To Live & Die as a Dalit: Rohith Vemula

Published on: August 25, 2016

Photo Courtesy: NDTV

Even as scant news reports on Justice (retd.) A K Roopanwal Commission report on Rohith Vemula’s suicide began appearing in sections of the media with speculations that the body which was constituted by the union human resources development ministry (MHRD) to look into the circumstances leading to the death of Dalit scholar Rohith Vemula in Hyderabad Central University, is learnt to have exonerated suspended Vice Chancellow Appa Rao Podille of his role, it also appears likely that, using entrenched patriarchial norms, the report has also pronounced that the brilliant research scholar, Rohith and his family do not belong to the Scheduled Castes.
 
That this to say –the Vemulas are not Dalits.

Top officials in the MHRD, when contacted,  have remained mum on the development even as the report has been submitted to the University Grants Commission (UGC).
 
Is this a result of an allegience to innate patriarchial values, inherent also to a casteist worldview that dominate public discourse or something more devious that had led to this conclusion?
 
Two months ago, the National Commission  for Schedule Castes(NCSC) with PL Punia as its Chair, accepting the District Collector of Guntur’s report was clear unequivocal init's assessment that the life and predicament of the Vemulas, was one of deprivation and segregation as experienced when the brothers Rohith and Raja grew up, sons of their mother, Radhika Vemula. This report of the NCSCST was pronounced on June 22, 2016 and based on the District Collector, Guntur's report. The entire report may be read here.

 The report of the District Collector, Guntur unequivocally pronounces Rohith Vemula and his family to be Dalit. Will the Modi government appointed Commission now tell us otherwise?
 
It reads: “ The report of the District Collector, Guntur received in NCSC, states that as per the available documentary evidence, Rohit Chakravarthy Vemula belongs to Hindu-Mala caste which is classified as Scheduled Caste in Andhra Pradesh and his family comes under the below poverty line category.
 
“It is seen that the District Collector, Guntur in his report to NCSC has examined the issue in detail which include the statement on oath, before Joint Collector – II, Guntur, of the maternal grandmother of Rohith C Vemula, the reports of Revenue Divisional Officer & SDM, Guntur, which corroborate the statement of the maternal grandmother of Rohith C Vemula, the report of the Tehsildar, Guntur that SC certificates (SC – Mala) were issued to Rohith C Vemula by Tehsildar Guntur on 19.05.2004 and 29.01.2005 and subsequently again in 2014 & 2015. Moreover the siblings of Rohith C Vemula have also been granted valid SC certificates in 2007 & 2014.
 
“Moreover it is not disputed that Rohit lived all his life with his mother in a SC locality, he had a valid SC caste certificate, on basis of which he took admission in college / University. Hence in his perception and in the perception of society at large, he lived as SC and experienced the life and age old discrimination faced by SCs and also raised his voice against such discrimination especially in his University student life. These facts are also well known and documented.
 
“It is a well settled case law that where the child, irrespective of the fact whether the father or mother is a member of SC community, is brought up by the SC community as a member of such a community, then he has to be treated as a member of the SC community and would be entitled to receive benefits as such. This applies fully in the case of Rohith C Vemula.

The report of the District Collector, Guntur unequivocally pronounces Rohith Vemula and his family to be Dalit. Will the Modi government appointed Commission now tell us otherwise?
 

"It is also a fact that while he was alive, he was accepted as an SC by all, viz, his fellow students, the University authorities, his friends, relatives, neighborhood and treated as such. It is unfortunate that the treatment of people is very often coloured by the age old societal perception of caste. This was the perception of the treatment received thereof which was discriminatory like the suspension from University & hostel, stoppage of his fellowship etc, which anguished him and which finally drove him to commit suicide. His anguish is evident his letter to the Vice Chancellor written on 18.12.2015, wherein he states that he feels the ‘Dalit’ students are treated differently by the University and faced ‘social boycott’ and states that dalit students may be served with 10 mg ‘sodium azide’ at the time of admission with directions to use when they feel like reading Ambedkar and supply a nice rope in room of all dalit students. His further words in this letter of 18.12.2015 are quoted : “As we the scholars, PhD students have already passed the stage and already members of Dalit self respect movement unfortunately we are left with no easy exit. Hence, I request your highness to make preparations for facility of euthanasia for students like me”. The similar sentiments are there in his suicide note of 17.01.2016, where he refers to fatal accident of his birth.”
 
The NCSC Report further also states clearly that during the visit of the Commission’s Chairperson to Hyderbad, and “During the discussion held on 18.4.2016 in the Commission, the Distt. Collector, Guntur explained in detail that Rohit and his brother and sister have been issued SC caste certificate a number of times during the last 10 years and there is no rival claim questioning the validity of these certificates. Rohit’s mother was SC and the children were brought up in the environment of deprivation and discrimination in the SC locality by Rohit’s mother, Radhika. The District Collector, is of the firm view that Rohit belonged to Scheduled Caste and there is absolutely no doubt about this.
 
The District Collector’s report Rc. no. 15/2016/C4 dated 4.2016 received in NCSC on 02.06.2016 states that ‘as per the available documentary evidence with the Tahsildar Guntur, Rohit Chakravarthy Vemula belongs to Hindu-Mala caste which is classified as Scheduled Caste in Andhra Pradesh and his family comes under the below poverty line category’.”
 
 It is to be seen whether, when the matter is raised in Parliament, again, as it undoubtedly will, what stand the Modi government will take. Or what will actually have been the reasoning we will get to see in Justice Roopanwal's report. Never mind that the life and story of Rohith Vemula, now an icon in death, was one of deprivation and humiliation suffered by a Dalit.