HYDERABAD: The late astronomer Carla Sagan’s wife Annn Druyan has written a moving letter mourning the death of Rohith Vemula, the University of Hyderabad (UoH) research who committed suicide on campus on Jan. 17, depressed by discrimination against Dalit students.
A Writer in Her Own Right
Carl Sagan’s widow Ann Druyan is herself an author and a widely known producer of documentaries on cosmology and popular science. She was the co-writer of the 1980 PBS documentary series Cosmos, which was hosted by Sagan.
It is said that Druyan and Sagan collaborated for several years on an educational television series on the lines of their book Cosmos for kids. But it never materialised. Druyan was in charge of the music selections and messages that were sent aboard the pioneering spacecraft Voyager 1 and Voyager 2.
The Voyager spacecraft were launched in 1977 and now are about 11.8 and 9.7 billion miles from Earth. They carry greetings in 55 languages and music ranging from Peruvian pan pipes to Chuck Berry. In an article published in Los Angeles Times, Druyan said, "We were so honored to have this privilege to be sending this message to a thousand million years from now, a quarter of the way around the galaxy. We all looked upon it as something very sacred, creating this Noah's ark of human culture on the most distant objects ever touched by human hands."
In his last post on a blog, Vemula had written about his desire to become a great science writer like Sagan. The blog post, suffused with the angst of a bright student up against social hurdles, has been widely circulated on the internet.
Though Sagan is no more to acknowledge his young fan's desire, the writer's wife Ann Druyan wrote a moving and thought-provoking letter to an activist, Rajeev Ramachandran, who had communicated to her Vemula’s unfulfilled desire.
Stating that she deeply mourns the death of the young man, Ms Druyan wrote: "To read his (Vemula’s) suicide note and to learn the details of his predicament is to get a vivid inkling of the actual cost of bias to our civilization."
Further, she said, "If we could somehow quantify the totality of lost contributions and innovations as a result of prejudice, I believe we would find it staggering." Musing further, she asked, "Is it possible that the attention paid to Rohit’s story will lessen its chronic repetition? I am trying to find something hopeful in an otherwise heartbreaking example of needless suffering and squandered potential."
The letter, undersigned "truly, Ann" was shared on the facebook page of Ramachandran. Vemula was among five Dalit students of UoH who were barred from their hostel for allegedly attacking a member of a rival student party last year. His death has triggered nationwide protests on campuses.
Dalit students protesting on the UoH campus have installed a memorial and a bust of Vemula at the protest venue. They have also initiated a scholarship too in memory of the research scholar.