Rohith Vemula


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.    

Image Credits: Niharika Dabral for DU Beat
Image Credits: Niharika Dabral for DU Beat

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.

Image Credits: Niharika Dabral for DU beat
Image Credits: Niharika Dabral for DU beat


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
[email protected]

Disha Saxena
[email protected]


“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 every field, in studies, in streets, in politics, and in dying and living.”


This is what Rohith Vemula, PhD scholar in Hyderabad Central University wrote in his last letter after which he took his own life. His fault was that he was Dalit, a Dalit who dared to stand up for himself. Systematically, culturally, economically and socially oppressed since his birth which he refers to as his ‘fatal accident’

Education has been denied to Dalits from as long as time permits us to remember. India’s recovery from colonialism paralleled Dalits, adivasis and backward castes reclaiming their human dignity and social prestige. Decades later, the Brahmin-Savarna forces still plunder and pillage their dignity outrightly and with pride.

When Smriti Irani says the incident is not a matter of lower caste vs upper caste she remarkably forgets to what extent basic human rights are refused to lower caste people, especially Dalits. If it’s not driving a scholar to suicide then it’s banning Dalit unions, beating a lower caste student for going to school, to the point where Dalits are not even allowed entry in religious places, a grim reminder that we have not taken a step towards progress.


Why do we continue to vilify and degrade lower caste people whilst believing without moral apprehension that they do not even deserve reservation? Who is to say that caste has been a historical, now removed concept? It is ahistorical, demeaning and a blatant lie to say that caste does not matter anymore, even in the most liberal areas in the country.

If caste does not matter then why is manual scavenging still practiced along the lengths and breadths of the country, overwhelmingly by Dalits? Does it matter when a former Prime Minister is exposed as accomplice in Dalit massacres? Does it matter when nearly all marriages in the country are within the caste? If caste does not matter, then why are we all aware from a young age, what caste and creed we belong to?

From a skewed, near-sighted urban lens, of course caste matters. It matters when a Dalit student scores a few marks lesser than you, and gets into a good institution. However, no one bats an eyelid when Dalit students die asking for their rights. Very obvious and visible oppression is overlooked, seen disguised as victim complexes, “pseudo-secular” wreckage and what not.

How much has India failed its religious and caste minorities? Inspite of the depressing history of caste oppression, our curriculum barely touches upon caste. We are taught the Varna system in past tense, as if the whole country is not still practicing and perpetuating it by choice. We are taught how Ambedkar made our constitution, and how untouchability was made a criminal offence. When were we taught that Ambedkar called for annihilation of caste, and not uniting castes which organizations like RSS wholeheartedly believe in? The same RSS that Rohith refused to align with.


“May be 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.”


Rest in power, Rohith.


Kartikeya Bhatotia

[email protected]