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Rohith Vemula declared non-Dalit on just two of seven testimonies | HT Exclusive

Kin say probe declaring Rohith an OBC was done under pressure from Andhra Pradesh government.

india Updated: Feb 21, 2017 11:19 IST
Sudipto Mondal
Sudipto Mondal
Bengaluru, Hindustan Times
Rohit Vemula,Dalit,Non-Dalit
Rohith Vemula’s first death anniversary at Jantar Mantar in New Delhi on January 17, 2017.(Virendra Singh Gosain/HT Photo)

A new inquiry that recently declared Hyderabad scholar Rohith Vemula an OBC and not a Dalit, as certified by a previous probe, went by the testimonials of only two people, rejecting the views of five others interviewed, an HT investigation has revealed.

“This report has been prepared under pressure from the Chandrababu Naidu-led Andhra Pradesh government, which is a close ally of the BJP and PM Narendra Modi,” said Rohith’s brother Raja Vemula.

Vemula’s suicide, citing alleged caste discrimination last year at University of Hyderabad, plunged educational campuses across the country into turmoil with Dalit students demanding stern action against those accused of abetting his death, including Union minister Bandaru Dattatreya and university vice-chancellor (V-C) P Appa Rao.

Read: Rohith Vemula: An unfinished portrait

“Once Rohith is certified a non-Dalit, those in the dock for allegedly abetting his suicide will not be tried under the more stringent SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act. It is a simple game to protect the accused,” said Jai Bhimrao, the advocate fighting the case.

According to official records, the new inquiry headed by the joint collector of Guntur district interrogated seven people, five of whom said Rohith was a Dalit from the Mala caste. Only two said he was a Vaddera or OBC. The commission went with the minority view.Rohith was raised by his mother Radhika, who belongs to the SC Mala caste.

But Radhika was adopted by one Anjani Devi, who belongs to the Vaddera OBC community and was the headmaster of a government school in Guntur.Those who said Rohith was a Dalit included his grandfather Venkateshwarulu.

Radhika and her two surviving children also backed the claim, besides Anjani Devi.

Though she belonged to the Vaddera caste, Anjani Devi told the commission that she had adopted Rohith’s mother from a Mala construction labourer. Radhika’s lawyers also cited a Supreme Court ruling which clarified that adoption does not change a person’s caste.

Radhika was married to Mani Kumar, a Vaddera, at a young age. She raised Rohith and her other two children alone after separating from her husband.

Read: Rohith Vemula not a Dalit, belonged to other backward class: Andhra govt

The new commission, however, went by what Rohith’s estranged father and paternal grandmother said. Though the duo claimed Rohith belonged to them and was, therefore, from their Vaddera caste.

They did not contradict that Radhika was a Dalit. An inquiry conducted by Kantilal Dande, the deputy collector of Guntur, in the first week of June had found Rohith to be a Dalit. The state government set aside the findings of Dande and ordered a fresh inquiry without citing reasons for reopening the probe into Rohith’s caste.

The fresh probe prompted new accusations from Rohith’s family and friends who alleged that the authorities were attempting to rewrite facts for being simply unhappy with Dande’s report.

“A common legal principle requires that a fresh investigation can be ordered when there is a change in circumstances or when a gamechanging fact emerges. There was no such reason this time,” alleged advocate Bhimrao.

Following the new report, Dande has changed his stand.

Also read: A year on, Rohith Vemula’s death still caught in caste web

He claimed his inquiry was conducted by a subordinate officer and that the “media has no authority to question a government officer or order”. He said the primary school, where Radhika studied briefly before dropping out had recorded Anjani Devi as Radhika’s mother. “That is enough proof,” Dande added.

First Published: Feb 21, 2017 07:28 IST