaking fluent English and taking interest in the works of the likes of Carl Sagan. He was also interested in politics and taking a stand for his comrades who belonged to the same caste. Hence, he became the President of the Ambedkar Students’ Association (ASA) at his University.
As mentioned earlier, on January 17, Rohith was found in the room of one Umma Anna, hanging from a ceiling fan that he had ironically tied himself to with the poster of the ASA. Also found was his suicide note that read:
“The value of a man was reduced to his immediate identity and nearest possibility. To a vote. To a number. To a thing. Never was a man treated as a mind. As a glorious thing made up of stardust. In very field, in studies, in streets, in politics, and in dying and living.
I am writing this kind of letter for the first time. My first time of a final letter. Forgive me if I fail to make sense. Maybe I was wrong, all the while, in understanding world. In understanding love, pain, life, death. There was no urgency. But I always was rushing. Desperate to start a life. All the while, some people, for them, life itself is curse. My birth is my fatal accident. I can never recover from my childhood loneliness. The unappreciated child from my past. I am not hurt at this moment. I am not sad. I am just empty. Unconcerned about myself. That’s pathetic. And that’s why I am doing this.”
The Beginning Of Controversy
It was in July of 2015 where the controversy began. Vemula was protesting the death penalty of Yakub Memon, one of the prime accused in the 1993 Bombay bomb blasts. There were also students from the same University, but with a different political outlook who opposed what Vemula stood for – the right to life. These students belong to the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), a Saffron group formed before India even achieved independence, that is known to side with the rights of Brahmans and Hindus, the majority population of the land, and who also have strong political ties with the current ruling party of the country – the Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP). As a result of Rohith Vemula’s altercation with a member of the ABVP by the name of Susheel Kumar, he was kicked out of residing at the University and his monthly fellowship allowance of Rs. 25,000 was stopped.
Current Political Unrest
It is in the light of this controversy and his death that has caused a strong opposition to condemn the ruling Union Government for their “saffron ties” and accuse them for the real cause of his death. Opposition leaders, including Mayawati (strong Dalit leader) and the Communist Party of India leaders have said that it was due to constant ostracism by the ABVP students and the University itself that made Vemula finally end his life. Parliament was in an uproar and Union Education Minister, Smriti Irani delivered a passionate but strong message, stating that the Government was not to be held responsible for the death of a student, as it had nothing to do with his caste and will be probing the case further.
Learn more about the life of Rohith Vemula by visiting indianexpress.com.