Mumbai: The mother and brother of Rohith Vemula, the Dalit scholar who committed suicide in Hyderabad, on Thursday embraced Buddhism here, saying they were now "truly free from shame".
"If my brother were alive, he would have been proud of us," younger brother Naga Chaitanya alias Raja Vemula told mediapersons after a brief initiation ceremony at Ambedkar Bhavan at Dadar, on the occasion of the 125th birth anniversary of Dalit icon B.R. Ambedkar.
"From today, my mother and I will start a life that Rohith always dreamt of. From today, my mother and I will be truly free, free from shame," he added.
The duo was given the ceremonial 'deeksha' by Buddhist monks in the presence of Prakash Ambedkar, the grandson of B.R. Ambedkar who similarly converted to Buddhism along with 600,000 followers in Nagpur in 1956.
At the ceremony, both Radhika and Raja bowed before a portrait of Ambedkar and paid tributes to the staunch opponent of Hindu caste system.
"My brother was always a Buddhist at heart, although he did not convert. He took his own life as he was discriminated because of his Dalit background," Raja said. "We performed his last rites according to Buddhist traditions.
"Our mother felt we should honour Rohith's memory by embracing Buddhism. We are against the caste system in Hinduism and want freedom from it. Buddhism does not have such oppressive casteism," Raja said.
Said Prakash Ambedkar of Bharipa Bahujan Mahasangh, a faction of the Republican Party of India: "We decided to organize the 'deeksha' ceremony after the family requested us."
Raja recalled Rohit's love for Buddhism and how he had highlighted the discrimination of Dalits on the Hyderabad Central University campus to its Vice-Chancellor Appa Rao.
He attacked Prime Minister Narendra Modi and central minister Smriti Irani over his brother's suicide in January that triggered nationwide protests.
"Why doesn't Modi make one statement on people responsible for his death? He sheds tears for my brother but said nothing on Appa Rao," he said, referring to the vice-chancellor of the Hyderabad Central University where Rohith hanged himself.
Raja Vemula said their rejection of Hinduism was a rejection of the Hindu caste system that he alleged "allows the persecution of Dalits".
Rohith Vemula killed himself after alleging caste discrimination in the university.
Students in the university are still demanding the dismissal of Appa Rao and action against central ministers Bandarau Dattatreya and Smriti Irani over Vemula's suicide.
The three are accused of hounding Vemula and his Dalit friends based on a complaint by student leaders affiliated to the BJP in the university.
"We know our fight is going to be long and hard. But we feel strong and hopeful because the spirit of Ambedkar, Buddha and my brother Rohith Vemula is with us," Raja said.