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I dreamt of a PhD abroad, but my life is now about fighting injustice: Rohith Vemula’s brother

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After my brother Rohith Vemula’s death, my career choice changed. From being a geologist, I have now turned to law. It is important to know the law, to know one’s rights.

I am a geologist, I passed out with my MSc in Applied Geology in 2013, and then worked in Hyderabad as a Project Fellow/Researcher at the National Geophysical Research Institute (NGRI). I was in the process of considering higher studies. After Rohith’s death, I could not focus my energies on my applications for PhD. The NGRI had kept my position for approximately three months after which I had to ultimately tell them that I wasn’t in a position to rejoin as I felt the need to help the movement.

My brother and I had dreamt of becoming scientists. I had hoped for a PhD abroad— because in India, if you apply for a PhD, they will only know you by the label of your caste. You become a ‘Dalit scientist’, or a ‘Dalit PhD’, or a ‘Dalit scholar’.

His death and all that followed did influence my career choice. Now I have dedicated my life to the movement. There have been many struggles in the last two years. I also drove an auto-rickshaw after that to make ends meet. I have now started studying for my degree in a 3 year-law course. It is important to know the law, to know one’s rights. This is how I want to give back to the community, and hence I am preparing for the LLB.

Today, I realise, more than geology, you need to change society. Like my brother Rohith, there are many others across universities, so we wanted to take care of those students as well. There shouldn’t be any caste discrimination in universities, that’s why we’re fighting back. Rohith’s story cannot be viewed in isolation—it is symbolic of institutional discrimination and the sacrifices of many Dalit Bahujan people and students. We will fight for the Rohith Act, and until then we will not rest or take a break.

Even now, there are tensions at the Hyderabad Central University, two years after my brother killed himself. We have evidence against a person who publicly abused Professor Laxminarayana, who is a Dalit. It was an ABVP leader, but no action has been taken against him. It has been two months. This clearly shows that the university V-C Appa Rao is anti-Dalit, he wants to suppress the voices who are rising for justice. He is supporting the ABVP students.

Without self-respect, how can we survive in this country? Recent events show space is shrinking for the right to speak, write or share freely. Is this a democratic country or a fascist country?

If my family had taken money, or chosen to remain silent after Rohith’s death, the movement would not have continued like this. There should not be another Rohith who dies like my brother did, and no mother should have to cry like my mother does. That’s why we came out and are fighting for justice. This is not only for Rohith Vemula, but for every oppressed person.

My mother is a Dalit and a single woman. And they must be thinking: ‘How come a single woman, that too a Dalit woman, is raising a voice against us?’ This is what makes them unite to harass us. But we will not bother about that, we are ready to give up our lives also.

We have been attacked twice, once in Una in 2016 and in Hyderabad. That is not a problem, we aren’t scared of that. We aren’t alone, nobody can touch us or do anything to us. We are ready, we have given our lives to a movement.

A lot of people united after Rohith’s death. We have seen a unity between Ambedkarites and Leftists like never before. It is creating history. Like my mother, there are people who are coming out now and fighting back.

After the rise of the BJP and Hindutva forces, there is very little ‘hope’ left in the dictionary of the oppressed people— the SC, ST, OBC people.

They are suppressing our voices, and we are asking for justice. And the irony is we are seeking justice from our own suppressors.

If I kill a person, how can I be the same person expected to give justice to him? That’s why Babasaheb said: ‘political power is everything’.

Raja Vemula is the brother of Rohith Vemula.

(As told to Sabah Azaad).

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