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Rohith Vemula's brother and mother embrace Buddhism. Here's why

Ashwin Aghor | Updated on: 10 February 2017, 1:50 IST

If Rohith Vemula's suicide was a cry of protest against the institutionalised oppression of lower castes in this land, the Dalit scholar's family raised the pitch by converting to Buddhism Thursday.

Following in the footsteps of BR Ambedkar, his brother Naga Chaitanya Vemula - Raja to his friends and family - and mother Radhika embraced Buddhism at Chaitya Bhoomi in Mumbai. They could not have chosen a more apt occasion: the 125th birth anniversary of Ambedkar. Again, quite aptly, the conversion was facilitated by Babasaheb's grandson Prakash Ambedkar.

After all, Rohith's suicide has again underlined the same age-old upper caste hegemony that had driven Ambedkar to declare, "I was born Hindu but I will not die a Hindu". Indeed, he went on to renounce the Hindu faith he was born in and embrace Buddhism. Ambedkar believed that while Hinduism stripped the lower castes of human dignity and did not allow them to grow, Buddhism considered everyone equal.

Speaking after the conversion ceremony about the "most important event in our lives", Raja said, "We are not against Hinduism. We are fighting against caste discrimination and Brahmanical domination".

Raja said his brother took his own life "due to the atrocities meted out to him because of being a Dalit". Rohith, he said, had "great love for Buddhism, and he expressed it on many occasions". That's why the family performed his last rites as per the Buddhist tradition.

"This we did to respect his feelings. Rohith would talk a lot about Buddhism. He was attracted to the faith due to its simplicity and the principle of treating everyone equal, without the caste barrier, within Buddhism," Raja added.

And after Rohith's death, their mother decided to embrace the Buddhist faith "to honour his feelings", Raja said, adding. "Caste system in Hinduism is the biggest enemy of people from the lower strata. That is the reason we decided to embrace Buddhism."

Caste system in Hinduism is the biggest enemy of people from the lower strata: Rohith Vemula's brother

According to his brother, Rohith believed the Hyderabad Central University had stopped his monthly scholarship of Rs 2,500 in July 2015 because of his association with the Ambedkar Students Association, which took up issues of Dalit students on the campus. The university administration has earlier denied this allegation, claiming the payment was delayed due to "non completion of paper work".

Edited by Mehraj D. Lone

First published: 14 April 2016, 11:56 IST
Ashwin Aghor @CatchNews

Journalist based in Mumbai.