“Rohith Vemula never wanted to be a victim; it was not in his nature to accept victimhood,” says Dontha Prasant, one of Rohith’s friend from the Hyderabad University, and one of the five PhD students who were barred from entering the University after they had been accused of protesting against the hanging of Yakub Memon, and for protesting against the disruption of the screening of Nakul Sawhney’s Muzaffarnagar Baqi Hai by the ABVP at Delhi University. “Even in his suicide letter, somewhere down the line, he challenged the notions of death,” says Prasant.<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>Prasant remembers how in the last few days, after been driven out of the university premises and having had to stay in the open, they discussed how inhumane can people be. “He would talk of how grassroot leaders should be encouraged, and had denounced any form of religious extremism,” says Prasant. “He followed the ideas of Carl Sagan, he believed in Ambedkar, Marx, Kalekuri Prasad, and Sri Sri.”It was when he had shared a poem of Sri Sri that critiqued the Hindu religion on Facebook in 2012 that he had his first violent brush with the saffron brigade. After a police complaint made by the elder brother of current ABVP president Nandanam Susheel Kumar, Rohith was arrested. “It was when he proved to the police that he had only shared it that he was released. Ironically, Susheel, too, incriminated him,” says Sunkanna, Rohith’s friend and one of the five boys who were barred.Rohith’s brother, Raja Vemula, who was younger to Rohit by a year and a half, says that he remembers his brother as one who constantly loved to read. This is a recollection of almost everyone who spoke about Rohith.”He was a clever student, and would always have a book in his hand. He loved books. As a child, he would be engrossed in story books, he would read and would then narrate those stories to me, because I never had the patience,” recounts Raja. “And his day would never begin without a newspaper. Unfailingly, he would start his day with the day’s news and would even urge me. I would dismiss him.”This love for reading, in some sense, was Rohith’s way of coping. He felt that by studying well, he could secure a job for himself, and as Raja reveals, he felt that education was an escape from a life that was very hard on both the boys. “He would tell me several times that one day we will be in such a position that we will never allow my mother to cry,” says Raja.Raja recounts a time in his own life when the discrimination was too much to bear for him, too. And ironically, it was Rohith who gave him hope. “I was never a great student, and had to depend on tuition. When I was in the twelfth standard, I would go to the house of a Brahmin professor for tuitions. And we were never allowed inside his home; SC/ST students and Muslims were supposed to sit outside,” he says. “Once I remember asking for some water, and the professor, who would never touch us, asked his maid to give us some. The moment I was done drinking, he asked her to clean the glass immediately. I was dejected and swore I would quit studies.”But he says, it was Rohith who told him that quitting was not the answer. And that, if he studied further, and worked for the benefit for his own community, would things look us. “I was very inspired by those words. I studied hard, completed my masters, and took up a job in Hyderabad,” he says.Radhika Vemula, Rohith’s mother says that as kids, the children had to make do with very little. “He would play cricket with a ball made of newspapers and rope; and he would study. He poured his everything in his studies, he wanted to do something significant one day,” she says. She recounts how for years and years, she raised her sons only on rice and pickle: “For over 14-15 years, that’s all they ate, because that’s all I could afford.”That he has so many problems was something she had no inkling of as both the brothers tried to hide it from her. Raja knew vaguely that there was some problem initially, and it was in November when he asked Rohith for some money to buy some book for his GRE exams, Rohith told him that he barely had money to eat, and asked him to wait. “I lent him money twice, Rs 2000-3000. And in October, when we were going home to Guntur together, he mentioned that he was arrested in a case and had not got a clean chit. He mentioned that the ABVP was behind it, and that some powerful politicians from the BJP were involved, too. It was in November that I got to know that he has not been given his stipend for months,” says Raja.Radhika says that the woman, who adopted her, too, passed away. “My grief is two-fold, on one hand I lost a son. On the other, the woman who raised me, too passed away. In the name of determining our caste, the police interrogated her for over five hours. She was suffering from high blood pressure, diabetes, and finally suffered from a heart attack a week later,” she says. “Without her, I would have never been able to raise my sons. What was her fault?”Radhika says that she fails to understand the need to discuss their caste time and again. “We keep on bringing up Rohith’s caste. But, he did not even use the SC/ST quota to get an admission. He got it on merit,” says Raja.Sunkanna, who, too, was banned from the university along with Rohith and Prasanth, says that initially he did not want to join the Ambedkar Study Circle. “Then one day he came to me and said, ‘Anna, I want to join’, and I helped him come into the fold. He was attacked several times, and also physically. People would push and shove him away, I know of at least four-five incidents when he was beaten up. He could have created a fracas, but chose not to,” says Sunkanna.Prasant and Raja reveal that in the last few months, Rohith had embraced Buddhism. Raja also remembers that both the brothers had decided to start a business. “He said that he had an idea, but did not reveal it, and that if we have three to four lakhs, we could start. I collected a lakh and a half, but we could never collect the whole amount,” he says.Radhika, in a form of closure, has an urge to the young men of the Dalit community. “Don’t go abroad for your higher studies; yours is a generation that is getting the luxury of education. Stay back and help the children of the coming generations to lead them out of darkness,” she says.
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