Rohith Vemula was not a Dalit, says Telangana police in closure report; Gives clean chit to all accused

The report gave a clean chit to former UoH VC Appa Rao, former Secunderabad BJP MP Bandaru Dattatreya, and Union Minister Smriti Irani.

BySouth First Desk

Published May 03, 2024 | 4:48 PMUpdatedMay 03, 2024 | 10:58 PM

Rohith Vemula case: Eight years after the suicide, caste certificate investigation stalled despite family submitting evidence

The Telangana police on Friday, 3 May, submitted a closure report in a case related to the suicide of University of Hyderabad (UoH) PhD scholar Rohith Vemula citing “lack of evidence”. The closure report concluded that he was not a Dalit and his caste certificate was “fabricated”.

It said that he might have taken the extreme step because of his fear that his “real caste” would be exposed — that he did not belong to the Scheduled Caste (SC) community but the Backward Class (BC) community.

It added that there was no evidence to suggest that the actions of the accused in the case abetted his suicide.

“… the deceased himself is aware that he does not belong to Scheduled Caste and that his mother got him SC certificate. This could be one of the constant fears as the exposure the same would put him to loss of his academic degrees that he earned over the years and be compelled to face prosecution,” the report said.

Rohit had died by suicide in one of the UoH’s hostel rooms in January 2016, leaving behind a suicide note.

Also Read: 8 years on, case in limbo as officials dither over his caste certificate

Belonged to BC community

The report said the investigation revealed that his parents belonged to the Vaddera caste, a Backward Class community.

“The caste certificate of Vemula Radhika issued by the Tahsildar, Guntur Urban and the caste certificates of the deceased Vemula R Chakravarthi issued by the Tahsildar, Gurazala of Guntur district and copy of the application filed by her ex-husband Vemula Naga Mani Kumar in the office of where in they made self declaration of their caste as Vaddera and the findings of District Level Scrutiny Committee, Guntur district make it clear that the deceased belongs to Vaddera caste falling under Backward Classes,” it added.

The report also said that since Rohith was not a member of Scheduled Caste, the provisions of the SC/ST Act were not applicable in his case. It also denied that scholarships were denied for the late scholar.

The report also gave a clean chit to former UoH Vice-Chancellor (VC) Appa Rao, former Secunderabad BJP MP and current Haryana Governor Bandaru Dattatreya, and Union Minister Smriti Irani.

The report said that he took the extreme step not because of the actions of the university and the Ministry of Human Resources Development (now the Education Ministry) but personal issues.

No involvement of Appa Rao

It stated that the then VC Appa Rao did not discriminate against Rohith and others based on caste as there were no allegations against him.

It said that Rao reduced the punishment of Rohith and others from expulsion for one semester from the course study, hostel and scholarship to only an expulsion from the hostel.

“In view of this leniency taken by the VC against the recommendation of E.C sub- committee to stick to the earlier punishment, it cannot be said he had discriminated against the deceased and 4 other students,” it said.

“Except this decision of leniency taken by the VC in favour of the deceased and others, all other proceedings occurred during the tenure the previous Vice Chancellor against whom no allegation of discrimination was made by any of the student,” it added.

The report also said that a letter by Dattatreya to Irani seeking action against the Ambedkar Students Association (ASA) on the campus did not have any role in the suspension of Rohith and four others.

Action was taken against Rohith and four other students for allegedly assaulting an ABVP member for questioning the actions of the ASA.

Also Read: In Congress manifesto Rohith Vemula Act, Caste census, federalism are highlights

The caste dilemma

In 2016, a few months after Rohith’s suicide, a one-man judicial commission headed by a former judge of the Allahabad High Court, AK Roopanwal, held that Rohith was a Vaddera BC — his father’s caste — and not a Mala SC.

However, rejecting the judicial commission’s report on Rohith Vemula’s suicide as “fake and fictitious”, the then National Commission for Scheduled Castes (NCSC) chairman PL Punia asserted the deceased PhD research scholar was a Dalit.

