January 17, marked the second anniversary of the day that shook, not just the University of Hyderabad but the nation as a whole. This day in 2016 was when Rohith Vemula, a PhD scholar at the University of Hyderabad ended his life, allegedly, after a controversy with the administration of the university.
Following that day, January 17 every year is observed as Rohith Vemula Shahadath Din (Rohith Vemula Martyrdom Day). Sending a strong message, this day is not a symbol of victimhood but of resistance to discrimination in educational institutions in the country.
The ‘Shahadath Din’ movement which started in 2017 by the Joint Action Committee for Social Justice was a reflection of the anti-administrative sentiment that rose in the campus post the death of Rohith Vemula. Last year, the mass gathering saw emotional speeches, slogans and protest rallies. The gathering had been challenged with stringent measures from the Dean Students’ Welfare (DSW) restricting the entry of outsiders. Last year also saw Radhika Vemula, the mother of Rohith Vemula rising as the symbol of the fight against discrimination, continuing the fight initiated by her son. Her call for the unity of Dalits, Adivasis, backward classes and Muslims to fight against the upper caste hegemony remained the slogan of the day.
This year saw a more organised and institutionalised observance of the ‘Shahadath Din’. Organised by the Ambedkar Students’ Association (ASA), of which Rohith Vemula was a member, the event saw the presence of Radhika Vemula and Prakash Ambedkar, politician and the grandson of Dr B. R. Ambedkar.
The event started off at Velivada, which over the years has become the hub of the movement in pursuit of ‘Justice for Rohith Vemula’, where the guests paid homage to Rohith as slogans filled the air. A rather peaceful gathering, this time around, comprised of students who voluntarily decided to boycott classes declaring solidarity to the movement.
A number of organisations within the University came openly in support of the movement and declared their objective of removing caste discrimination from the country. Notably, the Students Federation of India announced their decision to observe the day as ‘National Day in Defence of Social Justice’ at the national level.
Prakash Ambedkar, widely known as Balasaheb, rightly pointed out the need for the movement to spread nationally against the communal forces that have gained new blood due to the political developments over the past few years. The motto of the event proves right to be the only solution to the crisis at hand: “Educate! Agitate! Organise!”