On the volatile campus of the Hyderabad Central University, the friends of Dalit research scholar Rohith Vemula, who hanged himself from a ceiling fan using a political banner for a rope on Sunday night, live in a state of shock and denial. Rohith was a well-liked student activist. Expelled from the university after an alleged altercation with a then ABVP student leader, his friends say he was sleeping out in the open -- which might have added to his feelings of helplessness and frustration.
"Rohith was deprived of his rights considering his political awareness. It's a clear case of helplessness," Dayal Paleri, a Students Federation of India (SFI) member and a friend of Rohith told HuffPost India.
His friends staunchly maintain that Rohith was not depressed.
"Rohith was an excellent human being. A lot of people knew him well, and whenever he needed any help a lot of people would step forward to help him," Ramjee Chintagada, a friend Rohith mentioned in his suicide note, says.
There is also disquiet about the manner of his cremation. The students claimed Rohith's body was quietly cremated by the police on Tuesday. It was taken away for post-mortem right after his death. However, protesting students allege that the police had told them that Rohith would be cremated in Uppal. When his friends reached there, they found out that his body had already been cremated at Amberpeth where neither his family nor his friends were present.
Rohith would have turned 27 on 30 January. He apparently told his friends hours before his death that he did not even money to give them a small treat on his brithday. He had not received his fellowship in the last 7 months.
"Rohith Was Deprived Of His Rights" Declare Protestors
Friends Recall What Happened Between ABVP And Rohith
On 2 August last year, when ASA (Ambedkar Students Association) were protesting against the alleged attack and vandalism by members of the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad at the screening of Muzaffarnagar Baaqi Hain, a documentary by Nakul Singh Sawhney. The next day, ASA protesters allege, Susheel Kumar, an ABVP leader posted derogatory comments on Facebook targeting ASA and labelling them as "goons". About 20 students, Rohith among them, approached Susheel to question him on these posts. Kumar withdrew his post and wrote an apology. Soon after, Kumar lodged a complaint with the proctorial board saying five Dalit students -- Dontha Prashanth, Rohith Vemula, Vijay Kumar, Seshu Chemudugunta and Sunkanna -- had assaulted him. Acting on this complaint, the board took down the statements of the doctors who had treated him and certain security officers who were present when the episode unfolded.
"The medical expert said that Sushil had come in for an appendicitis surgery and there were no injuries."
According to Chintagada, the medical expert said that Susheel had come in for an appendicitis surgery and there were no injuries, while the security officers also denied witnessing any sort of violence. Kumar then produced two witnesses who vouched to the fact that he had been manhandled. According to sources, the proctorial committee stated that though there was no concrete evidence against the five Dalit students, but based on the account of the two witnesses whose names the authorities did not disclose, they decided to rusticate the five students from the university.
Protests followed this report which continued for two days and finally the Vice Chancellor agreed to revoke the expulsion due to inconsistencies in the various accounts. He also said that the university would constitute a fresh committee which would probe the matter. Interestingly, this committee was also dissolved soon after.
Meanwhile, Union Minister Bandaru Dattatreya wrote a letter to the HRD ministry saying ASA members in Hyderabad University were dabbling in 'casteist and anti-national politics'.
Paleri says the decision to ostracize the five students was announced when most of the students were away on their winter break. The suspended students took to sleeping out in the open as a form of protest.
The protestors started a relay hunger strike on 17 January this year as a mark of protest. Rohith attended the ASA meeting at 10 am on Sunday but went missing after 12pm in the afternoon. His friends found him hanging in a hostel room in the evening.
This is the letter he sent the VC:
18 December 2015
The Vice Chancellor
Subject: Solution for Dalit problem
First, let me praise your dedicated take on the Self-Respect movements of Dalits in HCU campus. When an ABVP president got questioned about his derogatory remarks on Dalits, your kind personal interference into the issue is historic and exemplary. 5 Dalit students are "socially boycotted" from campus spaces. Donald Trump will be a lilliput in front of you. By seeing your commitment, I am tempted to give two suggestions as a token of banality.
1. Please serve 10mg Sodium Azide to all the Dalit students at the time of admission. With direction to use when they feel like reading Ambedkar.
2. Supply a nice rope to the rooms of all Dalit students from your companion, the great Chief Warden.
As we, the scholars, PhD students have already passed that stage and already members of Dalit Self-Respect movement unfortunately, we here are left with no easy exit, it seems.
Hence, I request your highness to make preparations for the facility "EUTHANASIA" for students like me. And I wish you and the campus rest in peace forever.
Vemula R Chakravarti
The Vice-Chancellor did not reply to this letter.
Protestors say this was a clear case of discrimination. They allege that Rohith and his friends did not have the resources to fight a drawn out court battle. They say there have been at least 9 Dalit deaths in Hyderabad University.
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