The one-man judicial commission, set up by the Ministry of Human Resource Development to probe the circumstances leading to Rohith Vemula’s suicide at the Hyderabad Central University (HCU) in January this year, has said that the 26-year-old research scholar did not belong to the Scheduled Caste (SC) community.
Former Allahabad High Court judge A K Roopanwal, who was appointed by the then HRD Minister Smriti Irani, is learnt to have submitted his report to the University Grants Commission (UGC) in the first week of August, UGC sources said.
The report’s observation that Vemula wasn’t a Dalit is significant against the backdrop of the controversy fuelled by Union Ministers Sushma Swaraj and Thaawarchand Gehlot, who had questioned the student’s caste identity. Both Swaraj and Gehlot had said that Vemula belonged to the Vaddera community — a caste which falls under the Other Backward Classes (OBC) category — and that his suicide was being projected as an issue of caste discrimination to fuel tempers.
The establishment of Vemula’s caste status is important because Union Minister Bandaru Dattatreya and HCU vice-chancellor Appa Rao were named in an FIR lodged by the police under the SC/ST Atrocities (Prevention) Act for abetting his suicide.
Reached for comment, Roopanwal did not deny submitting the report, but said, “I cannot answer your questions. Please direct all your questions on the contents of the report to the government.”
New HRD Minister Prakash Javadekar said, “You seem to be more knowledgeable than me on this issue. I was out of the city for the last five days and haven’t seen this report. Maybe it was submitted to the UGC. I will have to check and get back.”
Rohith Vemula’s brother Raja, however, rejected the observation of the judicial commission. “We lived like Dalits. We were raised in a Dalit community. Yes, my father was 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.”
Vemula’s suicide note referred to his birth as a fatal accident. “My birth is my fatal accident. I can never recover from my childhood loneliness. The unappreciated child from my past,” the note recovered by police stated.
Incidentally, Justice Roopanwal’s observation is at odds with the report submitted by Guntur District Collector Kantilal Dande to the National Commission for Scheduled Castes (NCSC).
P L Punia, chairman of the NCSC, told The Indian Express: “The District Collector is the final authority in this matter. He has already submitted a report that Vemula was a Dalit. All records and investigations proved he was a Dalit. What was the need for this new committee? I don’t know what this new report is all about.”
“The BJP government and its ministers have been trying to prove since the beginning that he was not a Dalit. Obviously, they want to favour their minister who is facing an FIR. There can’t be a bigger example of anti-Dalit mentality by this government. It’s a conspiracy against Dalits.”
The HRD Ministry had announced a judicial commission on January 28 this year after its fact-finding committee held the university responsible for Vemula’s suicide. The panel had also reported that students felt discriminated on campus.
In November 2015, the university’s executive council had expelled five students, all said to be Dalits, from the hostel and barred their access to public places on campus. They were, however, allowed to attend lectures and pursue their research. The students were punished for allegedly assaulting an ABVP student leader. The issue snowballed into a political storm after Vemula committed suicide in a hostel room on January 17 this year.