NEW DELHI: Perhaps the most poignant takeaway from a meeting in Delhi for the missing Jawaharlal Nehru University student Najeeb Ahmad, was that of two mothers sitting together in search of justice for their sons.
Fatima, mother of Najeeb sat with a poster given to her by one of the protestors, Justice for Najeeb. Beside her was Radhika Vemula, the mother of Hyderabad Central University student Rohit Vemula who had committed suicide, carrying a poster with the words ‘Suicide of Rohit Vemula is Institutional Murder.’
In the crowd of supporters, the two women shared a common bond as they struggled to cope with emotions, one whose hope of seeing her son alive, is dwindling by the day; and the other who was given the news of her son’s death as suddenly as he had died. Both women have led a hard life of work and denials to fund their children’s education, and both remained worried for them even as they took great pride in their prowess.
Both women from a humble, non political background have been steadfast in joining the protests and demonstrations being held by students across Hyderabad, and now Delhi for justice. They have attended, and spoken at numerous meetings despite being a political, and till now preoccupied with earning enough to run their homes and educate their children.
They see in the indifference of the authorities a guise to help those responsible for their sons disappearance (Najeeb) and death (Rohith) respectively. As Fatima said who came here after her son, by then beaten by a ABVP mob inside Jawaharlal Nehru University, asked her to, “I will not go back until they return him to me.” Hoping against hope that her son is still alive, she said that instead of booking those who had attacked him, and questioning them, the police and the JNU administration are looking the other way.
Radhika Vemula, has had to face a tirade of allegations from senior BJP leaders in Hyderabad and the centre with the Dalit status of her son being questioned, and brought under a deliberate cloud. She said that her son had not got justice, and that those who could give justice were more interested in his caste. In fact his caste as a Dalit, was questioned widely not just by the usual trolls on the social media, but by Ministers in government and sections of the media in a bid to malign the dead boy and his family. This did not succeed, but not for want of effort by the authorities.
There is a certain despondency on their faces, but there is also determination as neither mother is willing to give up. Bring my son back, says Fatima bibi, and arrest those who attacked him.
You cannot bring my son back but pin the blame and take action those responsible for his death, says Radhika Vemula as both sat stoicly side by side, at a demonstration in Delhi. One who fears her son has been kidnapped, and the other who along with her dead son have been targets of an elaborate witchhunt as the students from different universities have been pointing out.
Both mothers have been going through what a student eloquently described as “hell”. After Rohith Vemula’s suicide his mother came to Hyderabad from her village and moved into the
Tent, the Velivada or Dalit quarters that Rohith and the four students expelled along with him had set up outside the hostel. Her life was of strife, where she worked as domestic help, as a construction worker, to bring food into the house and educate her children. As she said then, often they skipped a meal a day, as they did not have enough. She started tailoring, earning at the most Rs 150 a day. The photograph below had been posted by her son on his Facebook page, speaking of the hard work his mother put in to keep him in University. He was on scholarship finally, and would save the little money to send home for her. Radhika would sit with the students every single day, never far from tears then and now, as travelled with them whenever asked to address similar meetings in Delhi or other cities.
Now Nadeem’s mother has joined the students, this time in Delhi, where she comes to JNU almost daily, and travels with the students to be part of the protests. Maybe this will help get my son back, she said, I do not know whether they will let him go. She is sure he has been kidnapped, she prays that he is alive. She was dragged by the police into a van, and taken to a police station for some hours before being released along with the students. Like Radhika Vemula, she chokes back tears, and refuses to give up hope.
But both admit that no one in government is listening. They never did, they still do not.