The Rebel Poet of JNU

JK Bank
Vidrohi reciting his poetry for a student program in Delhi.

Extolling brave warriors by singing a Veergatha in Awadhi language, he is a fifty-four year old man with pepper-salt hair, sitting on a red-stone bench at the famous hangout, Ganga Dhaba in Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University.

Rama Shankar Yadav, from Sultanpur, Uttar Pradesh, is a small man. Wearing light-brown woolen coat and black pants, Yadav is notably known as Vidrohi. His pair of sports shoes is muddy and rugged, explaining his daily journeys in the campus.


The journey from a fresher student, Rama Shankar to Vidrohi, rebel, has been fatiguing for him. He was born on December 3, 1957. Ram Narayan Yadav, his father was a farmer. His mother, Karma Devi was a singer. One morning he left the three acres of fertile land back home and crossed over to Delhi. “In 1980 I came to Delhi to join this university for masters in Hindi,” Vidrohi says, while sipping from his cup of tea.

Due to his ‘revolutionary by heart’ character, he earned the nickname, Vidrohi. It started back in 1983 when a student’s movement was active in JNU campus. Vidrohi took part in the movement along with the members of JNU Student’s Union who were protesting against the university administration for Other Backward Class (OBC) reservation deprivation.

He being an OBC candidate joined the student’s hunger strike on 26 April 1983 which cost him his scholarship and accommodation. He had to leave from the married student’s quarter. On May 8, 1983 police arrested him and sent to Tihar jail.

After his arrest, the protests fuelled up and on May 11, there were clashes between the police and students. “Around 300 students were jailed that day. Three days later, I was bailed out by my wife, who works in Delhi Development Authority. After that incident university was closed down and whole administration was run by police,” Vidrohi tells this reporter, as he smiles to students, passing by.

The clamp down of the campus was end to his education career too. It was his last semester of the course but he was never allowed to attend the classes after that day.

With an incomplete degree and rustication, still Vidrohi never left. He has been living in the campus for last thirty-one years. In 2010, he was again thrown out of the campus on the charges of using abusive language for females at public places but he refutes the charges as fake.

The love for him among students weakened the university and they had to bring him back. His withdrawal from the campus was cancelled and on September 4, 2010, the students celebrated it. This celebration was recorded by a student, Ansuya Bhattacharya, to make a documentary, Vidrohi, out of it.

This has brought Vidrohi close to students and he says his presence in the campus is only for the student’s movement. “Since class 6, in the year 1967, I have been writing and reciting my poems.”

From the year, 1967, when Naxalite movement started in West Bengal, he started writing poetry. “Vidrohi and Naxalbari came together in the world,” he says, with chest thrust forward. Naxalites are a group of far-left radical communists, supportive of Maoist political sentiment and ideology. Their origin can be traced to the splitting in 1967 of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), leading to the formation of the Communist Party of India (Marxist–Leninist). The JNU is known as the hive of the leftist students.

The current JNU Student’s Union is also a leftist party. Vidrohi is proud of calling himself a comrade of All India Students Association (AISA), which won the 2012 JNUSU elections. “I consider myself as an activist of Marxism and socialism. My poetry and singing is for that only. I would not have been determined for poetry if there wouldn’t have been Marxism,” says, raising his hands above the shoulders, “My poetry is in support of every struggle which is for justice whether it is Tamils, Kashmiris or Tribals of Chhattisgarh.”

Supporting the struggles, reciting poetry in Hindi, English and other languages, Vidrohi wants to devote himself in Kranti (revolution). He never did any job. “For whole life I fought for change, not for doing a job. I had to face my family but now they understand me,” he, an atheist, smiles.

Though he never did a job but his poetry reached out to the world outside the campus, a book which has collection of poems by Vidrohi, “Nayi Kheeti” (New Farming) in Hindi was published by Sankaleen Prakashan.

To listen to his poetry and spent time with him one finds him at different places which vary with time. From 7 in the morning to 5 in the evening he remains near the Library and then at Ganga Dhaba till 2 in the morning. Sleeping in a market compound when the shop shutters are down, his bedding is 3 blankets. If he feels unwell than his stop is any student’s hostel room.

In November last year, he was invited in a three-day-long Nainital Film Festival organised on the theme ‘Cinema of Resistance’. He concluded the festival by reciting his poetry, which was followed by the screening of a short film, “Main Tumhara Kavi Hoon” (I am your poet), on him, made by Nitin K Pamnani. The film also won the best documentary award this year in the international competition section of the Mumbai International Film Festival for short films.

The film is based on his life, poetry and struggle for change in the campus. He positively thinks one day the world will see a new change. For the change in the politics of his home-state, Vidrohi is happy to see Samajwadi Party in the power. “I’m happy for the change in UP, only because Congress and BJP didn’t win.”