Proud that my name is registered with Rohit Vemula’s struggle for caste-less society: A letter from prison

Intro: I am one of the arrested students of UoH in connection with protest for justice for Rohith Vemula. We were arrested and brutally tortured by the police and then we were sent to the prison. False cases have been filed against us by the VC and the police. In this context, I wrote this letter from prison. It took a long time to collect the letter because it was with some other people.

Now I am writing this letter from the Cherlapally Central Prison, Hyderabad. I am an undertrial political prisoner bearing the id no ut9609. I was arrested from Hyderabad Central University by the police on 22nd March, 2016 and after one-day illegal police custody, I was sent to the prison on 23rd March late night. It is very hard for me to believe that I am in jail now for doing nothing wrong. Not even in my wildest dream did I imagine that I would be incarcerated in prison for just protesting for Rohith`s justice. Apart from peacefully and democratically protesting for justice for Rohith, I fail to understand what crime I have committed; why I have been arrested and brutally tortured by the police and then sent to prison. This is a poignant memory which I have bear throughout my life. However, I am learning about a new world of prison and also, I am proud of the fact that my name is registered with Rohith Vemula`s struggle for a caste-less society.

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I am Md Hasanujjaman, an M Phil research scholar from the University of Hyderabad. I come from a financially deprived family living in a village in Murshidabad district of West Bengal. I came to this university for higher studies to uplift my family by getting a job, and to contribute to the betterment of the society. My family always dreams that I will find a job and support it. As I am the first person in my family to get a govt job, my family has a lot of expectation from me. But I do not know what misery my family will go through when they will come to know that I am in prison. Apart from supporting my family, I also wanted to be a responsible citizen of this country and work for the well-being of the society.

But when I came to this university, I saw injustice is being done to the Dalits, Adivasis, and minorities. As I wanted to be a responsible citizen of this country, I could not remain a mute spectator to the injustice and discrimination done to these weakest sections of the people. I also saw these intricate problems in the society as impediments to the development and progress of the country. So I felt that I should speak up against the problems and injustices and strive for a better and just society.

I saw the institutional murder of Rohith Vemula is an instance of the discrimination and injustice done to the Dalits. Rohith was forced to take his own life because he wanted to assert the rights of Dalits and to become a dissenting voice. Rohith Vemula was a friend of mine since I came here. Being pained by his death I could not remain silent. So, I stood for justice for Rohith. For more than three months we have been struggling for the justice but in vain. The culprits are freely roaming around in daylight under the impunity of the government.

On 22nd March after a long disappearance, the VC intrudes in the university and illegally takes over the charge of VC, despite the fact that an investigation is going on against him under the SC/ST prevention of atrocities act. We, the student community felt pained and upset at VC`s illegal resumption of the post and that is why we were peacefully protesting against this. It was a scorching hot day. We were sharing water and biscuit with the police. We were very calm and friendly with police. But the police under the instruction of the VC unleashed brutal lathi charge and assaulted all of us indiscriminately. The VC also took revenge by directing the police to arrest and to brutally torture us and then to put us behind the bars.

It was a horrific moment when I was chased and caught by the police. I was beaten up mercilessly and dragged literally into the police van. Then the police unveiled their brutal face by unleashing brutal and inhuman torture on all of us in the van. They snatched my mobile and spectacle. When I pleaded with them to return the spectacle as I have a serious eye problem, the police as a response hit me on my right eye. In this way, I was beaten up black and blue. On their faces, I did not find any sign of mercy. Because of their continuous beatings, I felt breathlessness and numb sometimes.

The police also unleashed verbal abuse. They called us Pakistani ISI agents and supporter of Pakistan and threatened to send us to Pakistan. They called us anti-national alleging that we conduct “beef-festival”, “kiss of love” and celebrate ‘Afzal Guru’, ‘Yakub Memon’. The police made extremely anti-women and sexist comments by threatening to rape our mothers and sisters and to take their naked videos bringing them here. They also threatened to rape our female friends in the university. They abused and slapped Prof K Y Ratnam. Moses Abhilash, an independent freelance journalist was also a victim of the atrocity. They even did not spare the departed soul of Rohith Vemula whom they abused badly and they said so many others things. After severe harassment in one-day police custody, we have been sent to the prison even without allowing us to appear in front of the honourable Magistrate.

Being in jail now, a lot of things are coming to my mind. When I hear that some cases have been booked against me, I wonder if protesting for justice ends up being booked with cases then what would happen to the ‘justice’ itself. I am not afraid of myself but of my family who hopes that I would support it. I support my family by the fellowship which I get. But unfortunately, I have not got the fellowship for last ten months. And when I am expecting my fellowship after ten months, I am in prison and if I get it, I am unable to send the money to my home. I told my father that I will send money at the end of this month. But now I do not know when I will be released from the prison. I do not know what answer I will give to family.

