Story of the ‘city girl’ from Guntur grieving for her son — Rohith Vemula

Who is Radhika Vemula? Is she Dalit, isn’t she? These questions continue to simmer weeks after the suicide of her son Rohith Vemula at Hyderabad Central University.

Written by Sreenivas Janyala | Published:February 14, 2016 12:30 am
Rohith Vemula, Rohith Vemula suicide, Rohith vemula case, Rohith vemula family, Rohith Vemula mother, Rohtih Vemula news, Hyderabad Central University, Hyderabad University news, India news Anjani Devi says she adopted Radhika (above) when she was a year old. (PTI Photo)

On the Gurazala-Macharla road, 100 km from the district headquarters of Guntur in Andhra Pradesh, stands ‘Sreedevi Rice Mill, 1977’, a decrepit single-storey building with the locks on. The mill, which wound up operations in 2002, is owned by the Vemulas, once among the more affluent families of Gurazala village. It was to this family that Radhika came as a child bride, after her marriage to Vemula Manikumar, one of the three sons of Vemula Venkateshwarlu.

Weeks after his grandson Rohith Vemula’s suicide rocked Hyderabad Central University and with questions about his ‘Dalit identity’ continuing to be the subject of political debates, Venkateshwarlu settles down to talk at his home in Vaddera Colony.

“Yes, he was my grandson but that was not the name we gave him when he was born. He was named Manik Chakravarthi, jewel of our eyes and king of the world,” says Venkateshwarlu, 65, beaming with pride.

In Gurazala, villagers talk fondly of the Vemulas. It was Rohith’s great grandfather, Vemula Mallaiah, who got a shelter and the public wells in the village built, they say. The family once owned 40 acres but Venkateshwarlu now has two acres as his share of the ancestral property. His main source of income now is the rent he gets from half a dozen houses he owns in the area.

Venkateshwarlu lives here with his wife Raghavamma and son Manikumar, 43. His other sons, Mallikarjuna Rao and Ravi Kumar, live in Hyderabad.

“My son Manikumar did not look after his wife Radhika and their children (Neelima, Rohith and Raja). He turned alcoholic and squandered away his share of the wealth. He would not take care of the rice mill or the few assets that he got as share of the family property,’’ says Venkateshwarlu.

In 1985, Venkateshwarlu’s father Vemula Mallaiah arranged Manikumar’s marriage with Radhika, 17, the daughter of a state government employee and school teacher living in Guntur town. So that’s how “city girl” Radhika, about 14 years old and who had studied till her Class 10, ended up marrying a school dropout from Gurazala.

Rohith Vemula, Rohith Vemula suicide, Rohith vemula case, Rohith vemula family, Rohith Vemula mother, Rohtih Vemula news, Hyderabad Central University, Hyderabad University news, India news Rohith Vemula, in blue shirt, with his friend Riyaz Shaikh (Courtesy: Riyaz Shaikh)

Less than five years later, it was clear the marriage was failing. Not only did Manikumar drink heavily, he suffered from violent bouts of schizophrenia. The daily arguments in the Vemula family over Manikumar’s drinking habits and his verbal and physical abuse soon became a public spectacle in the Vaddera colony.

Desperate to get out of the situation, in 1993, Radhika decided to take her three children and go back to her parents in Guntur. In 1995, Manikumar, who would travel to Guntur to see his family almost every other day, convinced Radhika to return to the village.

“They came back and the three children were enrolled in the village government school. Rohith must have been nine or 10 then. But in 1998, when the beatings and the arguments got worse, Radhika went back to her home in Guntur,’’ says Venkateshwarlu.

He says Manikumar kept going back to his wife and children and even tried finding a job in Guntur. “He got a few jobs but would be thrown out within a day or two because he used to borrow money and get drunk on duty. The last job he did was of a security guard, but that didn’t last either. When Rohith died, I went to Guntur and brought Manikumar back home,” says Venkateshwarlu.

“I was shocked when Rohith committed suicide and I was even more shocked when it was claimed that he was a Dalit. We still don’t believe Radhika belongs to a Scheduled Caste (SC). If we had known, we would not have allowed the marriage in the first place. My son says even he did not know about Radhika’s caste until Rohith’s suicide. I swear,’’ he says.

