Rohith Vemula’s mother “branded” herself as Dalit to avail the benefits of reservation; expelling him from the hostel was the “most reasonable” decision the university could have taken; personal frustration, not discrimination, drove the 26-year-old PhD scholar to suicide; Union Ministers Bandaru Dattatreya and Smriti Irani were only discharging their duties and there was no pressure on the Hyderabad Central University authorities.
These are the salient conclusions of the inquiry conducted by the one-man judicial commission set up by the HRD Ministry on January 28 this year, 11 days after Vemula killed himself in his hostel room. Its 41-page report was submitted by former Allahabad High Court judge A K Roopanwal in August. It is based on the deposition of over 50 people, a majority of whom were university teachers, officers and staff members. The retired judge met five university students and members of the joint action committee which led the agitation on campus.
Vemula’s decision to commit suicide, according to the probe, was wholly his own and not abetted by either the university administration or the government.
When The Indian Express asked him about his conclusions, Roopanwal said he did not wish to comment on the contents of the report.
Here are the key findings of the commission whose mandate was to inquire into the facts and circumstances leading to Vemula’s death, review existing grievance mechanism for students at HCU and suggest improvements:
‘Mother not Dalit’
Roopanwal questioned Rohith’s caste in detail — four of the 12 pages on the final findings are devoted to this. Since Vemula was raised by his mother, V Radhika, the report has tried to establish whether she belonged to the Mala (read SC) community.
According to Roopanwal, Radhika claimed to be Mala to support the caste certificate issued to her son. Her claim that her foster parents told her that her biological parents were SC was “improbable and unbelievable,” said the commission. If Radhika’s foster family did not disclose the names of her biological parents, how could they have revealed their caste to her, Roopanwal asked in the report.
The inquiry concluded that Vemula’s mother “branded” herself as Mala only because she managed to get the caste certificate from a person named Uppalapati Danamma, then a corporator, with whom she stayed for one and half years. “To me it appears that this caste certificate has no value and that in order to take benefit of Scheduled Caste she (Radhika) anyhow obtained the Mala Caste certificate from the corporator, Uppalapati Danamma in whose house she remained for one and half years,” the report states.
The retired judge has also cited Radhika’s application for her younger son Raja Chaitnaya Kumar’s birth certificate in 2014 as evidence against her SC status. At that time, she disclosed her caste as Vaddera, which is a backward class. The report states that Vemula’s caste certificate was issued without proper inquiry. Since his mother is not a ‘Mala’, her son’s certificate is not genuine either.
“The evidence on record shows that she belongs to Vaddera Community and, therefore, the Scheduled Caste certificate issued to Rohith Vemula cannot be said to be a genuine one and he was not a Scheduled Caste person,” the report states.
In an earlier report, Rohith’s brother Raja had rejected this conclusion. Speaking to The Indian Express, he had said: “We lived like Dalits. We were raised in a Dalit community. Yes, my father is from a backward class, but whatever we know is from our experience of living like a Dalit. We have been discriminated against all our lives. Rohith referred to this in his letter too.”
‘No political interference’
The report dismissed the possibility that Vemula could have faced discrimination. It rejected claims that the university’s decision to expel him and his batchmates from the hostel was taken under political pressure. The commission has justified this on the ground that the interim report of the nine-member proctorial board, which suggested that a strong warning should be issued to Susheel Kumar as well as Vemula and four other expelled students, was submitted on August 12, 2015. Dattatreya’s letter to Irani was written on August 17 and, hence, could not have influenced the interim report of the proctorial board.
“Moreover this cannot be believed that the report which was prepared by nine persons could be obtained by pressure. How nine persons could be influenced by anybody, political or non-political when none of them was directly under the control of anybody?” the report states.
The inquiry also concluded that the subcommittee of Hyderabad University’s Executive Council, which looked into matters afresh, was also not influenced by any political interference and “enquired the matter independently. It has described HCU’s decision to expel Vemula and his batchmates from the hostel as “most reasonable” and lenient in comparison to the proctorial board’s recommendation for complete suspension from the university.
As for the intervention by local BJP MLC Ramachandra Rao and Cabinet ministers Bandaru Dattatreya and Smriti Irani, Roopanwal has said they were merely discharging their duties as public servants. “Being the public representative, Shri Ramachandra Rao, MLC, took the issue up with the university authorities, Shri Bandaru Dattatreya, Minister of State for Labour and Employment wrote the letter to Smt. Smriti Irani, HRD Minister as the MP of Secunderabad Constituency and the letter written by HRD Minister was just to pursue the matter with the university authorities on the letter of Shri Bandaru Dattatreya.”
