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Comrade Rohith Vemula Was Not A Coward. He Was The Bravest Man I Knew

20/01/2016 12:12 PM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST
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Comrade Rohith Vemula Chakrawarthy committed suicide. He hanged himself using a blue-coloured banner of the organisation he was working in -- the Ambedkar Students Association (ASA). It had a picture of Baba Saheb Ambedkar on it. The scene reminded me of the death scene of Vilas Ghogre, a Dalit activist and poet who committed suicide in protest of the Ramabai Killings of 1997, tying a blue ribbon on his head -- as portrayed in Anand Patwardhan's documentary Jai Bhim Comrade.

Comrade Rohith Vemula was an exceptional scholar. Despite his poor Dalit background and a childhood in which he was subjected to caste segregation, he studied hard to win a place at the prestigious University of Hyderabad.

He was anything but a coward. He was one of the bravest friends I've had...

I met him on the first day of my MA admission. It was the time when he left had life science and was thinking about pursuing social science. For more than a year, he continued in HCU, waiting for his admission; he no longer had a fellowship as he had quit his research in life science. But in this period, comrade was not wasting his time in despair. He audited an eminent faculty member's classes in the School of Social Sciences and read quite well on theory. He became well versed in Marxism despite being from a science background. We worked together for the Students Federation of India (SFI).

Later, on purely personal issues, Rohith and one of his close friends had to leave SFI. Many, including the HRD Minister, have misquoted me from my first Facebook post that Rohith was expelled from SFI or that his problems with SFI caused him to become depressed, leading to what happened. This is not true. He left the organisation because of some personal issues with someone who ironically got expelled from SFI later. This happened more than one-and-a-half years ago. And though he left the SFI and joined the Ambedkar Students Association, Rohith maintained strong personal bonds with most of his old comrades. He was eager to discuss politics with us.

Rohith was a victim of the Sangh and state violence far before recent events... It was a long line of planned, targeted emotional torture.

To those who might call comrade Rohith a coward, I have to say a few things. He was anything but a coward. He was one of the bravest friends I've had, and he never bothered to hide his dissent from anyone. He was never scared to question the things he felt were wrong. I have memories of him that will never vanish.

Rohith was a victim of the Sangh and state violence far before recent events, when he posted a poem of Telugu revolutionary poet Sri Sri on Facebook on the day of Ganesh Chathurthi. A BJYM leader from Lingampally named VishnuDutt Nandanam filed a complaint against Rohith, on the basis of which the police arrested him from campus; he was released later when they were convinced there was no charge possible. And I don't think it's a coincidence that Vishnu is the brother of Nandanam Susheel Kumar who filed the present fake complaint that lead to Rohith's death. It was a long line of planned, targeted emotional torture.

The BJP is asking why we don't speak about all the Dalit suicides that took place in the same campus before. The question might seem valid for some. Here's the thing: none of the earlier incidents were this well-planned and executed with the direct involvement of a ruling party and its allies. HCU, when compared to other noted central educational institutions has a long tradition of Dalit pride movements. ASA has been working in this campus for the last two decades fighting for Dalit- minority rights. Yet, the downtrodden communities are suffering here, because the administration has been oppressive, Brahminical, with power politics affiliations and authoritarian supremacy rooted strongly in its core.

Rohith, you were killed by a deadly combination of racism, casteism and fundamentalist politics.

Comrade Rohith was a popular face, recognised for being a Dalit Marxist activist and a known scholar who bagged the UGC JRF twice and NET thrice. He was an exceptional human being, one who could've been a pride for this institute in coming years. Yet, his own state, his own institute conspired to kill him. His death cannot be considered as an outcome of a depressed mind, but as a strong political statement. His sacrifice is nothing less than that of Jan Palach at the end of the Prague Spring. The state was scared of even his dead body, so they cremated comrade Rohith in an electric crematorium without the consent of anyone in the family. Just like what the state did to Jan Palach.

After decades of torture and oppression of its own people, the state seemed secure that no one they silenced could rise up from the ashes. But Rohith's ashes lit up sparks. And it is spreading. The space he left in our hearts and in our academia will remain vacant. It is still a Himalayan task for a brilliant student from the Dalit community to reach where Rohith reached, fighting systematic torture with unmatchable confidence and spirit, surviving the state-sponsored killing machines at each juncture of life, all for being a Dalit. Rohith, you were killed by a deadly combination of racism, casteism and fundamentalist politics. They killed and buried you. They never knew you would grow back as thousands. Jai Bhim Comrade...!

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