Radhika Vemula: The journey from a victim to leader

Radhika Vemula mother of Rohith Vemula
Radhika Vemula, mother of Rohith Vemula, a Dalit scholar who committed suicide due to alleged discrimination, has come out of hibernation and now seeks to emerge as a leader | Image – Prathap Ravishankar

When Radhika Vemula decided to withdraw from all forms of protests and stay-put in Guntur around mid-2018, it seemed unlikely we’d meet again in a political program.

It had been more than two years since the suicide of her son Rohith Vemula in which union minister Smriti Irani, as well as her senior BJP colleagues Badaru Dattatreya and Ramachandra Rao, were listed as accused along with the Vice-Chancellor of the Hyderabad Central University (HCU), Podile Apparao and campus ABVP leader Susheel Kumar. No action was taken against them despite the nationwide agitations.

Radhika spent those years literally living out of a suitcase, as she travelled across the country addressing anti-BJP rallies; talking about the institutional discrimination that led to the death of her son; hoping it would help her get him justice. Her health plummeted and she had to be hospitalized many times.

But towards the end of that two-year period, more than anything, it started becoming increasingly difficult for her to negotiate the different anti-BJP political formations that had briefly come together in 2016 as part of the Justice for Rohith Vemula movement.

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