In a symbolic move on the occasion of Ambedkar Jayanti, the mother and brother of Dalit scholar Rohith Vemula, who committed suicide in Hyderabad, embraced Buddhism, and then launched a scathing attack on Prime Minister Narendra Modi for his ‘inaction on this issue of discrimination’.
Rohit’s brother Raja and mother Radhika, who got the ‘Deeksha’ from Buddhist monks at Ambedkar Bhavan in Dadar, described it as an ‘azaadi’ (freedom) from the caste system. “From today, I and my mother Radhika are going to live the life that Rohith always dreamt of,” said Raja. “From today, we have got the azaadi from the chains of the caste system,” he said.
The Buddhist monks chanted mantras, after which both Raja and Radhika were asked to abide by the 22 vows taken by Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar in 1956 during his conversion.
Calling the conversion a significant step, Raja said it would free him from caste-based discrimination, of which he has been a victim. “While in school, there was a Brahmin teacher who never allowed us to drink water or mix with other Brahmin students. If we ever touch a glass, he would ensure it was washed before anyone could use it again. I literally wanted to quit my education,” he said. Raja, however, added he was not anti-Hindu. “I respect all religions, but I stand against Brahminism, which discriminates against us and has been responsible for Rohith’s death,” said Raja.
Rohith, a PHD student of Hyderabad University, killed himself allegedly because of the discriminatory treatment meted out to him as he was Dalit. His suicide sparked widespread condemnation in universities across India and also in public forums.
Raja also targeted Modi calling him a culprit. “Prime Minister Modi expressed regret over Rohith’s death, but the brutal system of discrimination continues ever after his death. Modi refuses to acknowledge or take action against them,” he said.
Prakash Ambedkar, the grandson of Ambedkar, who facilitated the conversion of both mother and son, said the fight in the country has now begun between the RSS-backed fascist forces versus the democratic ideals symbolised by Ambedkar. “Not just Rohith, but thousands of Dalit students continue to be victims of this oppressive caste system backed by the RSS,” said Prakash. “The people have to decide now whom to support,” he said.