Rohith Vemula, Rohith Vemula suicide, Rohith vemula case, Rohith vemula family, Rohith Vemula mother, Rohtih Vemula news, Hyderabad Central University, Hyderabad University news, India news Rohith’s paternal grandparents Venkateshwarlu and Raghavamma at their home in Gurazala village, Guntur. (Express Photo by Harsha Vadlamani)

Manikumar’s younger brother Vemula Mallikarjuna, a software tester working in Hyderabad, says he was in Class VI when his brother got married to Radhika. “I think they had some problems — she was from the city and my brother a villager. My brother is also to be blamed because he was alcoholic and suffered from mental illness. He can be violent and abusive during such bouts. After my brother and his family moved out of Gurazala, I did not see the children much but I know that Rohith was a brilliant child. Through relatives and friends, I would hear about how well he had done in school and later in college in Guntur. As far as I know, he never needed a caste certificate. The last time I met Rohith was in September 2014 at Nizamabad during a family wedding. We exchanged pleasantries but I don’t think he told me he was doing his PhD at University of Hyderabad. We did not interact much because Radhika and the three children stayed away from us,’’ Mallikarjun says.

After Radhika left Gurazala, she first moved in with her parents, Basnala Muslaiah and Anjani Devi, to their home in Prakash Nagar and later shifted to another house in the same colony.

Prakash Nagar, which stands parallel to the railway line near Railpet in Guntur district, was once a red-light area but now the trade is confined to a few houses in the first row. Inside the colony is a residential area where hundreds of families from lower-income groups live in two-room tenements.

It was in one of these tenements that Radhika and her children lived, between 1998 and 2005. Though Radhika later moved to a house in Savitri Nagar and then to Hyderabad in 2013, almost everybody in Prakash Nagar knows her and her children.

“Ask anyone, they will tell you about Radhika. She is a hardworking woman, a good tailor and does embroidery too,” says Uppalapati Danamma, in her 60s, who was municipal councillor from Prakash Nagar ward from 2000 to 2010.

Danamma, who lives a few houses away from Radhika’s parents, says there is a “lot more” she knows about the family. “Radhika wasn’t their biological child. The couple have four children — two sons and two daughters — and they had adopted her when she was a year old,” says Danamma, adding that Radhika was ill-treated by her mother Anjani and was made to work like a servant.

“Of course, it was much later that we came to know that Radhika was their adopted child. Anjani often abused her, making frequent references to her Mala (SC) caste. I think Radhika was 14 or 15 when Anjani once wondered aloud why she had even brought ‘this useless Mala girl home’,” says Danamma.

So who are Radhika’s biological parents? “No one knows. Only Anjani Devi can tell,” says Danamma.

Rohith Vemula, Rohith Vemula suicide, Rohith vemula case, Rohith vemula family, Rohith Vemula mother, Rohtih Vemula news, Hyderabad Central University, Hyderabad University news, India news Radhika says she is close to her “amma” Anjani Devi (above). (Express Photo by Harsha Vadlamani)

At her home in Prakash Nagar, Anjani Devi says, “Yes, I adopted Radhika. That was some 45 years ago. Her parents were labourers who had been brought in for some work on the railway line. Radhika was their second child. Her parents had named her Bodduamma. She was fair and cute and would crawl all over the place… she was probably just over one-year-old then. The family was very poor, they toiled all day in the sun, leaving Radhika under a tree. I had just lost my baby, a girl born after two sons. I was distraught. My heart went out to this baby. Even without asking them, I knew they were from the SC Mala community since most migrant labourers belonged to that caste. Anyway, I later confirmed with them. When Radhika’s parents were moving out of the site after their work, I asked them if I could adopt the baby. They readily agreed. I brought her home and named her Radhika.”

“After we adopted Radhika, I gave birth to two girls. Radhika was the fairest of my daughters and I raised her with a lot of affection. Who is saying that I mistreated her and made her do all the household work? She did household work but so did my two other daughters. I have taught all my daughters everything, from cleaning the house to tailoring. What is wrong in working in your own home? I gave sewing machines as gifts to my three daughters when they got married. That is what helped Radhika the most,’’ she says.

Anjani Devi says her relationship with Radhika changed five years after her marriage, and worsened when Radhika decided to take up her caste as SC-Mala. “I had raised Radhika as a Vaddera and got her married to a Vaddera boy who came from an affluent family. The boy’s grandfather is very well known in Gurazala as a philanthrophist. We didn’t hide the truth about Radhika’s adoption and told him that she was from an SC family but raised as a Vaddera. He had no objection. Unfortunately, Radhika’s husband Manikumar turned out to be a drunkard,’’ she says.

