It’s the tragic death of a young man with strong opinions that refuses to go away. Even though it’s been almost four years since Rohith Vemula’s death people still remember him and are inspired to stand up against what they perceive as injustice. Vemula’s name is in the news again because stand-up comedian Kunal Kamra has dedicated his roast of controversial TV anchor and journalist Arnab Goswami to Vemula. Kamra heckled Goswami aboard an IndiGo airlines flight and posted on social media the message “I did it for Rohith…” Though Rohith Vemula’s suicide letter absolved everybody as it blamed the “System” for his death.
Who was Rohith Vemula?
Rohith Vemula was pursuing his PhD degree at the University of Hyderabad and was getting a stipend of Rs. 25,000/- per month as per the university rules. However, he was denied his monthly stipend from July 2015 by the university and his friends immediately alleged that the university was punishing Vemula for raising issues under the banner of Ambedkar Student’s Association [ASA]. A university official denied the allegation and blamed the delay on “paperwork.” Later Vemula was suspended from the university for allegedly assaulting ABVP leader N. Susheel Kumar.
Why Did Rohith Vemula Die?
The suspension of Vemula was upheld by Hyderabad University on December 17, 2015, and that completely depressed Vemula. On January 17, 2016, Vemula committed suicide by hanging himself with an ASA banner even as fellow students were protesting against his suspension. Vemula’s death attracted a lot of media attention and was projected by some of them as a case of discrimination against Dalits. Vemula’s mother Radhika Vemula is a Dalit and was adopted by an OBC family who treated her as an inferior person for being born a Dalit.
Condemned at Birth
Vemula was very distressed that his mother was treated badly by society and his own experiences in the face of the rigid Indian caste system convinced him that society was unfair. Vemula identified with Dalits and became inspired to fight for their rights. Vemula committed suicide in the room of one Umma Anna, as he had been suspended from the university and could not stay in the student’s hostel. However, Vemula’s family protested against his death being labelled as suicide and insisted that there was something wrong about the way his case was being handled. They even demanded a judicial enquiry into his sudden death.
A Deeply Disturbed Young Man
Vemula’s suicide note made it clear that he did not want anybody to be blamed for his death but that the system was responsible for him taking this extreme step. The suicide note was incoherent but introspective, short but philosophical and written clearly by a young man in deep turmoil. Vemula’s suicide sparked protests all over the country and became a burning topic covered by all major media outlets. It had a deep political fallout as well with the ruling party BJP’s name being dragged into the matter. While the medical report confirmed that Vemula committed suicide his friends and supporters alleged that it was not the case and there was some political involvement in his death.
Crime & Punishment
Vemula’s name has come back in the news because of Kunal Kamra’s behaviour with Arnab Goswami. While Goswami quietly walked away Kamra had to face some backlash for heckling him and calling his journalism style as too nationalistic. Now Kamra has been suspended from flying with IndiGo airlines for six months as a punishment for his alleged rude behaviour.
The Darkness within Us
All this brings to light the painful fact that India is a country where many young people feel hopeless and helpless with their situation. Rohith Vemula was one of them. While politicians talk about taking India into the 21st century the fact remains that we treat people badly based on their caste and community. The loss of a young, educated and passionate young man like Rohith Vemula just shows that we are still not in sync with the younger generation and they see darkness all around them. The state of the nation is far from okay!