Author: Vishnu Gopinath, Susnata Paul
Illustrator: Susnata Paul
Subthemes: Rohit Vermula’s suicide
Across India, 26,500 students committed suicide between 2014-2016. Susnata Paul’s graphic novel tells the story of one such student, a Dalit PhD scholar Rohith Vemula. In January 2016, he was found hanging in a hostel room at Hyderabad Central University, a scene that Paul chooses as her opening frame. Snippets from his suicide note, introduce us to a timeline on rewind, one that visually tells the story of events that led up to his drastic decision.
An active member of the ASA (Ambedkar’s Student Association), Rohith had been vocal against censorship of freedom of speech by the ABVP. Through the frames, Ambedkar’s image lingers in the background, whether it be part of a protest poster or a framed photograph Rohith carries when he is forcefully evicted from his hostel. It is a reminder of his motivation to resist the dean’s punishments that leave him and his family hand to mouth, and strive to continue his studies despite the ABVP’s strong political backing by the HRD Ministry. The struggle of resistance against the government in power is juxtaposed with the idea of Constitutional justice, especially to the Dalit community, through this recurring image of Ambedkar.
Each frame is dated in yellow, a colour that is also used to identify Rohith from other people in the frame. His days were numbered in an educational landscape, one that was supposed to help eradicate the evils of caste. Under the spotlight of a street lamp – an object commonly used to publicise the dedication of a working-class Indian student striving to be educated – we hear Rohith emphasize the detrimental effect of the dean’s punishment on the future of his education and survival of his family. Shining bright, yellow rays of light to showcase Rohith’s inescapable situation, Paul challenges the enlightening effect of education on the contemporary position and future of a Dalit student in India.