The one-man judicial commission set up to probe the circumstances that lead to Rohith Vemula's suicide has submitted its report stating that Vemula's mother "branded" herself a Dalit only to obtain the caste benefits, and that the Hyderabad University's decision to expel Vemula from hostel was "most reasonable".
The 41-page-report, accessed by The Indian Express, reportedly puts the varsity authorities in the clear stating that the disciplinary actions taken by the administration were "not politically motivated" and that personal frustration, not discrimination led to Vemula's suicide. The report further hands out a clean chit to Union ministers Bandaru Dattatreya and Smriti Irani, who it was alleged put undue pressure on the university to act against Vemula, stating that they were "merely discharging their duties as public servants".
The one-man committee, constituted 11 days after Vemula's suicide by the then Human Resource Development minister Smriti Irani to probe Vemula's death, is based on the deposition of close to 50 people, most of whom are University staff and teachers, according to The Indian Express.
The report compiled and submitted by the former Allahabad High Court judge AK Roopanwal dismissed the allegations that Vemula was driven to suicide or faced any discrimination, according to The Quint. It came to the conclusion citing a five-day-gap between the nine-member proctorial committee's report advising that strict action be taken against Vemula on ABVP student leader's complaint and the letter written by Union Minister of Labour and Employment Bandaru Dattatreya to HRD minister Smriti Irani requesting strict action against Vemula.
Who was Rohith Vemula?
Rohith Vemula was a 26-year-old PhD scholar at the Hyderabad University, who committed suicide on 17 January, 2016, after he and four other students were suspended from the college hostel following a disciplinary action initiated by the University administration on the complaint of a ABVP student leader lodged in August. The ABVP student had alleged that Vemula and other members of the the Ambedkar Students Association (ASA) had roughed him up and demanded an apology for posting an 'angry' Facebook post, after the ASA protested against the hanging of Yakub Memon. After the ABVP leader's complaint, the University's proctorial board launched an enquiry into the matter and recommended strict action against Vemula and others.
The research scholars, following this, were expelled from their hostel in December. They were denied access to hostels and other buildings on the campus, except their classroom, library and conferences and workshops related to their subject of study. They were evicted from their rooms in January and since then they were forced to sleep in a makeshift tent on the campus. It is this committee report that the Roopanwal commission drew from, in assuming that the disciplinary action was recommended five days before Dattatreya wrote a letter to the HRD ministry, hence ruling out the possibility of political interference. The judiciary panel probe report also observes that it is highly unlikely that all nine members of the proctorial committee will come under political pressure when none of them were directly under any of the ministers, according to The Quint.
Why is Vemula's caste important?
Ever since Vemula committed suicide his caste identity has been mired in mystery and has been at the eye of the storm. One reason for it could be that if it is established that Vemula was a Dalit and was led to suicide due to discrimination, then legal action against all accused, including Union Minister Bandaru Dattatreya and Hyderabad university Vice-Chancellor Appa Rao Podile will be taken as per the more stringent SC/ST Atrocities (Prevention) Act.
If found guilty, not only will the quantum of punishment be stringent, but according to the new law, there is a presumption to the offence clause in the act according to which the court may assume that the accused was aware of the victim's caste identity unless proved otherwise.
Vemula's caste has been mired in controversy as his father was a Vaddera (OBC) and his mother, who is separated from his father and brought Vemula up considers herself a Mala (SC). According to a report in Hindustan Times, Vemula's mother was apparently a Mala by birth and was adopted into a Vaddera family. She was thereafter married to a Vaddera but after the couple seperated after marriage, she went back to assume her Mala identity.
The report compiled and submitted by the former Allahabad High Court judge AK Roopanwal dismissed the allegations that Vemula was driven to suicide or faced any discrimination
A probe was launched by the HRD ministry into the caste identity of Vemula and contrasting evidence have surfaced thus far. First, a report published in The Hindu on 15 June states that the Guntur district collector heading the enquiry into Vemula's caste has stated that he was a Dalit. However, later the collector in a U-turn stated that a fresh probe is needed to determine his caste as it is shrouded in 'ambiguity.'
The Roopanwal commission has however is of the view that Vemula's mother "branded" herself a Dalit to avail the benefits of reservations. The commission questioned that Vemula's adoptive grandmother never revealed his mother's biological parents' identity so how can she be sure about their caste, according to The Indian Express report.
However, the National Commission for Scheduled Castes (NCSC) Chairman PL Punia on Thursday rejected the reported finding of the Roopanwal Commission that Rohith Vemula did not belong to the SC community as "totally wrong". NCSC chairman said the statutory body and the district collector have, in separate reports, found that the Hyderabad Central University research scholar belonged to the Dalit community, and not Other Backward Class (OBC).
However, according to a PTI report, HRD ministry sources have earlier said that in its recommendations, the Roopanwal commission has also emphasised that there should be proper grievance redressal mechanisms, equal opportunity cells so that unfortunate incidents like Vemula's suicide can be prevented.
"The government will focus that those recommendations are implemented that will ensure that proper mechanisms are in place," a source said.
The government will not go into those aspects of the report which were not in the commission's terms of reference including determination of Vemula's caste, sources added.
It is also understood that in the report, the commission has held that Vemula could not be held to be a Dalit. However, sources maintained that the ministry would focus on implementation of recommendations and prefer not go into aspects like determination of Vemula's caste.