Soon after Dalit scholar, V. Sukanna refused his degree from vice chancellor of University of Hyderabad (UoH), Appa Rao, on October 1, a 41 page report by a one-man judicial committee has declared that Rohith Vemula’s mother had faked her Dalit certificate.
The report was submitted by former Allahabad high court judge, A.K. Roopanwal, the Indian Express reported. Roopanwal was appointed by the HRD ministry eleven days after Vemula’s suicide for the judicial committee.
Based on the depositions from over 50 people, the report claims that Rohith’s suicide was his own fault and gives a definitive clean chit to union ministers, Bandaru Dattatreya, Smirti Irani by saying that they only did their duty and did not pressurise the university. Furthermore, the report cited Rohith’s suicide was not because he faced discrimination, but because he was unhappy owing to several other reasons, such as being unappreciated. The fact that Rohith’s now famous letter, does not directly implicate the university or the HRD ministry has been used to argue that they were not to blame.
According to the probe, the discrepancies between Rohith’s letter to the vice chancellor on December 18, 2015, a month before his suicide and his suicide letter, shows that his anger did not continue and that his suicide was unrelated to his expulsion from the hostel, which as it were, had already been challenged in the high court.
The authenticity of Rohith’s caste identity was also questioned. The report suggested that his mother, Radhika Vemula could not definitively claim a Dalit identity for herself based on a what she was told by her foster parents that she was originally from a scheduled caste family. Since her foster parents did not reveal the names of her real parents, her claim to a Dalit identity was dubious at best, the report argued.
By insisting that his suicide was his own, and by stating that his mother “branded” herself a Dalit, the report conveniently removes caste from the scenario, Scroll has commented. Removing caste means that Rohith’s case can’t come under the Prevention of Atrocities Act.
Many have expressed outrage over the report and how it has systematically attempted to oust caste from the debate. Kavita Krishnan, secretary of the All India Progressive Women’s Association, wrote on Facebook, “One-man judicial commission adds insult to Radhika Vemula to injury of#RohithVemula institutional murder! Reject, resist this Sanghi whitewash!”
Others have taken to Twitter to condemn the judicial report, with the outrage translating to heavy doses of sarcasm.
On the other side of the spectrum, people have also applauded the report saying that caste was misleadingly appropriated and made into a political issue.
The Wire spoke to Dontha Prashanth, who was suspended from UoH alongside Rohith. Prashanth said that the report was “atrocious” and completely disregarded the systemic discrimination that his mother Radhika faced throughout her life beginning with her foster family. “She had endured a lot and the manner in which she parted with her husband and how she struggled after that, facing discrimination….the report is simply atrocious.”
“It was clear-cut socio-political victimisation that Rohith faced, along with the four of us.” Prasanth said about how Rao and the university had persecuted them.
In persistently enquiring about Rohith’s caste, Prashanth alleged the judicial commission did not do its job and said Roopanwal, who allegedly has RSS connections, is not a competent authority to decide on his caste. The report and the debate over Rohith’s caste, he said, was a “move to save the union ministers from [being tried under] the Prevention of Atrocities Act.”