Hyderabad Central University PhD student Rohith Chakravarti Vemula’s suicide due to alleged discrimination against him being a Dalit, on Jan 17 has reignited a debate over caste after it sparked countrywide protests.
As reported by The Indian Express, Vemula wrote in his suicide note: “The value of a man was reduced to his immediate identity and nearest possibility. To a vote. To a number. To a thing.
Never was a man treated as a mind. As a glorious thing made up of stardust. In very field, in studies, in streets, in politics, and in dying and living. I am writing this kind of letter for the first time.
My first time of a final letter. Forgive me if I fail to make sense. May be I was wrong, all the while, in understanding world. In understanding love, pain, life, death. There was no urgency.
But I always was rushing. Desperate to start a life. All the while, some people, for them, life itself is curse. My birth is my fatal accident. I can never recover from my childhood loneliness.
The unappreciated child from my past. I am not hurt at this moment. I am not sad. I am just empty. Unconcerned about myself. That’s pathetic. And that’s why I am doing this.”
Here are the Top 10 reactions which have drawn media attention during the course of investigation:
1. Prime Minister Narendra Modi:
“I am proud that India is a nation of the youth, its dreams and resolve are young. But at the same time we get the news that a young son of this country, Rohith, was compelled to commit suicide. What must have his family gone through. Mother India lost a dear son. Reasons and politics aside, the truth is that a mother has lost a son. I can very well feel the agony.” (at 6th convocation of the Babasaheb Bhimrao Ambedkar University in Lucknow)
2. Human resource development minister Smriti Irani:
“This is not a Dalit versus non-Dalit issue as being projected by some to ignite passion. The document which is being circulated as Rohith’s suicide note does not mention any MP, any university official or an organization.
A group of students allegedly attacked another student; we have ascertained that this is not a Dalit vs non-Dalit confrontation. The students challenged the order of suspension from hostel, HC refused to put a stay on the order. My request is to be extremely responsible, I will not comment on unsubstantiated reports.” (Delhi press conference)
3. Delhi chief minister and Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) supremo Arvind Kejriwal:
“Modi govt constitutionally duty bound to uplift dalits. Instead Modi ji’s ministers got five dalit students ostracised n suspended. It’s not suicide. It’s murder. It’s murder of democracy, social justice n equality. Modi ji shd sack ministers n aplogoize to the nation.” (Twitter)
4. Vemula’s mother Radhika:
“Smriti Irani…she called up after five days. Why it took five days? You are also a woman…you are also a mother…it took five days (to call up the family and condole the death). I want to know why he died. You killed or he died? Why was he suspended? Those responsible should be arrested and punished. That’s the only thing I want.” (As quoted by PTI)
5. Vemula’s brother Raju:
“The Prime Minister says he (Rohith) was a son of Mother India. I am not big enough to talk about him (PM) …Why he did not speak for five days?” (As quoted by PTI)
6. Vemula’s sister Neelima:
“We want to know the reasons behind Rohith’s death. It’s not a suicide. He was not timid. He was prompted to commit suicide.
Those responsible for that murder should be given punishment…first is Shusheel Kumar, second is the VC. When there is news that a youth of my country, Rohith, was compelled to commit suicide, what his family must have gone through. Mother India has lost a son.
There will be reasons, there will be politics (surrounding it) but the fact remains that a mother has lost her son. I feel the pain very well.” (As quoted by PTI)
7. Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi:
“PM Modi gave speech, expressed his sadness over Rohith Vemula case, said- he feels sad that a mother lost his son. PM Modi also got emotional, If he really feels sad, then why has there been no action taken against the Vice Chancellor?
If your tears are real then why don’t you (Modi) act, expel the Vice Chancellor who is directly responsible. The inaction adopted by his government has enraged a section of Dalit youths in the nation.” (He was quoted as saying to media during his padyatra in drought-hit areas of Bundelkhand region by India.com)
8. Joint Action Council (JAC) spearheading the protests:
“It is highly insulting to have received a condolence statement from Prime Minister Narendra Modi. He has referred to Rohith Vemula as Bharat Mata’s son. Joint Action Committee for Social Justice condemns in the strongest possible words, the appropriation of Rohith’s politics.” (In a statement)
9. The University of Hyderabad SC/ST Teachers and Officers Forum:
“We express our solidarity with students who are protesting against the death of Rohith Vemula and demand the immediate revocation of suspension and removal of police cases filed against our students.” (In a statement)
10. Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) student leader at Hyderabad Central Univerity, Susheel Kumar:
“I have known him for almost five years. We were ideologically different, but he was brave. He would rip apart posters we placed in campus, he was at the forefront of their agitations. I never imagined this would happen. Never… This was just student politics.
I have engaged in many conversations with Rohith, though we always disagreed. I stopped speaking to them after August 2015… I did meet Bandaru Dattatreya and ask him to help.
We had met a lot of our leaders and ASA met their leaders too. It was all done in the heat of the moment. But no one would have thought that a person like Rohith would commit suicide… I was attacked by them.
In the night they came to my room and threatened me. When the first committee enquired, I could not appear before them. The second committee had included my version, which is why the ASA activists had been found guilty.” (In an interview to The News Minute)
Sreya is based in Kolkata. She is a Senior Editor of Big Wire.