Rohith Vemula’s death anniversary: University of Hyderabad students vow to fight for justice
The Justice for Rohith Vemula will observe Rohith Shahadat Day on January 17 and hold a convention at the university auditorium to discuss issues such as discrimination against Dalits.india Updated: Jan 16, 2018 23:33 IST
Many students of the University of Hyderabad pledged on Tuesday to fight for justice to Rohith Vemula and keep alive memories of the PhD student whose campus suicide two years ago triggered nationwide outrage.
The Justice for Rohith Vemula, a committee of students and faculty members, will observe Rohith Shahadat Day — or martyrdom day — on January 17 and hold a convention at the university auditorium to discuss issues such as discrimination against Dalits.
Dalit activist Prakash Ambedkar, the grandson of BR Ambedkar, is likely to attend the event along with several prominent scholars.
“The university authorities, the Centre and the state government might have thought the Rohith episode was a closed chapter. So long as the issues for which he attained martyrdom remain, his memories will continue to haunt the university and government,” said Dontha Prashant, a leader of the Ambedkar Students Union, a Dalit union at the university.
The university took a tough stand as protests engulfed the campus immediately after Vemula’s death, but peace seems to have returned two years on. Other than groups of students protesting and shouting slogans on and off at a memorial for the research scholar close to a shopping complex on the campus, no large-scale event has bothered the authorities.
“The university didn’t allow us to hold a meeting or pay tributes to Rohith on his first death anniversary. This time, they permitted us to meet at the auditorium,” Prashant said.
He and Vemula were among five research scholars the university suspended and expelled from their hostel in August 2015 on a complaint by the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), which accused them of assaulting some of its leaders. The expulsion is believed to have driven Vemula to die by suicide in his hostel room in January 2016.
Vemula’s death put the spotlight on student politics, campus unrest and atrocities against Dalits, making the 26-year-old student-activist the rallying point of protests, discourses and debates over societal prejudices against people of lower castes.
The controversy over Vemula’s caste status continues to simmer after the Justice Roopanwal Commission, which probed his death, and revenue officials of Guntur district in Andhra Pradesh, the student’s birthplace, held that he was not a Dalit.
According to the revenue officials, who submitted a report in February 2017, Vemula was a Vaddera, a community in the other backward class category. The Justice Roopanwal panel had said as much.
University students rejected the panel’s report and that of the Guntur administration on Vemula’s caste. “Rohith’s mother, Radhika Vemula, was asked to submit evidence to prove her Dalit status if she had any objection to the report. She provided all evidence and is awaiting a response from the state government. So, the issue of Rohith’s Dalit status still remains,” Prashant said.
Another case that still lingers is the police complaint against vice chancellor Appa Rao Podile, former Union minister Bandaru Dattatreya and three more people, who are accused of abetting the suicide.
Cyberabad police are yet to close the case because of the controversy surrounding Vemula’s caste. The case was registered under the SC/ST law governing atrocities against Dalits. The law won’t stand in this case if it is proved that Vemula is not a Dalit.
“We sent the Guntur administration report to the law department for legal opinion before proceeding further,” Cyberabad commissioner of police Sandeep Shandilya said.
Guntur collector Kona Sasidhar could not be contacted for comments.