Attempts to paint Rohith Vemula as a non-Dalit is a political ploy to shield his alleged killers from a stringent law against scheduled caste atrocities and weaken the anti-caste movement, said the student’s mother on Thursday.
Radhika Vemula’s comments came a day after a one-member government-appointed panel cleared vice-chancellor Appa Rao of all charges and reportedly said Rohith wasn’t a Dalit.
The commission’s findings surprised many as it contradicted reports by the Guntur collector and the National Commission of Scheduled Castes (SC), which declared that Rohith hailed from the Mala scheduled caste in Andhra Pradesh.
Rohith committed suicide in January following months of alleged discrimination on campus. His death sparked a nationwide movement against caste-based discrimination.
In an interview with Hindustan Times in Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University, Rohith’s mother Radhika Vemula expressed sadness that the government did not take steps to ensure justice for her son despite a nationwide movement. Excerpts from the interview:
Q. Why do you think there are repeated probes into Rohith’s caste?
A. My son’s killers were all dominant caste. They think if he is proved non-Dalit, they can escape the SC/ST prevention of atrocities act. They think the Dalits, who support Rohith’s movement, will move away if he’s proved an OBC (Other Backward Class).
But I was the one who brought him up. I am a Dalit, my child lived a Dalit and I will die a Dalit. They keep going to his father, an OBC, but he never helped, socially, economically.
And do they think the movement will die if he’s termed OBC? The OBCs will come out in bigger numbers to support the cause.
Q. What do you have to say about the new commission’s findings?
A. I condemn this in the strongest words. Once the national SC panel has determined Rohith’s caste, there should be no further inquiry. These repeated probes sometimes make me feel like I will never get justice for my son’s death; it troubles me.
Reporters repeatedly go to my husband, who I moved away from when Raja (Rohith’s brother) was young. They ask, is Raja your son? I felt like committing suicide.
Q. It has been eight months since Rohith died. The prime minister has repeated reached out to Dalits but there has been little progress in the case. Do you have any expectations of the government?
A. I don’t have any faith in this government. I don’t think Narendra Modi will do anything. In this country, cows get more respect than Dalits. But we have votes and we will show them in the next election. Dalit-Bahujans will decide the future. It is all of our job to protect the Constitution. This country is for all of us, not just for dominant castes.
Q. Do you despair that you’d never get justice for your son?
A. Deep down, I know that I will get justice. It will be a long battle, and maybe not even in the tenure of this government. But I started fighting so that there are no more such institutional murders. I want this to end. No mother should go through this. There should be no more Rohiths.