Rohith Vemula took his own life on 17 January 2016. Two years on, The Quint reached out to his friends at Hyderabad Central University who were expelled with him, and Vemula’s family.
With their memories, Vemula’s kin paint a picture of who he was, what shaped him, and the man whose death became a turning point in the Dalit rights movement.
Rohith’s mother, Radhika, was only allowed to study till the 10th grade by her adoptive mother, Anjani Devi. At the age of 14, she was married off to Mani Kumar, a member of the OBC Vaddera community, and gave birth to Rohith. She recalls Rohith’s childhood, blaming herself for his loneliness.
My mother never appreciated my children when they scored good marks in school. She was jealous because her kids never studied well. I was happy for him, but I couldn’t understand education. Maybe that’s why he felt so lonely.Radhika Vemula, Rohith’s mother
Professor Karthik Bittu, former temporary faculty at Hyderabad Central University and one of Rohith's friends, remembers Rohith as an intelligent, deeply loyal young man who cared strongly about injustices.
I’d tell him he was incredibly well-read and intelligent. But he’d say he wasn’t an intellectual like other people. And that was the thing. He didn’t recognise that spark in himself.Karthik Bittu, former faculty, Hyderabad Central University
Uma Maheshwar Rao
Room 207 of Hyderabad Central University (HCU), where Rohith took his own life, belonged to Uma Maheshwar. After his eviction from the HCU hostel, Rohith used to often spend time in room 207, studying and researching for his PhD doctoral review committee.
Rohith was the only person to get two research scholarships in forty years of Hyderabad Central University. He was intellectually excellent and mentally very strong. He always wanted to become a Dalit icon and bring the struggle to the forefront.Uma Maheshwar Rao, Rohith’s senior from HCU
Seshiah Chemudugunta & Vijay Kumar
Vijay Kumar & Seshiah Chemudugunta were banned from the hostels of HCU along with Rohith Vemula. What Seshiah and Vijay, both PhD scholars at HCU, say about their experiences during their youth might make it clear why being banned from the college's hostels and facilities struck a painful chord for them.
When we were younger, we had to do construction work and often clean the drains. We had no option. When we came to college we thought this would get better, but the casteism and untouchability have simply changed form here.Vijay Kumar, PhD scholar, HCU
My parents were bonded labourers to the Reddy community. When we were children, my sister and I went with them to the upper castes member’s house when they went to work. There we were made to work and clean and treated like servants. We were children.Seshiah Chemudugunta, PhD scholar, HCU
Video Editor: Punit Bhatia
(We Indians have much to talk about these days. But what would you tell India if you had the chance? Pick up the phone and write or record your Letter To India. Don’t be silent, tell her how you feel. Mail us your letter at email@example.com. We’ll make sure India gets your message.)