How Rohith Vemula’s 'Dalit identity' has been milked by all

The case has been dotted with half-truths, shoddy investigation by the university and the rush of political vultures.

 |  5-minute read |   23-01-2016
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Why did anyone not ask about the caste of Nirbhaya who was gang-raped in Delhi, asks V Radhika, the mother of Rohith Vemula, the research scholar who committed suicide on January 17 at the Hyderabad Central University. Why is an issue being made of Rohith's caste, she wants to know.  

The reason is political. Ever since the Ambedkar Students Association (ASA) blamed the Hyderabad University authorities of pushing a “Dalit research scholar” to take the extreme step, the discrimination against Dalits has been part of the narrative. Add to that the BJP angle of Union labour minister Bandaru Dattatreya writing a letter that was seen as influencing the probe against the attack on ABVP leader N Susheel Kumar by ASA activists in August 2015, and the four persistent reminders by the HRD ministry to the university authorities, and the non-BJP parties began salivating at the prospect of labelling the ruling party at the Centre as anti-Dalit. 

With Rahul Gandhi and Kejriwal leading the assault, the BJP leaders did not know what hit them. This was a dangerous plot. Immediately began “Operation Caste” to unearth Rohith's real caste status. 

It wasn't easy. Rohith's family had the documents ready. They produced Rohith's caste certificate issued in June 2015 by Tehsildar K Sivannarayana Murti in Guntur district. Murti had also issued Radhika's caste certificate in July last year.  

Radhika's ex-husband, Vemula Mani Kumar was hunted down. Radhika and he had separated soon after the birth of their third child in 1990. Mani Kumar and his mother's claim gave an entirely new spin to the controversy. He said he was “Vaddera”, a backward caste of stonecutters in Andhra Pradesh and his side of the family claimed it was under the impression that Radhika was a Vaddera girl and not a Dalit. 

For BJP supporters, it was important to prove Rohith was not a Dalit. Because it would mean cases cannot then be booked under the SC/ST Atrocities Act against Dattatreya for abetment to suicide. Two, it would blunt the opposition’s charge that the party had played a part in pushing a Dalit boy to death. Three, it would help the BJP fight the anti-Dalit party tag its opponents were trying to foist on it. 

rohith-protests-hyd-_012316112340.jpg Students on hunger strike to protest Rohith Vemula's death. 

Soon after, school records emerged that again showed Radhika as “Vaddera” and with a date of birth different from what was mentioned in the caste certificate issued by the Andhra Pradesh government. That dented the credibility of the family's claim to be Dalits and Rohith's family was accused by the hyperactive BJP bhakts on social media of being cheats, who took a fraud caste certificate to “grab government benefits”. 

Pushed to a corner, Radhika went further into flashback. She claimed that she was born a SC (Mala) but at the age of five, her biological parents gave her away in adoption to a Vaddera family. That, according to her, explained the “Vaddera” in the school records and why even her in-laws believed she is a Vaddera. But after her separation, she said she brought up her children in Dalit tradition and hence the return to the fold. 

These twists and turns have served one purpose. The police is in two minds whether to apply the SC/ST Atrocities Act, given the dubious nature of the Dalit tag. There are demands that Tehsildar Murti's role in awarding the two caste certificates needs to be probed.

But the caste angle is not the only part that does not quite match up. ABVP leader Susheel Kumar's mother had filed a petition in the Hyderabad High court regarding the alleged assault on her son. The Cyberabad police commissioner CV Anand, in a counter affidavit on October 3, 2015 dismissed Susheel's injury charge. He said the injury was “simple” in nature, his appendicitis had nothing to do with the alleged assault and that the Court should dismiss the petition. 

However, the Hyderabad University's Executive Council Sub-committee found there was sufficient “material evidence” to indicate that Susheel had been “bullied and manhandled”. How is it that the police and the university committee arrived at completely different conclusions? 

But the University strangely was also singing a different tune in court. Its Registrar Pandu Reddy, also in a counter affidavit on November 27, 2015 said the petition seeking to provide security to Susheel Kumar to stop further threats and attacks on him, ``is a little overboard and the petitioner is only trying to generate sympathy of this Hon'ble court.''

If the university thought that the assault was so serious that it warranted expulsion of five research scholars from their hostel and the administrative block, why did it think Susheel's petition was an exaggeration.  

The Rohith Vemula case has been dotted with half-truths, shoddy investigation by the university and the rush of political vultures and greedy student organisations, keen to exploit the tragedy for their selfish ends. The PM sought to bring closure by expressing his deep sadness over Rohith's death. Can others in the party take cue and be done with its jibes and trying to prove the scholar was not a Dalit. Imagine the trauma of the mother, given no space to grieve for the death of her 25-year-old son, being forced to explain her caste to a media and a world, casting aspersions on her. 

Would the tragedy of Rohith Vemula's death be any less if it is proven that he was not a Dalit? Would discrimination against Dalits in the academic world not be a reality if Rohith were not a Dalit?

P.S. Just about everyone agrees that the opposition milked the tragedy in the hope of tapping the Dalit vote in the country. Here is a Facebook post I saw from, someone who is clearly a BJP supporter.

“Breaking News: 100 people including 27 OBCs and 15 Scheduled Caste passengers died in a plane crash. Rahul Gandhi and Arvind Kejriwal to meet the injured Dalit passengers.”

Writer

TS Sudhir TS Sudhir @iamtssudhir

The writer is a journalist.

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