Anjani admits she knew the bridegroom was an alcoholic. “We were informed by some people, but by that time we had made all the arrangements for the wedding,’’ she says. “When she could not bear Manikumar’s harassment, we asked her to return home with her three children. Since her husband would frequently keep dropping in and we didn’t have space for all of them, Radhika moved to a one-room house nearby.”

Anjani Devi says the lane Radhika moved into was an “SC colony” and that it’s there that she took on her SC identity. “The children had just started going to school. I do not know when and from where she got this idea but she got SC certificates for herself and for the children, mentioning them as Mala. She should not have done that. For me, she is a Vaddera. Rohith and Raja did not need SC certificates at all. Rohith was brilliant and so is Raja. It is only after Rohith’s suicide that we came to know that the caste issue was being raked up,’’ she says.

Even after Radhika and her three children started living separately, she would be called to help at Anjani’s household. By then, Anjani’s two daughters had moved out after marriage. Radhika also cooked and cleaned at the daycare centre for the aged which Anjani Devi ran out of her home, where at least 20 people are given free lunch.

Anjani admits Radhika did a lot of household work, but adds, that was “like any of my daughters would”.
However, according to Rohith’s friend Riyaz Shaikh, the children resented the fact that their mother worked like a servant at their grandmother’s house. And that when their mother couldn’t go, Anjani would call one of the children to work.

Riyaz says Rohith, his “best friend” and classmate at Hindu College in Guntur where they did their BSc, hardly spoke about his family problems. But as a close friend, he knew. “I know Radhika aunty’s problems at Anjani Devi’s house bothered him. Radhika aunty used to fetch water, cook and do all the work, even take care of her siblings’ children. They were never allowed to forget that Radhika had been adopted and that they were of a lower caste.’’

In Hyderabad, Radhika says she doesn’t want to “hurt anyone’s feelings”. She says she is “very close” to her “amma” and that Anjani Devi was the first person from the family to reach Hyderabad on hearing of Rohith’s suicide. “There were certain reasons I was forced to move out of Prakash Nagar (Anjani Devi’s house). I don’t want to disclose them now. I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings,” she says.

