In the wake of Dalit research scholar Rohith Vemula’s suicide, campuses across the country are taking up cudgels against institutions which are seen to be discriminatory and prejudiced towards students belonging to the lower castes. Against the backdrop of this movement for justice and equality, Deepa Philip spoke to three persons raising a clamour against what they call an ‘institutional murder’.
Edited Excerpts from an interview
What are your demands through the protests?
We demand that the persons behind my brother’s death be punished severely. We want to ask the Vice Chancellor why he did not inform us when Rohith was suspended. This is my mother’s main demand. Because as a guru, he has to take care of his students. He should be like a father to his students but he failed to inform us even when Rohith was suspended. We demand that he leave his chair.
How do you feel about the politicisation of the issue?
They are making it a political issue but this is not a political issue. We are fighting for truth and social equality. The lack of equality is the reason Rohith failed to survive. He struggled a lot. Many people are saying we are not Dalits, but we grew up and lived as Dalits. Rohith himself fought for Dalits and finally, unfortunately died for Dalits. But now, they are saying we are not Dalits. That is not fair. We want to find out what happened but they want to divert the issue. They have power on their side and so we need to fight against them to get the truth out.
How have political parties responded?
Politicians came and gave assurances that they will be with me and my family in this fight against the government. While some in power came home but did not call back, others showed concern and called back. I don’t know where it will lead but we will never stop fighting.
Did Rohith bring any instances of harassment to your notice before?
He had a good nature of not blaming anyone. He would fight back instead. He was clever enough to fight back. A few days before his death he said something is going on in the university but did not specify what it was. We took it lightly since we knew he can take care of anything. In hindsight, that was our failure.
Why did you shift to the University of Hyderabad with your mother?
We sensed a threat to our lives so shifted to UoH for safety. If we stay with students, perhaps they may give us protection. We no longer believe in anyone. My brother was very strong and not a coward to commit suicide. Even that kind of person has committed suicide. If my brother could be persuaded to his death, who are we? We are not that strong. If anything happens to my mother, I will be left alone in the world.