‘Took part in Bharat Jodo Yatra for Rahul the person, not the party’: Raja Vemula

Radhika and Raja Vemula, mother and brother respectively of the late student leader Rohith Vemula, spoke to TNM after participating in Rahul Gandhi’s Bharat Jodo Yatra in Hyderabad.
Rahul Gandhi with Radhika Vemula
Rahul Gandhi with Radhika Vemula

After staying politically inactive for a brief period, Radhika Vemula, mother of the late student leader Rohith Vemula, participated in senior Congress leader Rahul Gandhi’s Bharat Jodo Yatra in Hyderabad on November 1, Tuesday. “The yatra is against the BJP and its ideology, so I went there to express my solidarity with Rahul Gandhi,” Radhika said in an interview with TNM. She believes that if the Congress comes to power, Rahul Gandhi will provide justice to her son Rohith, a former student of the University of Hyderabad.

Hailing from a Dalit community, Rohith was a member of the students’ organisation Ambedkar Students’ Association (ASA). He had died by suicide on the campus in January 2016, following his suspension from the University along with some other curbs which were seen as caste ostracisation. Activists and students eventually came to term his death as an “institutional murder” caused by the varsity’s alleged caste-based discrimination. The death triggered a nationwide protest against the BJP government, after it came to light that Union Ministers Smriti Irani and Bandaru Dattatreya had gotten involved in the campus politics that allegedly led the then Vice-Chancellor Podile Apparao to suspend Rohith along with four other Dalit students, who were also members of the ASA.

According to Radhika and her younger son Raja Vemula, the interaction with Rahul Gandhi was “very positive”. “Rahul Gandhi is like our family member. He has always remained in touch and helped us. We participated in the yatra purely because of Rahul Gandhi as a person, and not because of the party,” Raja said.

Following Rohith’s death, Rahul had met Radhika twice. It is speculated that the proximity with Rahul is likely to nudge Radhika to join the Congress party. However, she neither confirmed nor denied the news. Radhika had converted to Buddhism following Rohith’s death, and has ever since been actively working to resolve issues faced by students and women. 

Raja, who is now practising law at the Andhra Pradesh High Court, said that he had raised with Rahul the issue of poor representation of Dalits and Adivasi people in the judiciary. “The country needs a person like [Rahul], who has the vigour to bring about change. Someone who understands the poor and the oppressed. He has been in touch with us throughout, whereas Prime Minister Narendra Modi did not talk with even one victim,” he said.

During the brief interaction at the Yatra, Rahul reportedly assured Radhika Vemula that he would stand by them until Rohith gets justice. “He also said that they will introduce the Rohith Act,” Raja said. Since 2016, students and activists have been demanding legislation to protect students of marginalised communities from being discriminated against in higher educational institutions.

Sharing a picture with Radhika Vemula from the Yatra, Rahul had said, “Rohith Vemula is, and will remain a symbol of my struggle against social discrimination and injustice. By meeting Rohith's mother, the steps towards the goal of the journey gained new courage, and new strength to the mind.”

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