Rohith Vemula, Kanhaiya Kumar: Tale of 2 students, 1 protest

What was planned as a march to protest the death of Rohith dovetailed into one demanding the release of Kanhaiya, now in Tihar Jail facing charges of sedition.

Written by Apurva | New Delhi | Updated: February 24, 2016 1:48 pm
The mother of Dalit research scholar Rohith Vemula at a rally demanding justice for him, in New Delhi Tuesday. (Express Photo: Tashi Tobgyal) The mother of Dalit research scholar Rohith Vemula at a rally demanding justice for him, in New Delhi Tuesday. (Express Photo: Tashi Tobgyal)

WEAVING THROUGH Delhi’s roads, stopping traffic and raising slogans, they marched. Young, buoyant, unafraid and angry. Flags, banners, posters and hundreds of faces obscured by masks. Yet two stood out, and neither was among them. Rohith Vemula and Kanhaiya Kumar.

What was planned as a march to protest the death of Rohith dovetailed into one demanding the release of Kanhaiya, now in Tihar Jail facing charges of sedition.

“We all knew Kanhaiya Kumar,” said Sunkanna Velpua, a Dalit research scholar from the University of Hyderabad who was with Rohith in the days before his suicide.

Watch Video: Visuals Of Rohith Vemula Protest Rally

“As JNU students union president, Kanhaiya had come to express his solidarity. In Hyderabad, Kanhaiya, who usually ends his slogans with ‘Lal Salaam’, said ‘Jai Bhim’,” said Velpua.

And that set the tone Tuesday as students from educational institutions across the country united in the national capital demanding justice for Rohith, the release of Kanhaiya and the dropping of sedition charges against JNU students.

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And then, there was this third face. That of Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar, the name that brought together a 23-year-old postgraduate student in Gorakhpur, a 34-year-old PhD scholar from Vijaywada, a Mechanical Engineering professor from Delhi and a daily-wage labourer on the road to Jantar Mantar.

Watch Video: Rohith Vemula Protest Rally: What Rahul Gandhi Said

All marching with one common goal: end government interference in educational institutions.

“SC, ST, OBC. Hum Bharat ke Mulvasi (We are natives of this country)”; “Mazdoor, Dalit, kisan. Yahi hai desh ki asli santhan (Workers, Dalits, farmers. We are the country’s true children).” Every slogan ended with the same two words — “Jai Bhim” – as the students assembled at Ambedkar Bhavan.

At the vanguard, Hyderabad’s Joint Action Committee (JAC) chanted excerpts from Kanhaiya’s JNU speech a day before he was arrested. “Bhukhmari se. azaadi. Sanghvad se. azaadi. Samantvad se. azaadi. Punjivad se. azaadi. Brahmanvad se. azaadi. (Freedom from hunger. Freedom from Sangh. Freedom from feudalism. Freedom from capitalism. Freedom from Brahmanism).

And Kanhaiya’s party, the All India Students Federation (AISF), which brought up the rear, shouted, “Kitne Rohith marega, har ghar se Rohith niklega (How many Rohith’s will you kill, one will emerge from every house).”

Watch Video | Rohith Vemula Protest Rally: What Arvind Kejriwal Said

Velpua was among the five Hyderabad university students who were placed on suspension along with Rohith before the suicide. “You see, all five students suspended were Dalits who faced the same discrimination and were part of the Ambedkar Students Association. When the movement for justice began, it was Ambedkar that brought together all student groups in Hyderabad,” said Velpua.

“His teachings transcend regular politics. There is no Lal Salaam or nepotism. Ambedkar is the tool to oppose the present regime,” said Velpua.

The JAC and AISF were not alone. There were also members of the All India Students’ Association (AISA) under the CPI (M-L), National Students Union of India (NSUI) under the Congress, Students Federation of India (SFI) under the CPI(M), Ambedkar Students Association (ASA), Muslim Students Federation (MSF) affiliated to the All India Muslim League, and Chatra Yuva Sangharsh Samiti (CYSS) of AAP.

“I have been teaching for 30 years and I have not seen such a coalition. The Left, Congress, Muslims, Dalit bodies and even the AAP. It was perhaps during the Emergency that students came together like this. The government is playing a dangerous game,” said a DU professor who was part of the march.

The occasion even brought together fierce political rivals Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi and AAP chief Arvind Kejriwal to share space with Brinda Karat of CPI(M) and D Raja of CPI. Also on stage were Rohith’s mother Radhika and brother Raja.

“We need a law to ensure students in colleges and universities do not face discrimination and their voice is not stifled,” said Gandhi.

“What happened to Rohith was suppression and this is happening with Dalits, Adivasis and marginalised groups. The RSS wants India to have one ideology, but we want an India of multiple voices and multiple ideologies,” he said.

Delhi Chief Minister Kejriwal said the Centre was at “war” with students. “Now they have started distributing certificates of patriotism… For them, the biggest patriot is Nathuram Godse and the biggest traitor is Kanhaiya. The biggest patriot is Adityanath and traitor Mahatma Gandhi. Biggest patriot Sadhvi Ritambhara and biggest traitor Aamir Khan,” Kejriwal said.

“If Modiji does not mend his ways, then very soon the youth and students will come together to teach him a lesson. I had said earlier, ‘Modiji, students se pange mat lena’ (don’t mess with students). Otherwise, they will rock your government and you won’t have a clue,” said Kejriwal.

After the politicians left and the stage was dismantled, members of the JAC trudged back to Ambedkar Bhavan, where they will spend the next few nights. They hope to meet President Pranab Mukherjee and plan to stay in Delhi during the Budget Session and continue the movement against Rohith’s death and the sedition charges against Kanhaiya.

And it would do Parliament well to listen. The battle for Rohith is now a battle for Kanhaiya. The twain has met.

Rohith Vemula’s grandmother dead

Hyderabad: B Anjanidevi, 74, grandmother of Rohith Vemula, died in her sleep Monday after suffering a massive cardiac arrest. Anjanidevi had adopted Rohith’s mother Radhika when she was an infant. Although she was accused of mistreating Radhika and her children, she stood by her adopted daughter after Rohith committed suicide. She fell ill after Rohith’s suicide, and never recovered. ENS