What was home to Rohith Chakravarthi Vemula? The 26-year-old Dalit PhD student from Hyderabad Central University, whose suicide on Sunday has led to a wave of protests, came from a family in Guntur, Andhra Pradesh. In a Facebook album he uploaded in March 2014, there are glimpses of that place. He called it: “I am made in here, Savitribai Nagar., Guntur :).”
The first image is of his mother’s workstation. A sewing machine on a table, surrounded by heaps of clothes, some in plastic bags. The stool on which his mother sits is empty; a broom rests against the wall. “This was the main bread-earner for our home before I started getting JRF [Junior research fellowship]….. This is my mom’s favorite occupation…. she used to say ‘machine’ can make women powerful…. she is a teacher now, she teaches sewing and embroidery to the women around….” he wrote in the caption.
It is followed by an image of a uniform hanging from a rope: “Dad’s uniform, security guard in a hospital….”
It is a humble home, the walls are bare and unpainted. But it is equipped with basic appliances. There is a solar-powered fan, a small kitchen with shiny utensils, a television set and a bright red fridge.
“We have a fridge and that makes our home more dear to the colony…. don’t touch every water bottle in the fridge, most of them are neighbors’ :)”, he wrote.
It is not just water that they share with their neighbours but also the television. “Almost all the time remote will be with next door kids,” wrote Vemula in the album. In a clearing near the house, is parked a bike, his friend’s: “Riyaz’s bike…. The bike on which I learned driving…..” This was a place of hardship but also of friendship and new journeys.
In one of the images is a young man, who loved “Science, Stars, Nature”, who looked up to Carl Sagan and Christopher Hitchens, taking a photograph as he stands in front of a mirror. If you peruse his other Facebook photos, he would appear to be a politically committed activist, an Ambedkar follower and an argumentative Indian, but he is also a young man who is drawn to th