A Hindustan Times report said that while Rohith’s mother Radhika belonged to the Mala (SC) community, his father Mani Kumar was from the Backward Class (BC) Vaddera community.

However, after a few years of marriage, Radhika separated from her husband over his abusive and violent nature and brought up Rohith as a single parent.

Punia said that the commission was constituted to determine why Rohith died by suicide and the people accountable for his death. But, instead of adhering to its terms of reference, the commission was busy ascertaining his caste.

Punia added that the then-Guntur district collector, Kantilal Dande, had issued a conclusive report stating that the deceased person belonged to an SC caste.

In 2016, when TDP chief Chandrababu Naidu was the chief minister of Andhra Pradesh, the then Guntur collector (Kantilal Dande) received a complaint that Rohith did not belong to the SC community. Subsequently, he referred the matter to the District-Level Scrutiny Committee (DLSC), which carried out a detailed inquiry (re-probe) regarding the caste status.

Referring to the DLSC recommendation, Dande reportedly said the SC certificate was “fraudulently” obtained by Rohith and his mother Radhika.

“My mother was served a show cause notice by the DLSC to prove her claim of being a Dalit within 15 days. So, we appeared in front of the then-Guntur joint collector and submitted evidence. But there were no proceedings for the next couple of years,” Rohith’s brother Raja Vemula said.

He added that, in 2019, a new collector (Kona Sasidhar) took charge and oversaw the proceedings himself.

“We submitted all the evidence and depositions to him and he transferred the matter to the DLSC for a fresh enquiry,” Raja said, adding that since then there had been no proceeding in the matter.

“The same district collector (Dande) came and said that my colleagues were misled and Rohith was not an SC but a BC. It shows what kind of understanding the then chief minister (Naidu) had with the BJP (in power in Delhi). He was also in alliance with the BJP during the Vajpayee government,” a research scholar who was suspended along with Rohith, on condition of anonymity, told South First in January this year,

Suicide and its aftermath

The suicide by Rohith on 17 January, 2016, had not only triggered a nationwide uproar but also sparked a huge political storm. Opposition parties launched a massive attack on the BJP-led Union government over the issue.

Several political leaders, including Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi, had reached Hyderabad to show solidarity with students protesting against the UoH administration and the HRD Ministry for driving Rohith to death by suicide.

Gandhi was also joined by Rohith’s mother Radhika during the Hyderabad leg of the Bharat Jodo Yatra in November 2022.

“A lot of people people got involved in the case and tried to dilute it. I think they have achieved in weakening the case,” the research scholar told South First.

He added that while it was no secret that Rohith’s father was a BC, he had the equal right to his mother’s caste as she was the one who raised him.

“The father is a BC man. There is no doubt about it and no one is hiding that. But when he (Rohith) was around four or five, his mother separated from his father. She belongs to the Mala community. So, she would have wanted her children to go with her caste, which is not wrong. It is not a crime. Children have the right to carry the caste of both parents. How can they declare that he is solely a BC?” the research scholar asked.

Citing an example, the research scholar claimed, “Suppose I am a Dalit who marries a Brahmin woman. it does not mean my wife will become a Dalit or vice-versa. But our children will have a chance either to continue with their mother’s legacy or father’s. That option is there in the Constitution.”

The Tamil Nadu government in 2021, issuing a clarification on one of its own Government Orders from 1975, reportedly stated that the offspring of inter-caste couples could opt for the caste of either of their parents.

In January 2016, Rohith committed suicide in one of the UoH’s hostel rooms, leaving behind a suicide note.

He and four others were suspended by the varsity’s administration over allegations of being involved in “casteist” and “anti-national” activities as members of the ASA.

Subsequently, he was also expelled from the university hostel as a result of which he is said to have spent several days without any shelter. Protests rocked the country with academic fraternity terming it as an “institutional murder.”

(Edited by Muhammed Fazil)