“When a girl named Nirbhaya was brutally raped and killed, did anyone question her caste? Then why is Rohith’s caste under question here?” Radhika Vemula asked this on Saturday amid claims that her son Rohith, whose suicide is being seen as the fallout of caste discrimination, was not a Dalit.
The 49-year-old who is divorced from Rohith’s father and raised him and his two siblings working as a tailor also refused the Rs 8 lakh ex-gratia offered by the University of Hyderabad. “We do not need your money. Not Rs 8 lakh, even if you give Rs 8 crore, we do not need it,” Rohith’s sister Neelima said.
Radhika, accompanied by Neelima and son Raja, was on the campus to meet the seven students on the fourth day of their fast at the university’s protest venue. She told them, “You are all like my sons. If you need anything at all, I will help you. I will be here to support you, help you.”
Later in the evening, all the seven students were shifted to the university health centre after their condition deteriorated. UoH security officials took police help to shift the students, amidst protests by the Students’ Joint Action Committee. They have been put on IV fluids.
Clarifying the caste issue, Radhika said while her husband was an OBC, she herself was from the SC Mala community. “From the age of five, I grew up in a Vaddera family (Vadderas are OBCs), with whom my SC Mala family left me. Since I was raised by a Vaddera family, they married me to a Vaddera man in 1985. After three children, my husband and I divorced and I brought up the kids on my own. Since I am from the Mala community, I brought them up like that. We used to live in a lane in Guntur where, even today, only SC families live. My children are as much Dalit as I am.”
A certificate issued by the Revenue Department of Government of Andhra Pradesh, on June 16, 2015, clearly states that Rohith belongs to the Mala community.
“My question is why I am being asked all these questions instead of being given the reasons why Rohith was suspended?” Radhika said. “Why is the issue being diverted?”
Apart from demanding action against ABVP leader N Susheel Kumar, with whom Rohith and his friends had got into a scuffle leading to his suspension, and Vice-Chancellor Prof Appa Rao, the family said a law like the Nirbhaya Act must be introduced to curb discrimination against Dalits and to act against people responsible for suicides by them.
Pointing out that she was still waiting for basic answers on Rohith’s suspension, Radhika said, “Did my child commit suicide or did you push him to death? Or did you murder him? I do not need anything. All I want to know from the vice-chancellor and university officials is why my son died. I want to know who is responsible and whether they are being punished or not. Instead of answering us, they are raising questions regarding our caste.”
Radhika said they had also refused Prof Rao’s request to meet them at their home. “We do not want to meet you at our house. You don’t have to come there. You have to come to the place where Rohith died and give us an explanation,” she said.
Apart from Rohith, his siblings and mother too now live in Hyderabad. His sister moved to the city after her marriage, while Radhika came here towards end of December. Raja has been staying in the city since September 2013, when he got a Project Fellowship at National Geophysical Research Institute at Hyderabad.
Recounting how tough it was for their mother to raise them, Raja said Radhika hardly earned Rs 100-150 a day all through the 1990s but ensured all her children went to college. Staff at the private school they studied in and later their college contributed money to pay their fees, he said. One year younger than Rohith, Raja added, “Rohith was very caring and friendly. There is hardly anyone back in our village in Guntur who didn’t know him. To take pressure off our mother, Rohith and I worked from 4:30 pm to 11:30 pm for Rs 40 a day when Rohith was at Hindu Degree College. Rohith also worked as a courier boy for two months before moving to Hyderabad.”
Rohith got scholarship to study Intermediate at AP Residential Junior College at Hindupur. After completing Intermediate, Rohith got admission at Hindu Degree College at Guntur, where he scored 80 per cent marks. He joined MSc at University of Hyderabad after securing 6th rank in the entrance test. He got 90th rank in a test to join the CSIR.