Since the university’s decision to suspend Vemula and his batchmates from the hostel was challenged in the High Court of Andhra Pradesh and the matter was pending on the day of his suicide, it could not have been the reason for Vemula killing himself, the inquiry concluded.
“His suicide note is on the record which shows that Rohith Vemula had his own problems and not happy with the worldly affairs,” the probe report says. “He was feeling frustrated for reasons best known to him. He wrote that there was no urgency for understanding love, pain, life and death but he was rushing after them. It indicates that he was not happy with the activities going around him. He also wrote that he was all alone from childhood and was an unappreciated man…He did not blame anybody for his suicide. If he would have been angry with the decision of the university certainly either he would have written in the specific words or would have indicated in this regard. But he did not do the same. It shows that the circumstances prevailing in the university at that time were not the reasons for committing suicide. The whole reading of the letter shows that he was not feeling well in this world and under frustration ended his life.”
The commission discounts Vemula’s letter written to vice-chancellor Appa Rao Podile on December 18, 2015, in which he alleged discrimination and sought cyanide and rope for Dalit students. The fact that the suicide happened one month after the letter, the report claims, is evidence that the anger “did not continue.” Roopanwal said, “But I feel that in view of the suicide note the anger shown in this letter cannot be the reason for suicide. It is because of the fact that the suicide was committed after about one month and by this time the expulsion from the hostel had been challenged in the High Court. He did not mention anything in his suicide note which were mentioned in the above mentioned letter. This shows that if there was any anger that did not continue by the date of suicide otherwise something regarding the anger shown in the letter would have been indicated in the suicide note.”
Although the judicial commission has observed that the university’s equal opportunity cell headed by the anti-discrimination officer is not functional and that the grievance redressal committee headed by the ombudsman should be made more effective, it does not explore why this has been neglected by the administration.
From funeral prayer to suicide
July 30, 2015: Funeral prayer organised by Ambedkar Students Association (ASA) on University of Hyderabad campus to protest hanging of Yakub Memon
August 3: In response, ABVP student leader Susheel Kumar put up Facebook post: ‘ASA goons are talking about hooliganism — feeling funny’
August 3-4 night: Some ASA members visit Kumar’s room, ask him to apologise and delete the post. He uploads apology letter but alleges he was roughed up by ASA members, files FIR
August 4: ABVP general secretary Krishna Chaitanya complains to vice-chancellor. Matter referred to university’s Proctorial Board
August 12: Board submits interim report recommending that a strong warning be issued to Kumar and also to Rohith Vemula, D Prashanth, Vincent, P Vijay, Sunkanna and Seshu Chemudugunta for forcing Kumar to apologise
August 17: MoS Bandaru Dattatreya writes to then HRD Minister Smriti Irani, calling HCU a den of “anti-national” activities and complaining about the incident. Letter forwarded by HRD Ministry to university for comments. Ministry sends five reminders till January 2016
August 31: Proctorial Board submits final report. Recommends suspension of Prashanth, Vemula, Vijay, Chemudugunta from university for ongoing semester. Recommendation approved by university’s Executive Council (EC)
September 10: Students protest against decision. EC, under chairmanship of then in-charge V-C R P Sharma, holds meeting and withdraws suspension with an understanding that a larger committee will investigate the matter afresh
September 21: Appa Rao is appointed new V-C
November 24: EC’s sub-committee, tasked to look into Proctorial Board’s recommendations, submits report, agrees with Board’s findings
November 27: EC meets again to consider sub-committee report. Resolves to suspend Prashanth, Vemula, Vijay, Chemudugunta from university hostel
December 18: Vemula writes to V-C complaining about caste discrimination in university. Around the same time, Chief Warden communicates EC decision to students, asking them to vacate hostel
Meanwhile, expelled students approach High Court against suspension. Court orders that their petition will be heard along with petition filed by Kumar’s mother. Matter listed for hearing on January 19, 2016
January 3, 2016: Suspended students and members of Joint Action Committee launch protest against suspension.
On January 13, students close down university’s administrative building
January 17: Vemula commits suicide, protests break out on campus
January 19: HRD Ministry despatches two-member fact-finding committee to HCU
January 22: Fact-finding committee submits report to HRD Ministry, slams university administration for flawed probe, says atmosphere of discrimination on campus
January 28: HRD Ministry sets up one-man judicial commission headed by retired Allahabad High Court judge A K Roopanwal to probe circumstances that led to Vemula’s death
August 1: Roopanwal submits his report