Andhra Pradesh is set to give other backward class (OBC) status to Rohith Vemula. Earlier, a one-man judicial committee headed by former Allahabad high court judge Justice A K Roopanwal also declared Rohith as an OBC. The committee felt that Rohith’s mother might have got the SC certificate to claim the benefits of reservation. Rohith’s death and protests across universities had pushed the state and centre on the back foot and given the Opposition, especially the Congress, ammunition to call the government “anti-Dalit”.
After his death – Rohith Vemula’s caste has become more significant than the fact that he had to kill himself to escape the caste-induced suffering. His mother, Radhika Vemula, and brother, Raja Vemula, have been asked, given ultimatum now to “prove” that Rohith was indeed a Dalit, as if a mere certificate can undo a lived life cut short by daily humiliation tied to one’s birth.
The obsession to determine Rohith’s caste and to verify if he indeed was a Dalit has eerie parallels with the manner in which the meat in Mohammad Akhlaq’s refrigerator was sent for forensic test to figure out if it was “beef”. They killed Rohith. But he will live up to scorch this brahmanical social order. But how? By proving he was indeed a Dalit or an OBC or whatever caste he belonged to.
Rohith Vemula, a Dalit research scholar at Hyderabad Central University and an active member of Ambedkar Student Association (ASA) committed suicide on 17 January 2016. His death went on to become a political flashpoint, with activists accusing the University administration of driving him towards taking his life. Also in the picture was BJP MP Bandaru Dattatreya, whose letter to the University and the Union HRD Minister led to Vemula’s suspension. If accounts of Rohith’s best friend are to be believed, around 7.30 pm on the day before he committed suicide, he was singing Dalit songs of protest with other suspended scholars. “He looked happy that day. Looking at him that evening, his friends thought Rohith was fine. The next day, he killed himself ”.
We are told a year after his passing that the government of Andhra Pradesh has decided that Rohith was Vaddera — an OBC, not a Dalit. Really?A discovery of a (post-) truth when the person is no longer alive to make an assertion to the contrary. When there is a certificate, witnesses, and a Supreme Court decision on the inheritance of caste status for Dalits and Adivasis from the mother, the government ‘discovers’ evidence to the contrary. Why this overdrive?
The backstory of the on-going identity dispute over Vemula’s caste started 18 years before he was even born, when in the year 1971 Anjani Devi – Rohith’s adoptive “grandmother” – triggered the events that the scholar would later describe cryptically as the “fatal accident of my birth” in his suicide note. Rohith’s mother, Radhika a Mala (Scheduled Caste) born to migrant labourer couple was adopted by Anjani, a Vaddera (OBC).
At the age of 14, she was married off to Mani Kumar grandson of a respected man from the Vaddera community. Radhika’s caste was kept a secret from her husband, who was a violent man and few slaps were a common affair after few drinks in the marriage. After her caste was disclosed few years later to her husband, the beating got a severe ritual, who kept blaming her of cheating and plotting him into marrying an untouchable.
Recently Varun Gandhi a BJP MP was delivering a lecture on the “Ideas for a new India”, organised by a private school in Indore, where he quoted that “. When I read Rohith letter, I broke into tears. He wrote that he was taking the extreme step because he had committed the sin of taking birth in such form. This line pained my heart immensely,” But the part to ponder over is that isn’t ABVP a youth wing of BJP, and are they not responsible for Vemula’s extreme step, though his suicide note is of apolitical nature.
Rohith lived and died a Dalit. His life and death are testimonies to the centuries of oppression that are still going strong, that exist just beneath the civilised veneer of the universities, colleges, schools, hospitals, offices, government centres, and other outposts of modernity. Caste oppression, too, has modernised, as evidenced in the hundreds of caste-insistent matrimonial sites, or the not-so-subtle way in which one doesn’t get a job, accommodation, an admission into a higher education institution, or faces romantic, emotional rejection at various points in life.
According to the advocate fighting Vemula’s case, once Rohith is certified a non-Dalit, those in the dock for allegedly abetting his suicide will not be tried under the more stringent SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act. It is a simple game to protect the accused.
Vemula’s family is currently preparing for a legal battle against the Guntur district administration, which ruled earlier this month that Rohith Vemula was not a Dalit. His mother Radhika Vemula was also served a show-cause notice asking her to prove that she belonged to SC community. The SC certificate issued for Rohith would be revoked if she did not prove her claim within 15 days, said the notice that was delivered to her on January 6 to which she has sought more time to reply.