The persecution and struggles of Radhika Vemula

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Radhika Vemula, the mother of deceased dalit scholar and Ambedkarite activist Rohith Vemula was on one side enslaved in anguish and on the other side has radically transformed herself by associating with the ambedkarite movement under the constant influence of her son. Generally, many heroics are told about the revolutionaries who struggled and died for a cause, but what often go unnoticed are the struggles and heroics of those who are very closely associated with the revolutionaries as their friends and kin. Not only they come from oppressed social conditions, but also they get influenced by the revolutionary activities and witness various injustices, oppression while they actively associate with those who are part of the struggles. Same were the circumstances confronted by Radhika Vemula.

By closely witnessing the struggle and endless repression faced by Radhika Vemula, I remember an iconic book ‘Mother’ penned by Maxim Gorky during the cruel tsarist regime. The book talks about the pre-revolution proletariat of Russia and focuses on the role of women played in the struggle of the Russian working class during the Russian Revolution of 1905. By juxtaposing the protagonist, Pelagea Nilovna who is the mother of Pavel Mikhailovich, the novel’s hero with another protagonist mother Radhika Vemula, we find several anguishing instances suffered by both and similarities in the social conditions which guided them to actively take part in the struggles carried out by their revolutionary sons.

Like Pelagea who succumbed to wife-beating throughout her married life, till her husband’s death, in the same way, Radhika suffered casteist patriarchal tortures inflicted by her husband due to which she had to finally take a divorce to end her misery. Pavel’s reading of books and his participation in the socialist movement has profoundly influenced his mother to join the comrades and carry forward the proletariat struggle, in a similar way, the impact of Rohith’s political activism was to a great extent on his mother who has joined the ambedkarite movement and vowed to fight for the rights of dalit women by proclaiming Savitribai Phule as her inspiration about whom she came to know from Rohith as he commemorated Savitribai’s Death Anniversary in Hyderabad Central University (HCU) last year.

Maxim Gorky rightly said that mothers are hardly ever pitied. How difficult it is for a marginalized dalit woman coming from a rural remote village while continually suffering casteist arrogance and patriarchal brutalities, to raise her child to the celestial height of brilliantly securing 6th rank in the M.Sc. entrance test of prestigious HCU and 90th rank in a test to join CSIR with a double JRF on his name. All her relentless efforts have gone in vain when she found to her shock that her meritorious son whom she thought would relive her from strenuous hard work, once for all have left her all alone by committing suicide succumbing caste discrimination and social boycott engulfed by the brahminical administration of UoH.

Since the day she was denied access to perform the final rites of her deceased son, till today the state followed by its loyal administration, the university, vilifying trials of the media houses and the collective conscience of Indian society as a whole have totally lambasted her by spitting venom with unsavory, patriarchal, misogynist comments against her marital status and the dalit vs non-dalit controversy on Rohith’s caste has finally engendered her to exhibit the facts by coherently admonishing the wrong denigrations. Many dalit women are immeasurably suffering because of the casteist patriarchal nature of the upper caste society and the state institutions which usually promise to deliver justice are exhibiting extreme impropriety by dancing to the tunes of the dominant upper caste arrogance. This has resulted in horrendous crimes against dalit women who have become vulnerable to the patriarchal-feudal attitude of the male masculinity and the fascist tendencies of several right wing non-state actors are brutally exterminating them in a large scale since time immemorial.

By facing through all this painfully agonized oppression, she realized that the government is apathetic towards delivering justice for her son by neglecting to act against the perpetrators responsible for this gory institutional murder. Incidentally, she also witnessed and bluntly condemned the malicious lies told by the HRD minister Smriti Irani in the august house during a discussion on Rohith Vemula. While interacting with the fellow rusticated dalit students, Radhika has understood how her son Rohith was dragged into torment and suffered maltreatments inflicted by the brahminical forces in the university. All these numerable oppressive social conditions have shaped her ideology and made her not only to lead the justice for Rohith Vemula movement, but also she has vociferously committed towards the annihilation of caste struggles by following the footsteps of Ambedkar.

Journalist Sudipto Mondal has uncovered facts from Anjani, the adoptive mother of Radhika Vemula that Radhika was born to a dalit migrant labourer couple who has given her when she was a baby child. Since her Childhood, Radhika Vemula had to suffer intense caste humiliations from her adoptive mother and her children as they belong to a comparatively upper caste family. Eventually, Radhika was made an illiterate who was forcibly confined to do menial household works and had to marry at a very early age to the very same hierarchically upper caste man, whereas the other children of her adoptive mother were highly educated. Succumbing to caste discrimination from her upper caste in-laws, Radhika Vemula came out of their in-laws home and settled at her adoptive mother’s house at the age of 19 when Rohith was just 2 years old. Even there she had to face ruthless caste discrimination, at one instance when Rohith came home after school, her adoptive mother and her cousins used to scold her for keeping him food at 5pm by saying that only devils eat at this time. Radhika remembers many such instances where Rohith used to cry all the time requesting his mother to allow him to eat at least at the backyard or terrace so that nobody could see him. Suffering so many pains she brought him up to the university level hoping that at least there he will live with equality, but sadly even there he had to face the same caste based discrimination in the name of dalit which has finally resulted in his death.

Radhika Vemula doesn’t want any mother to suffer the pain which she has succumbed to, initially she was fighting for her son but now she had vociferously vowed before the protesting students in HCU that she will fight until justice is delivered to all dalit students and until Rohith act is brought into force, so that no student shall be discriminated like her son. Isn’t it strange that the people with the harshest life are often the kindest from inside?

Life under brahmanical patriarchy had become very intolerable for the very existence of humanity, added to that is the fundamental brutality of exploitation by the state institutions which are incessantly victimizing dalit women like Radhika Vemula into nothing less than mentally pushing into scaffolds and also hoodwinking with absurd maltreatments by denying justice. As George Orwell has said, “Political language is designed to make the lies sound truthful and murder respectable and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind,” by repressing the justice for Rohith Vemula movement, the BJP government is not only safeguarding itself, but also it is blatantly glorifying the accused responsible for this gory institutional murder.

Radhika Vemula has promised to dedicate her life to the dalit movement by fighting against the brahminical forces and also had confirmed about her official conversion to Buddhism as a form of socio-political protest. She affirmed to continue and carry forward the movement which her son has left. It is high time for the ambedkarite movement which has begun to annihilate caste to also set an example by diverting itself from the conventional patriarchal notions of male domination and shall support dalit women in leading struggles against caste and patriarchy. In Maxim Gorky’s ‘Mother’, Pelagea, the mother of Pavel has said “If our children, the dearest parts of our hearts, can give their lives and their freedom, dying without a thought for themselves, what ought I to do, as a mother”. There are many such brave mothers who stood with their revolutionary children and continued various forms of struggles for equality which their indomitable sons like Rohith and Pavel have left behind. To carry out such heroic struggle, what it requires is the dreams to be injected into every fight for the better world, dreams which can pervade the collective consciousness, and seize it by the roots in order to propel us towards a casteless egalitarian society.



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Jashwanth Jessie Written by:

Jashwanth Jessie holds a master’s degree in History from IGNOU and is an independent writer and commentator. He is a Hyderabad based civil rights activist and one of the contributing editors of the upcoming multi lingual anthology book on Rohith Vemula.

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