The Centre, the BJP as well as their student wing is taking extreme pains to establish that the suicide of Rohith Vemula, the Dalit PhD scholar at the University of Hyderabad, is not a community incident.
The recent statements of Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj are part of this attempt to divert the focus from the matter that has been in the spotlight for some time. The minister on Saturday said that Rohith was not a member of Dalit community but an OBC. She also critisised the attempts to highlight it as a communal issue by a few. The BJP as well as the others have the need to prove that Rohith didn’t belong to the Dalit community. A bright student doing his PhD in Science Technology and Society Studies at the University, Rohith, also an Ambedkar Students Association (ASA) activist, committed suicide in his hostel room by hanging himself to death last month. His death questioned the prevailing elite supremacy in the society and the escalating intolerance towards the lower class communities especially in the campuses. He was among the five Dalit students suspended from the University last year for allegedly attacking Susheel Kumar, the leader of Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), the student wing of the BJP in August 2015. The University had ordered an inquiry following which the proctorial board decided to suspend Rohith along with four others. They were barred from entering the campus premises, the administrative building and also the common areas including the hostels, libraries and mess. Despite the University Security Officer’s statements before the proctorial committee that no physical assaults have been made against Susheel Kumar, Union Minister Bandaru Dattatreya and the University authorities unanimously intervened in the matter and propagated lies.
The incident triggered huge uproar and protests across the nation following which an FIR was lodged against the minister, the University Vice Chancellor and the others involved in the case for abetment of suicide and for violations of the SC/ST Atrocities Act. They could free themselves of the legal tangles and also prove wrong the ire of the Dalit and the backward classes of the country against the government only if they establish that Rohit was not a Dalit. HRD Minister Smriti Irani has been holding on to her argument that Rohith was not a member of the Dalit community and that the incident was misinterpreted with 'malicious’ intentions to ‘ignite passions.' Now Sushma has joined her stance as well. The revelations regarding Rohith’s caste were based on the ‘secret’ report by the Intelligence Bureau (IB). The IB report doesn’t contain any new ‘revelations’ that was unknown before. Rohith’s mother, Radhika belongs to the ‘Mala’ community of the Scheduled Caste and his father Manikumar Vemula, belongs to Vaddera, a backward class community. Radhika was ‘adopted’ by Anjani Devi who belongs to the Vaddera community, when she was a child. Anjani didn’t provide her ‘adopted’ daughter with the education as well as the facilities she gave to her own children and instead made Radhika do the household chores. Radhika was married off to Manikumar Vemula by hiding the truth about her caste. When Manikumar came to know of Radhika’s actual caste, he tortured her after which Radhika left the home with her children. She then began living in a Dalit colony, the community to which she belonged. Radhika earned her living as a construction worker as well as a tailor and brought up her children all by herself. For Radhika who had been a victim of child labour, child marriage, domestic violence and caste discrimination, her children were her only hope.
That Rohith’s father doesn’t belong to the SC and that it was admitted by his father, his mother as well as the others makes it seem that all these facts were hidden secrets before they came to light. But the reality is that they were known before. It’s the realities of life as well as the law that’s being distorted when Rohith’s caste is questioned by hinting at his father’s community. In a 2012 case similar to that of Rohith, the Supreme Court had ruled that the son’s caste shouldn’t be necessarily the same as that of the father’s. Rohith can claim that he belongs to the Scheduled Caste if his mother belonging to the same caste, raised him as a child. That is how he should be considered. That the father belongs to a different community doesn’t matter here. It’s applicable to Radhika as well as her children. The children would obviously belong to Radhika’s community as it was she who brought them up after leaving her home, working hard to earn her bread while living in a Dalit colony and not the father who left his wife and small children. The Prime Minister who pined over his mother should be able to comprehend this reality. The concerned Tahsildar granted the SC certificate to Rohith twice because he was a Dalit. The biggest proof of Rohith being a Dalit might be the misery and injustice he endured along with others belonging to the same caste. The dark realities reiterate that Rohith was a Dalit. The attitude of the Centre in this case is pathetic. When Mohammad Akhlaq was brutally beaten to death in Dadri following rumours of consuming and storing beef in his house, the government investigated not the culprits but whether the meat stored at his home was beef. Now the government instead of penalizing those responsible for Rohith’s suicide is launching inquiries using IB to establish that Rohith was not a Dalit. This approach would only help to reinforce the elite intolerance and casteism prevalent in the society instead of aiding in uprooting these social evils.