The report of the one-person judicial commission that Hyderabad’s PhD student Rohith Vemula, an Ambedkarite who committed suicide early this year, was not a Dalit goes against all that has appeared in the public domain so far. Worse, the problem has been compounded by the statements from two Union ministers Sushma Swaraj and Thaawar Chand Gehlot, who said Rohith belonged to the Veddara community, which belongs to the category of Other Backward Classes.
This is less than partly true. It is known since January this year that Rohith’s father belongs to the Veddar community and he had separated from his wife, Rohith’s mother, when Rohith was a child. What is much more important is to recognise, and this is also known since January, that Rohith’s mother belonged to the Mala caste, which is a scheduled caste in Andhra Pradesh. And finally Rohith’s caste certificate said he did belong to the Mala caste. That should have settled the issue then itself.
Apart from Rohith, several other Dalit scholars of Hyderabad Central University have committed suicide. Most of these deaths have been due to anguish on account of administrative lapses and stopping of grants. In Rohith’s case, the matter cannot be investigated under the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act if it can be established that he was not a Dalit. The situation might not have drifted this far had Union minister Bandaru Dattatreya not written the unnecessary letter, at the behest of ABVP students having problems with Rohith, to then HRD minister Smriti irani, complaining about the “anti-national climate” prevailing in the Hyderabad Central University campus.
Rohith was suspended first, and even though the suspension order was lifted he was prevented from entering the dormitories. He had to spend his days out in the cold. And his monthly stipend of ₹25,000 had been stopped in July last year itself, possibly on account of his Ambedkarite activities. The broad facts relating to his suicide are more important than which caste he belonged to. But the central government is persisting in its efforts to obfuscate the issue, obviously with next year’s assembly elections and the Dalit vote in mind.