Three years on, the suicide that sparked a rebellion is still being remembered with the wounds of inequality and misuse of administrative power, still fresh and burning.
Just two years ago on this day, Rohith Vemula passed away, his life ending with a noose. This was not just a plain suicide of an Ambedkar Student Association (ASA) student facing discrimination because of his Dalit identity but, as many described it was more of an ‘institutional murder.’ What drove Vemula to suicide or was his death already planned and then made to look like a suicide? Such questions and speculations dominate debates since his death in 2016.
However, what can’t be ignored is that Vemula’s death along with the powerful letter he left behind, surely created a new age of rebellion amongst the youth against caste-based discrimination and University administration.
Commemorating his third death anniversary, a series of talks and marches embraced the University of Delhi’s North Campus.
It started with Youth for Social Justice organising a remembrance meeting for Rohith Vemula followed by a Young India Padyatra from Arts Faculty to Vishwavidyalya Metro Station. It was concluded with a candlelight march at 6 pm from Vishwavidyalya to Arts Faculty.
In the afternoon hours of 17th January, a remembrance meeting for Rohith Vemula was held by Youth For Social Justice at Arts Faculty. Speakers and professors from all over the colleges of the University of Delhi were invited to speak on Rohith Vemula’s suicide which happened three years ago at University of Hyderabad. The Chief Guests of the event were Rajendra Pal Gautam, Minister of Social Welfare, Government of Delhi and Professor Manoj Kumar Jha, Member of Parliament and Department of Social Work, DU. At the meeting, the speakers spoke extensively about the institutional discrimination and systematic oppression Dalits face in central universities and the lack of SC, ST, and OBC teachers in reputed institutes of the country. Dr. B.R. Ambedkar and Savitribai Phule were remembered and slogans of ‘Jai Bhim’ were raised by the crowd present there. Rohith’s last letter was also quoted a couple of times by the speakers highlighting casteism and elitism in a university space.
As the evening hours set in, a candlelight march was held by Students’ Federation India (SFI). The participants first walked from the metro station to the Vivekananda statue in the Arts Faculty complex. They stood with candles in their hands while a few volunteers stood in front of the statue, honouring Vemula’s legacy.
However, it is ironical that in Hyderabad, Vemula shifted from the SFI to the Ambedkar Students’ Association (ASA) as he found the former to be a body showing some amount of classism, something which Vemula was strictly against. However, this can be heard as speculation too as different sources have been building different narratives since his death.
“Yes, he had his own issues with SFI back then and SFI itself has had issues with the ASA.” Akhil, an SFI-affiliated student from Zakir Husain Delhi College, remarked. He continued by saying, “However, what we need to appreciate is how his institutional murder led all the fronts to change for the upliftment of lesser communities to come together. His death was unfortunate for this country, but it strengthened us and will keep on driving this revolution. In fact, a few months after he passed away, SFI and ASA came together as a coalition and won the Hyderabad University elections.”
After a few moments of silence, the marchers walked back to the Arts Faculty gate and planted their burning candles to the ground. Gathering in a circle, they shouted slogans invoking the immortality of Rohith Vemula, Bhim Rao Ambedkar, and several other pioneers of this movement.
Whatever outcome comes out of this current political scenario with caste-based discrimination still prevailing, notions of patriarchy being challenged, and reservation still being a heated theme in our Parliament, Vemula and the many others who died in this struggle, their legacy will continue to impact the youth.
‘People may dub me as a coward. And selfish, or stupid once I am gone. I am not bothered about what I am called. I don’t believe in after-death stories, ghosts or spirits. If there is anything at all I believe, I believe that I can travel to the stars and know about the other worlds…’
-Rohit Vemula in his death note
Feature Image Credits: Niharika Dabral for DU Beat
Shaurya Singh Thapa