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  1. H
    Haradhan Mandal
    Feb 14, 2016 at 5:30 am
    "They were never allowed to forget that Radhika had been adopted and that they were of a lower caste.’’ - They were never allowed to forget!!!!! Not even by their "own" (!) family. And why should their "own" country and "society" ????? Who are the REAL "Anti-national"???
    Reply
    1. H
      Haradhan Mandal
      Feb 14, 2016 at 7:51 am
      This article was due but not ahead of its time - and it has arrived in the right time - Thanks to IE. If one has followed the story - and the comments /posts / statements/'police and "fact" finding reports'/ the denials/the fabrications /the attempt to wriggle out etc etc - it allowed time for the 'force' to SELF-expose themselves by degrees everyday - not just about the incidents and the culpability - but also about THEMSELVES. Somewhere IE should 'immortalized' all the articles/news reports/comments /posts/denials for next generations.
      Reply
      1. M
        MyTake
        Feb 14, 2016 at 8:26 am
        After this no one ever should believe what the Congress or their goon friends say! They will do anything turn day into night or night into day to suit their need.
        Reply
        1. U
          US NRI
          Feb 14, 2016 at 8:02 am
          I don't want to very insensitive but his mom must be thanking "dalit" label for bringing her into limelight. His death unfortunately didn't matter..what mattered was that the "label" Carried more weight than his mother's loss. Congress will reap it's benefits in next LS election.
          Reply
          1. A
            asp
            Feb 14, 2016 at 6:18 am
            All are trying to benefit from the suicide of a dreamer ! Its again " Pipali Live " very sad!!
            Reply
            1. G
              Girish Phalke
              Feb 14, 2016 at 7:20 am
              Stop making martyr of the people who committed suicide....
              Reply
              1. I
                Indian
                Feb 14, 2016 at 5:57 am
                Mr. George, thats not true, there is no distinction amongst hindus, its only the christians who want to divide, so that they can convert a few of them into christians, just like you are trying and how your g father got converted for a few kilos of rice or a few 100 rupees.
                Reply
                1. B
                  bhuwan
                  Feb 14, 2016 at 7:43 am
                  The question is not that from which family or cast he belonged to. The question is why he killed himself? The matter is so politicized that no one will ever able to know the real cause behind the suicide. If the stories are being put on media by so called intellectuals and politicians are right, he was an activist fighting for justice for down trodden then it is very impossible that he will kill himself only because he was suspended from hostel. Ghandiji, whom Mr Rahul hi compared him never thought of suicide even in worst of treatment mettet to him by Britishers. it is unfortunate that truth never comes out in such cases due to political interest of parties. this is a dangerous trend. in the name of democracy, truth cannotb burried.
                  Reply
                  1. R
                    rahul mayank
                    Feb 14, 2016 at 12:18 pm
                    In this arcticle . .. we have all anti nationals in one place.. .
                    Reply
                    1. K
                      Kamal
                      Feb 14, 2016 at 4:31 am
                      Rohit was a supporter of terrorist yaqub. This is what matters. Parents should advise children against hobnobbing with antinational groups like communists, leftists, islamists, Christian missionaries, etc. Rohit alone is to be blamed for his suicide. Deserves no sympathy
                      Reply
                      1. K
                        kulaputra kulaputra
                        Feb 14, 2016 at 12:49 am
                        Don't see the point of this report. Vemula Rohith - whether Dalit or not is not the issue. Did he study, was he serious as a student is the issue. These universities that have suddenly become hotbed of politics are useless. No wonder so many parents are forced to send their children abroad for studies.
                        Reply
                        1. K
                          Krishna Kumar
                          Feb 14, 2016 at 6:13 am
                          First the guy hangs around with muzzies and under their influence turns out to be a supporter of anti national terrorist Yaqub memon. When caught and debarred from cles he goes and hangs himself like a coward. The anti national cottage industry latches on to his death to beat up the government of the day. And then pressutes followup and try to generate sympathy with this kind of stories. Shame!!
                          Reply
                          1. K
                            KS KUMAR
                            Feb 14, 2016 at 3:01 am
                            You do not write such stories about families of soldiers killed in encounters or Siachen. What is the point of writing history of Rahit Vemula as if it is family who fought for freedom or did some great social development. IE seems to bent upon to create sympathy for any one who oppose Modi or BJP.Like NDTV do not become mouth-piece of congress.
                            Reply
                            1. M
                              Mallikarjun Iyyer
                              Feb 14, 2016 at 6:07 am
                              do u mean change of religion will give them equality i think u donot knwo the separate C 9090 h they have in various localies
                              Reply
                              1. M
                                Mallikarjun Iyyer
                                Feb 14, 2016 at 6:04 am
                                dont try to fish in troubled water dear
                                Reply
                                1. M
                                  manu
                                  Feb 14, 2016 at 11:08 am
                                  so its now clear that anti nationals utilsied rohits poverty and family back groiund and his smartness to support yakoob memon and to act against hindus..and finally same anti natinals forced him to commit suicide..
                                  Reply
                                  1. M
                                    manu
                                    Feb 14, 2016 at 11:06 am
                                    sorry ..first rohith chanted agaisnt mother india..nd now betra own mother ..
                                    Reply
                                    1. M
                                      manu
                                      Feb 14, 2016 at 11:11 am
                                      what du u want when chaddi less likes of yakoob ,ajaml blast in city and kill indian jsut bcos they are not true follower
                                      Reply
                                      1. R
                                        reader
                                        Feb 14, 2016 at 8:22 am
                                        bjp wants all togather but narrominded polticians of congis and left want to keep the issue other wise they loose existence . people like you are making people dalit . when people of india voted bjp some people become highy intolerncent . even your mentor complain to obama . there was a bulgery in calcuta i where none was attacked by dacoits one proved to be bangadeshi . and yor some leader from mobai made commect agaist mdi . because these elements afraid they will niot be able to convert people giving money
                                        Reply
                                        1. R
                                          reader
                                          Feb 14, 2016 at 8:13 am
                                          can you give any example that rss killed muslimm . you never told two boggies of traine burned alive . why you blame rss . rss never say against any caste . it is the poiltician they want caste devide for politices.
                                          Reply
                                          1. R
                                            reader
                                            Feb 14, 2016 at 8:08 am
                                            he difference between the students and politicians they want gain from his death . politician with rahul hi came to get vote in future . see the diff of anjali devi who adopted ridhika got her married in same caste even the father in law also agreed . now see the politician and compare with anjali devi, i feel these are vultere s to eat dead bodies, but vultures does good job to the environement but these human vulters polute the country. did any politicians or student body helped this guy before his death . after death tyhey becoame savoure of him anjali devi made rohit a vaddera and these politicians and students making disterbance made him dalit
                                            Reply
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