Radhika Vemula combats caste system and brahmanical patriarchy

Opinion – Ravali Medari and Arpita Jaya

As the day of rage and pain, 17th January, 2017 marked one year of Rohith’s martyrdom and Radhika Vemula’s resolute fight against the institutional murderers of her son. In Radhika Vemula’s words, the ruling castes and classes, the RSS-backed BJP government at the centre, the TRS-led Telangana government, the TDP-led Andhra government and the entire state machinery are unable to cope with the very fact that a Dalit Woman is spearheading the struggle and challenging the brahmanical and patriarchal diktats of the fascist rule.  Rohith and therefore, Radhika Vemula’s Dalit identity has been disputed for time immemorial with scant regard for past judgments of Supreme Court of India, to scuttle the implementation of the SC/ST PoA act and protect the interests of the BJP ministers and their henchmen operating at University of Hyderabad (UoH). The blatant nexus built between TRS and BJP ever since 17th January, 2016, has exposed their criminal intent, sheer hypocrisy and the caste allegiance of K. Chandrashekhar Rao-led Telangana government. Although, the Chief Minister of Telangana had made a statement in state assembly that “necessary steps” will be taken to deliver justice to Rohith’s family, the Telangana police has till date safeguarded the interests of BJP and shielded the culprits. The Telangana government reached a new low by arresting Radhika Vemula and Raja Vemula instead because they expressed their wish to visit Rohith’s Velivada on 17th January, 2017, a day observed as “Rohith shahadath din” by students of University of Hyderabad.

On Rohith shahadat din, Radhika Vemula appealed to students of UoH to ensure her entry inside campus to garland Rohith’s stupa. Hundreds of students marched to the main gate to escort her to Velivada. However, Appa Rao Podile, a minion of BJP who continues to enjoy the privileges despite being booked under SC/ST PoA act and Abetment of Suicide, hand in hand with Telangana police stopped Radhika Vemula from paying tributes to her son at Velivada. The murderous UoH administration cited the High Court ruling again and blocked her entry even to the extent of male police dragging and arresting her and Raja Vemula along with the protesting students. Meanwhile, there was a sudden power blackout all over campus and Mani Kumar, the biological father of Rohith was seen sneaking inside with police escort from back gate of the University. As evident throughout, Appa Rao Podile-led UoH administration used the High Court ruling arbitrarily and selectively against people who stood with the struggle for Justice for Rohith. It is yet another distressful reminder of one of several criminal interventions made by Appa Rao Podile that led to Rohith’s institutional murder. Despite the fact that both Commissioner of Police and DGP, Gachibowli filed affidavits in court debunking the allegations levelled against Rohith and his comrades in ASA, Appa Rao Podile socially boycotted them while letting off ABVP president with a “warning”. Recollecting  the criminal role played by ABVP, BJP and its stooges leading to her son’s death and her experiences from last one year of struggle, Radhika Vemula reiterated her stand on Rohith shahadat din that she will continue to speak against any form of injustice and oppression until her last breath, against the bloodthirsty sangh parivar which is vindictively witch-hunting and killing students from marginalized sections of society. Despite the intimidating atmosphere of constant threats and harassment meted towards Radhika Vemula ever since Rohith’s institutional murder, she reiterated that she will continue to fight the battle for self-respect and dignity, for Justice for Rohith and enactment of Rohith Act that provides legislative protection to students from marginalized sections pursuing higher education in Universities. However, the yearning of a struggling mother to enter Rohith’s University and garland Rohith’s stupa was not met.

17th January was observed as “The Day of Caste Annihilation Struggle” this year by Kula Nirmulana Porata Samithi (KNPS) which led the campaign for Justice for Rohith struggle in all districts of Telangana. It is a stark reminder of 17th January, last year when JAC for Social Justice (UoH) had commenced hunger strike on this day as students had exhausted on all possible democratic modes of protest demanding unconditional revocation of social boycott imposed on Rohith and his comrades. The agrahara of UoH far from acknowledging the grievances put forward by the socially boycotted students and the JAC for Social Justice (UoH), followed orders from the BJP-led central government in executing the institutional murder of Rohith. An hour before tragic news about Rohith’s institutional murder came in, KNPS had joined a public meeting at the hunger strike tent in UoH to release their pamphlet on people’s struggle in Pathapally, a village in Pebber Mandal, Mahabubnagar District. Two calls for “Chalo Pathapally” were given by Pathapally Dalit Baditha Nyaya Porata Samiti (PDBNPS), a conglomeration of 11 organisations which led the struggle against social boycott imposed on 45 Dalit families in Pathapally. PDBNPS gave its first call on 6th August, 2015 which marked the 25th anniversary of the Tsunduru Massacre. Several students from UoH including Rohith joined the massive rally which culminated in the fulfilment of the demand for right to land. However, when the administration failed to translate their assurances into actions, the pamphlet giving a second call was released at Velivada on 17th January, 2016. The speeches amplified and strengthened the voices of those fighting in Pathapally for an end to social boycott and right to land and at the same time, explained how the struggles that were taking place in Pathapally and in UoH are interrelated and contribute to the larger project of annihilation of caste. The Justice of Rohith struggle, apart from placing its demands for social and legal justice highlighted the modus operandi of caste and instances of institutionalized caste discrimination faced by Dalit students in educational institutes. The outrage sparked by Rohith’s martyrdom brought to the fore, the question of caste, how caste structures are replicated and maintained in educational institutes, in classrooms, in friend circles, in political formations and struggles. The brazen forms of casteism and misogyny inflicted on Radhika Vemula till date, Rohith’s caste identity being “decided” in this brahmanical patriarchal society as coming from his biological father and not the struggling mother who raised him, the way in which she has been constantly absused and harassed by the government officials in the name of an “enquiry”, reflect how caste and gender interplay thereby, reproducing the hierarchies of “purity” and “pollution” on a woman’s body. The Justice for Rohith struggle has raised several important questions that left and feminist praxes need to address in being critical of its limited engagement with the caste question historically and learning from politics of recognition and representation, of intersectionalities of multiple and layered forms of discrimination, and imbibing that understanding in rebuilding organizational structures and its functioning, in rewriting the manifestos by incorporating the question of caste and a program for caste annihilation, in advancing the collective fight for an equal and just society.

Power to Radhika amma!!Johar, Rohith Vemula!!

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