Rohith Vemula not a Dalit? Family rejects judicial panel's findings
Rohith Vemula's family is currently awaiting the official copy of the recommendations of the one-man judicial commission of Justice A K Roopanwal, a retired judge of the Allahabad High Court who was appointed by HRD ministry to look into the his suicide.
The main bone of contention is Rohith's caste as it has been reported that Roopanwal has, in his report said that Vemula was not a Dalit. The report was submitted to the University Grants Commission in the first week of August.
However, Rohith's brother Raja Chaitanya Kumar Vemula rejected the observation of the judicial commission.
He told Catch that they belong to the Dalit community. "We are yet to see the copy of the one-man judicial commission's report. Once we see and read it fully, we will be able to give out our reaction," he said.
Not a new question
Soon after Rohith committed suicide on 17 January in a hostel room on the campus of University of Hyderabad (UoH), the question of his caste came up for debate. His father Mani Kumar asserts that he belonged to the backward class (BC) Vaddera community, while Rohith's mother, Radhika, claims that she and her children belong to Scheduled Caste Mala.
If the government accepts this report, this particular observation that 'Rohith was not a Dalit' would surely impact many angles in the case - particularly the SC, ST Atrocities (Prevention) Act invoked in the FIR against Union Minister for State Bandaru Dattatreya and Vice-Chancellor of the UoH Appa Rao Podile.
The then HRD Minister Smriti Irani had said that it was not the question of Dalit on non-Dalit issue. This was contested by Rohith's mother and several student and people's organisations.
This added fuel to the raging fire that ensued the suicide of Rohith, leading to a nation-wide debate on the issue.
Union Ministers Sushma Swaraj and Thaawarchand Gehlot had also questioned the "Dalit" identity of Rohith Vemula and sought to stress that attempts were being made to make out a case on the caste angle.
Raja says that if it is true that the commission has conclusively found that Rohith was not a Dalit, then the panel that was constituted by the government had served its purpose. "We will respond after carefully studying the report," he said.
Raja went on to add that the family had lived Dalit lives and that Radhika was a Dalit. The Guntur district collector had also conducted an inquiry and submitted a report on 15 June concluding that Rohith was a Dalit.
The report found that the available documentary evidence with Tahsildar Guntur suggested that "Rohith Chakravarthy Vemula belongs to Hindu Mala caste, which is classified as Scheduled Caste in Andhra Pradesh and his family comes under Below Poverty Line. The statements recorded from the grandmother of Sri Rohith Chakravarthy Vemula and others are also enclosed herein for favour of information."
Even the National Commission for Scheduled Castes (NCSC) had confirmed that, he pointed out.
Raja, however, said that the agitation seeking justice for Rohith Vemula, the arrest of the Vice-Chancellor and all others responsible for abetment of Rohith's suicide, and the introduction of Rohith Act is looking to create a conducive atmosphere for Dalit students in institutions of higher learning.
Sunkanna Velpula, a student leader of UoH, who was on the forefront of the agitation in the entire episode, told Catch that a 'mahadharna' would be organised at Indira Park in Hyderabad on 29 August to press for the demands. Raja confirmed that he and his mother would participate. Activists Dr Anand Teltumbde, Prakash Ambedkar, and Teesta Sethalvad will also be present for the 'mahadharna'.
Dr Sunkanna said that the government-appointed commission might have given a report that suited its benefactor's needs. However, the issue would not be left to its fate.
Venkatesh Chowhan, another student leader of UoH, said that the evil intentions of the powers that be were clearly exposed by this. However, the students would continue to fight for justice. "We will take a legal recourse," he says.
An Indian Express report on the commission's findings quoted Chairman of the NCSC P L Punia endorsing the authority of the District Collector and seeking to know what was the need for the "new committee" and the "new report". He described this as a conspiracy against Dalits and an effort to save the skin of a BJP minister.
The University's Executive Council suspended five students from the campus and later revoked a couple of facilities, restricting them the access to other facilities.
Interestingly, Radhika has become a rallying point for Dalit agitations in India, of late, including the one at Una in Gujarat against the attacks on Dalits in the State.
Radhika had said that it was time for Dalits across the country to unite and fight against the atrocities by the ruling class. She recalled that Dalits from over 30 villages in Gujarat organized protest programmes expressing solidarity over Rohith's issue.
Asked if the family would take the matter on the Dalit status of Rohith to the court, Raja Chaitanya Kumar said that the judicial commission's recommendations would be examined by "our lawyers" who would take it necessary action. It may be recalled that a few benches in the court observed recently that father's caste alone could not be taken as the basis for determining the caste of a person. The mother's caste and the circumstances in which the children have grown up should also be taken into account.
More in Catch - #RohithVemula: 4 things that should shape our debate