By sending us to prison, the VC wants to destroy our careers because at this point in time most of us have exams and thesis to finish. I myself am supposed to write my M Phil thesis within a very limited time. Now I have to apply for Ph.D. within a few days of time. If I fail to finish my MPhil and get into Ph.D., I will forfeit the fellowship. I am also afraid if the cases against me become an impediment to getting a job and also my further prospect. The VC with the help of police is threatening us by filing false cases. And they want to create fear in us so that we do not again dare to raise our voice against the VC.

After coming to the prison, we are having very interesting time. As part of our daily activities, we are reading a lot of books. All of us are reading some books or the other. Sometimes we are singing songs and reciting poetries. Many of us are busy in writing about how we are feeling in the prison. The most enlightening thing is that we are having enlightening discussions with our two teachers who were also arrested along with us. We are discussing various issues. Eklaviya speaks also found space in our schedule. We are sharing our experiences of discrimination and bias. The prison for us has become a truly academic space, and at least better than our university now. The teachers who are with us are wonderful people. They behave with us very friendly. They are like our guardians in the prison. It is such a democratic space that there are people from different ideological backgrounds, and still we are very friendly and united.

In the prison, we are not being harassed but we are troubled to see a hierarchy. The prison authorities are giving us good food but the other prisoners are being given very bad food. The prisoners are working for us like wage labourer. We are exempted from any work as we are the political prisoners. But later we told them that we ourselves can do the work of sweeping and cleaning. We are not made to stand in the queue while others are. We always have visitors. The visitors are bringing us a lot of fruits and other necessary things. We are sharing the fruits with other prisoners who do not have the same privilege as we have. Hardly, they have anyone to visit them. They do not get fruits like us as most of them are poor.

We can see caste system not only in the society but also in prison. The Dalits are being discriminated either by their fellow upper caste inmates or by the upper caste prison authorities. I met an upper caste man who practises casteism in the prison itself. We also heard that the upper caste prison authorities namely, Reddy always discriminate the Dalits and favour the upper caste ‘Reddy’ prisoners. The Reddy prisoners get more opportunities and promotions in the prison itself. They are treated specially. Interacting with some prisoners we understood that the Dalits suffer both as being Dalit and also as poor. They have neither political nor financial support to get them released. I saw a very old man who is made to work in the prison. Thus, the Dalits are the victims of the structural caste discrimination.

We are also witnessing the plight of the Muslims. When we are also interacting with the Muslim prisoners, we hear their stories of how they are implicated in false cases and suffer long imprisonment as under-trials. Many Muslim youths are a victim of the structural conspiracy of implicating the innocent Muslim youths in the name of terrorism and other false cases. When we meet them, they tell us about their families and relatives. They convince us that many of them are innocent. Many of them are in prison for long years still as under-trials. Some are for four; some are for six; some are for ten; some are for sixteen and some are for twenty. They are in a trap in the system of injustice. So, we are having experience of a new different world. We are learning new things in the new world.

I would like to request my friends to contact and tell my family that I have not committed any crime. I was raising my voice against the injustice done to our friend Rohith Vemula. I am striving for making this nation a better place and for this, I am in jail now. It is painful that those who actually want this nation to develop and contribute to making it better, suffer and those who plunder this country and befool the people are enjoying the power and luxury. I would also like to tell my family that I am fine now and ultimately the truth will prevail. I have full faith in the Constitution and I am also faithful that we all be proved innocent. I miss my little niece of three years of age, who calls me and asks for a red small car and dresses. I will come back home soon and meet my niece once I am out of jail. I would request my friends not to tell my family that I was brutally beaten up by the police because my mother will not be able to bear this at all. I would like my M Phil supervisor to be informed that I am in jail now. I will surely come back and write my thesis. But I am afraid because the harassment in the police custody and coming to prison have badly affected my mind; and I do not know how quickly I will able to overcome the mental trauma I am going through.

Lastly but most importantly, I would like to tell my departed friend Rohith Vemula that I will continue to fight for your justice. You have given the inspiration and road to fight against the ugly and dangerous caste system. As a collective we will fulfil your cherished dream of annihilating caste from the society. When I will look at the star I will remember you and your vision and the struggle you have built. By giving up your life you have given us the spirit to fight against the caste system. We will carry forward your struggle. Please be with us always and inspire us. Long live Rohith Vemula! Amar Rahe Rohith Vemula!

Md Hasanujjaman

Cherlapally Central Prison

Date: 25th March, 2016.