By Ila Ananya
Radhika Vemula is going to lead a month-long Dalit Swabhiman Rath Yatra starting on March 14th, travelling across Telangana and Andhra Pradesh to try and visit every Dalitwada (Dalit settlement) in the two states by Ambedkar Jayanti.
The Andhra government had recently made outrageous statements about her son Rohith Vemula not being Dalit, and earlier in February had even shockingly demanded that she ‘prove’ that she is Dalit in 15 days. Sudipto Mondal reported for the Hindustan Times that her announcement came as a surprise even to her supporters. Quoting one of her son Rohith’s Facebook posts at the rally she was addressing in Hyderabad, Radhika Vemula said, “Only Radical Ambedkar can liberate us. We have to go back to the Ambedkar who wanted to liberate Dalits by creating separate electorates for them.”
According to the report on the Hindustan Times, Radhika Vemula’s main objectives for the yatra include creating awareness among Dalits about alternate voting systems. At the same time, she also continues to fight for justice for her son, demanding that University of Hyderabad’s Vice-Chancellor Podile Apparao be sacked and prosecuted under the SC/ST Atrocities Act. She is also demanding that an anti-discrimination law for campuses be made, called the ‘Rohith Act’. But there is still the looming sense that the entire case against Apparao and Bandaru Dattatreya could collapse if Radhika Vemula doesn’t ‘prove’ her son’s caste.
Hindustan Times also reports that the Rath that Radhika Vemula and Rohith’s brother Raja Vemula plan to use is the pickup truck that Raja drives for a living, that they call the Bhim Auto — “The Bhim Auto is a symbol of our self-respect,” Radhika Vemula reportedly said.
Considering that Radhika Vemula’s voice has been constantly stifled ever since her son’s death, particularly with constant references to her husband’s caste and how that has taken precedence over the entire issue, there is an urgent need for her to be heard. Perhaps her leading that Yatra will allow her voice to be heard.