It has been a year since Rohith Vemula, a Dalit PhD scholar of Hyderabad Central University (HCU), sacrificed his life in his fight to protect his rights.
But it’s true that his martyrdom could succeed in exposing the terrible environments in different universities in the country that have become the power bases of higher-caste oppressors. The tales of misery due to the discrimination faced by the Dalit and the backward classes in the campuses that shook the nation’s conscience also led to mass protests across the country expressing solidarity with the victims. The victims of the casteism and their supporters held protests at different universities of the country, including the HCU, in remembrance of Vemula on his first death anniversary. Several programmes were held across the country to invite the public’s attention to the issues Vemula tried to project. However, the truth is that the predators, who were after the life of Rohit and his friends are yet to be brought to justice. Moreover, they still continue their ‘heinous hunt’ even after the death of poor student. As his sacrifice turns a year, the Centre-State governments are busy humiliating his family by alleging that Vemula, claimed to be a Dalit when in reality he did not belong to the Dalit caste.
He is a victim of casteism driven by upper-class Fascism. Vemula, an activist of Ambedkar Students Association (ASA), hung himself to death in room number 207 of his college hostel on January 17 last year. He had openly come out against the discrimination faced even in the field of research. Vemula had also written to the authorities asking the administration to provide the Dalit students with poison and rope. With no options left before him, he had chosen the same path to end his life. The scuffle between the Ambedkarists and the Akhil Bharatiya Vidhyarthi Parishad (ABVP) after a program organised on the campus on 3rd August 2015, was taken over by the Centre and the ruling party even after the authorities resolved the issue. Union Minister of Labour and Employment Bandaru Dattatreya wrote to the then Human Resource Development Minister Smriti Irani demanding to stop actions against the ABVP and claiming that the University had become ‘a den of casteist, extremist and anti-national politics’. The Vice Chancellor moved according to the directions of the Minister which eventually led to the suspension of five Dalit students from the University and Rohit Vemula’s suicide. No actions were taken against ABVP.
Following Vemula’s death, a case was registered against the Vice Chancellor according to the Scheduled Castes and Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, of 1989. The law which was recently amended prohibits atrocities against the Dalits. Economically boycotting and socially isolating them are punishable offenses. Humiliating them through words, either written, spoken or by signs or denying opportunities including access to educational, employment and commercial centres and preventing interactions are sufficient to get penalised. Despite the stringent laws, no actions were taken against the VC who was also charged with academic plagiarism by academics. In fact, he was awarded with the Millennium Plaque of Honour by the Central government. Vemula was declared an OBC violating all the official norms in order to protect the Vice Chancellor and others involved in the case. His mother Radhika Vemula, was born to migrant labourer couple who belonged to Mala, a scheduled caste/ community of Dalit class. She was later adopted by a headmistress of a municipal corporation-run high school in Guntur town, Anjani Devi, who belonged to Vaddera caste classified as the Other Backward Class. Radhika was married off to Mani Kumar, who belonged to Vaddera caste, by keeping her caste a secret.
He turned violent when he found out about his wife’s caste often beating her up. Radhika left her abusive and alcoholic husband and shifted to Guntur to look after her three children. According to the Supreme Court ruling, a child can take the caste-identity of his/her mother. The Guntur district collector in his report declared Vemula an OBC, dismissing all the certificates and witnesses which were in Vemula’s favour. The perpetrators have now become the accusers and Rohith Vemula and his family, the victims in the case have become the accused. The Sangh Parivar driven Central government as well as the state governments, who dance to their tunes, is aggravating the situation by siding with the culprits instead of countering the atrocities against the Dalits in the country through tough legal procedures. The Centre and the ruling party that continues to hunt down Rohith even after his death, reveals the true face of casteism and communal hatred of the Sangh Parivar.