Those photos were posted and reposted, along with expressions of condolences

Meet Susheel Kumar whose photos of Rohith Vemulas last rites spurred on more activism
news Rohith Vemula Wednesday, January 20, 2016 - 17:49

On Tuesday morning, images of a funeral pyre before which was placed a blue banner were doing the rounds on social media. They were said to be images of Rohith Vemula’s pyre, but it was unclear where they came from given the rumours about a “secret” burial by the police.

On Monday afternoon, as students in Hyderabad Central University were vociferously protesting against the Vice Chancellor whom they held responsible for pushing Dalit PhD scholar Rohith Vemula’s suicide, a young man in Hyderabad spent one-and-a-half hours among graves in the Ambarpet area of the city. He wanted to find his friend Rohith’s grave, and see him one last time.

Two days and one night was all the time that Susheel Kumar and Rohith Vemula spent hanging out together. But that brief meeting touched Susheel deeply.

On Monday, as he was on his way to the university, he learned that Rohith’s body was taken to Ambarpet crematorium instead of the one at Uppal, which is the locality where Rohith’s family lived.

Initially there were rumours that Rohith’s body was secretly taken away and cremated by the police. However, Rohith’s family gave their consent for their own reasons, The News Minute has learned.

At the Ambarpet crematorium

Susheel says he met Rohith five months ago through a common friend and the three of them had had a great time. “That was the only time I met him, but we had a great time. Since they are students and the university is far from the city, they hardly get out. I took him to Mendipatnam and we had haleem. He’s from the village, he hadn’t eaten it before,” Susheel says.

Haleem is a dish made by cooking the meat along with wheat or barley in large pots for several hours until it is paste-like in texture. It is flavoured with herbs and spices and Hyderabad is known for it.

“He showed me around the campus and we danced to songs in the night. We had a great time. He was knowledgeable about everything – Marx, Malcom X, Ambedkar,” Susheel said.

Rohith and three other research scholars had been suspended by the university for allegedly assaulting ABVP member Nandanam Susheel Kumar on August 3, 2015. After they were asked to leave the hostel, Rohith and the others were sleeping on the campus in a makeshift tent.

“I wanted to go and protest along with them (at HCU), but I could not as I had to deal with some other work,” Susheel told The News Minute. “When I heard that Rohith had killed himself, I could not believe it. He seemed like such a joyful person. I couldn’t believe he did it. I wanted to see him.”

A receipt from the crematorium in Ambarpet, Hyderabad

He went around to the three crematoria and burial grounds in Ambarpet. However, he was looking among the graves and not the crematorim area of the premises. Finally, at one crematorium, the workers asked him what he was looking for and when he told them, the workers replied that the police had come to the ground from the university. However, the body had been cremated not buried.

“That’s why I went to the office and got a photograph of the receipt. And I took photos and sent them to friends.”

But he did more than just take photos. “I had gone with a garland and the banner and I left it there. It’s a banner used by Dalits everywhere,” Susheel said.

At the crematorium, he had placed the banner even as the fire still burned. The cloth was blue – signifying humanity and compassion – with Ambedkar’s face, the Dhammachakra (wheel) and ‘Jai Bhim’ written on it, as a tribute to a young Dalit man who believed that: “My birth is my fatal accident.” Dalits in that region call it the "Swabhimana Pathakam" - the flag of self-respect.

(This story has been updated.)

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