The family of Dalit scholar Rohith Vemula, who committed suicide over alleged discrimination by the University of Hyderabad authorities, converted to Buddhism on Thursday in a symbolic condemnation of the Hindu caste system.
The conversion ceremony of Vemula’s brother, Raja, and mother, Radhika, was organised in Mumbai on the occasion of social reformer BR Ambedkar’s 125th birth anniversary.
Speaking to ANI after the conversion ceremony, Raja said, “My brother wanted to be a Buddhist... he tried to take up Buddhism, but couldn’t make it.”
“Even we like Buddhism and its teachings, so we are accepting it,” he added.
Raja had told HT on Wednesday that although they held no ill-feelings towards Hinduism, their conscience wouldn’t allow them to follow it anymore. “It is because of the Hindu caste system that my brother was harassed, humiliated and forced to take his own life,” he said, adding that it had subjected millions of Dalits like Vemula to untold suffering over thousands of years.
My brother wanted to be a Buddhist, he tried to take up Buddhism but couldn't make it: Rohith Vemula's brother pic.twitter.com/1Hqio2knRc— ANI (@ANI_news) April 14, 2016
According to Raja, Vemula’s last rites were conducted as per Buddhist traditions. “Although he did not formally convert, my brother was a Buddhist at heart,” he said.
The family had learnt about Vemula’s inclination toward Buddhism in November last year when he visited Guntur to attend a friend’s wedding.
“Rohith came dressed in white robes. When my mother asked him why he was dressed like that, he said this is how Buddhists dressed. He spoke to her for a long time about the religion,” Raja said. “He kept repeating that this is the only religion where everybody is treated equal. He also said conversion to Buddhism was the way out of the caste system, as shown by Babasaheb Ambedkar.”
Radhika, who has been at the forefront of protests against the government, said she decided to convert to set an example for the Dalit people. “When Rohith was alive, I didn’t take his talk about Buddhism very seriously. But now I understand the importance of what he was trying to say. He was more enlightened than all of us. We have decided to convert not just to honour his memory but also to set an example for Dalits across the country,” she said.
Vemula had committed suicide on January 17, spurring ignited a wave of protests at campuses across the country. He and four other Dalit students were suspended from the hostel and allegedly ostracised following a complaint by an Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad member.