Mother and brother of Dalit scholar Rohith Vemula, who committed suicide at Hyderabad Central University in January sparking strong protests across the country, today embraced Buddhism on the occasion of Dr B R Ambedkar’s 125th birth anniversary. Rohith’s mother Radhika and brother Naga Chaitanya Vemula, also known as Raja Vemula, were given ‘deeksha’ at a function in Dadar here in the presence of Prakash Ambedkar, the grandson of Dr B R Ambedkar. Ambedkar, Dalit icon and architect of the Indian Constitution, coverted to Buddhism at a grand ceremony in Nagpur in 1956 as he was strongly opposed to the caste system in Hindusim. At the venue of the deeksha ceremony, the mother-son duo paid tributes to Dr Ambedkar and bowed before his portrait.
Raja Vemula said, “My brother Rohith was a Buddhist at heart although he did not convert. He took his own life as he was discriminated because he was a Dalit. We performed his last rites according to Buddhist traditions, honouring his love for Buddhism.” “Rohith used to talk of Buddhism a lot. He had also written a letter to the Vice Chancellor about how Dalits are discriminated against on the campus. My mother feels that we should honour Rohith by embracing Buddhism,” he said. “We are against the caste system in Hinduism and have, therefore, decided to embrace Buddhism which does not have such an oppressive system of castes,” Rohith’s brother said.
Prakash Ambedkar said Buddhist monks gave ‘deeksha’ to Rohith’s mother and brother at a function on the sidelines of a programme marking the birth anniversary of Dr Ambedkar. “The function to covert the duo to Buddhism was organised after Radhika Vemula approached me and conveyed their wish to embrace Buddhism when I visited Hyderabad recently,” he said. Raja and Radhika Vemula, along with Rohith’s childhood friend Riyaz Shaikh and Hyderabad university student Charbad Raju, had left for Mumbai from Hyderabad yesterday. Rohith’s elder sister, who is married, has not converted to Buddhism. Rohith Vemula, 27, committed suicide on January 17 in a hostel room in Hyderabad Central University where he was a PhD scholar after he and four others were suspended from the hostel last year and restrictions were put on their movement by the university administration as part of disciplinary action for allegedly assaulting ABVP leader N Susheel Kumar.