Published: 07th April 2020
Despite being chased, harassed and hounded, Radhika Vemula cooks food for migrant workers during lockdown
Radhika and Raja Vemula were chased away from the house they were living in by their neighbours accusing them of entering from 'outside'
After her son Rohith Vemula was 'institutionally murdered' and became a symbol of the Dalit and the student movement in India, Radhika amma as she is fondly called has also emerged a leader of the anti-caste movement. She has always been at the forefront of student-led protests ever since her son passed away in 2016, be it for missing JNU-student Najeeb or the CAA protests. So, when it came to feeding the needy during the lockdown, she is now back on the roads feeding the poor too.
But it was after she herself was forced into the street that she began to understand how difficult it must be for migrant works. Cut to two weeks ago when the lockdown was first announced.
Radhika and her son, Raja Vemula, had visited her daughter's house for a birthday celebration, following which they came to Hyderabad on March 21 to meet the lawyer involved in Rohith's case. It was that day, that the lockdown was announced. The Vemula family had always stayed at Advocate Jai Bheema Rao's house every time they visited Hyderabad. And so they stayed there. "Since Rao had some errands to run, he asked us to stay at his parents' place for a few days. When things settled down, we went back to his house. suddenly all the neighbours came out and started to harass us. They called us strangers even though we have been staying in this house every single time that we came to Hyderabad since my brother died," Raja said.
Distributing to labourers, migrant workers | Credit: Raja Vemula
He went on narrate the incidents of that day, "Neighbours kept yelling and shouting at us, claiming that we have come from outside. It got so bad that Rao had to call the police. the police came and conducted their enquiry and found that what we had stated was true. And allowed us to go back home but still the neighbours kept harassing us. They called the owner of the house and asked him to tell us to vacate," he said. The owner too decided to ask the Vemula family and the advocate to vacate inspite of the fact that the advocate had lived there since 2014.
"Radhika amma began to cry because we didn't have anywhere to go. This was the same house that Prakash Ambedkar and Kancha Ilaiah had stayed in during the Rohith Vemula movement. And now we were being forced to leave," the law student said.
Raja and Radhika are now living with Raja's friend. They have no way of going back to their home in Guntur because there is no transport available. "We are living as guests here in a friend's house because we have nowhere else to go," he said.
She has been distributing food for the last four days
However despite the fact that they are living in a friend's place, Radhika decided that she would do the best she can to help those in need by distributing food under the initiative, 'Rohith Vemula Seva Sangham'. "We realised there might be so many like us who were harassed and chased out of their homes and ended up on the roads. They would not even have food, at least we have a friend who has given us shelter," Raja said. The Vemula family, along with two advocates have pooled in some money and bought some raw materials to cook.
Radhika has been making vegetable biryani over the last four days, parceling it and taking it to all the stranded migrant labourers around their locality. "We don't have much money so we just collected some 5-7k rupees. With that we are trying to do the best we can. When the lockdown is lifted and we get to go to our house in Guntur, we will continue to cook and feed the migrant workers there," Raja said.