By her own acknowledgment that “the people in the Executive Committee who suspended Vemula were not appointed by NDA but by UPA, and a Dalit warden was co-opted into the committee,” Union Minister for Human Resources Development Smriti Zubin Irani has obliquely admitted that the suspension of Rohith Vemula and others from University of Hyderabad(UoH) and his eventual suicide is certainly a Dalit-vs-non-Dalit issue.
That the Telangana State police have yet to establish if Rohith Vemula was a Dalit or a Vaddera (OBC) is a different story. The maze of caste tangle in which Rohith was caught is knotty. Rohith’s mother, Radhika, was actually born to a Dalit and was raised by a woman C Anjali Devi, belonging to Vaddera caste, and was married off to another person Vemula Naga Mani Kumar, who belongs to Vaddera caste, and Radhika had divorced her husband and has been leading an independent life retaining her original caste of being a Dalit.
Whether or not one subscribes to the argument that Rohith was a Dalit as per law, he indeed lived and died as a Dalit.
That is not the question here.
The Union HRD Minister’s concerted effort to prove a point that Rohith’s suicide shouldn’t be seen as Dalit-versus-non-Dalit issue had kicked up a row immediately after the researcher’s suicide in January last.
Look at the dichotomy in her sizzling speech on the floor of Lok Sabha on Wednesday. By referring to the presence of a Dalit professor in the committee that had acted against Rohith and others, Ms Irani clearly departed from her stand that it wasn’t Dalit-vs-non-Dalit issue. By returning to her avowed position that she “looked at the case as the death of a child and not as a death of a Dalit,”she contradicted herself.
Even if the order of precedence of these two mutually-contradictory statements is changed, it is quite evident that Ms Irani ensnared herself in the controversy.
The Joint Action Committee for Social Justice (JAC) of the UoH described Ms Irani’s statement in the Lok Sabha on Wednesday as “manipulative”. The SC/ST Teachers and the JAC had earlier too taken an umbrage at the minister’s attempt to portray that the action was triggered by the recommendation of a Dalit professor.
Another weak link in her scorching allocution on the floor of the House was the assertion that no doctor was allowed to see Rohith’s body for several hours (till 6.30 am the next morning, while the body was found hanging around 7.20 pm the previous day). However, with the Chief Medical Officer of the University of Hyderabad Rajashree debunking the statement, the Minister had an egg on her face.
In a report published in Indian Express, Dr Rajashree was quoted as recalling the incidents on January 17, 2016: “I was informed by someone (about the suicide) and I rushed to Room 207 at the NRS Hostel, with the staff nurse and ambulance driver. By that time, Rohith’s body had been brought down and placed on a cot.”
The document she had submitted to M Ramana Kumar, investigating officer and the Assistant Commissioner of Police of Madhapur under Cyberabad Police Commissionerate, also had a clear mention of Rohith’s body: “Body still, cold, tongue protruding from mouth. Froth marks seen around lips. Pupils are dilated, fixed. Pulse not palpable, no heart sounds. No breath sound noted. Body cold, still, rigor mortis stage. Declared dead approximately at 7:40 pm. Informed to VC, Dean of Students Welfare, Registrar, reported to police.’’ (sic).
What the HRD Minister had flashed as a police report submitted to the High Court in Lok Sabha was just a communication sent by the Assistant Commissioner of Police to the Government Pleader. The police are confirming that they have not submitted any report to the High Court in this regard.
The police have not mentioned the observations made by Dr Rajashree as she is the University CMO and that she is not an independent or police/public surgeon. It is an act of wilful omission.
The police have apparently concealed the fact that a doctor had rushed to the scene within seven minutes of the receipt of information, for the inquest had to be conducted by a competent authority. In fact, a video telecast by TV news channels had shown Dr Rajashree and Gachibowli Inspector Ramesh in the footage near the body of Rohith Vemula on that fateful night.
How did the minister, without caring for fact-checking, make such a fiery speech packing punches on the Opposition and those crying hoarse at the suicide of Rohith? She called it a “child’s death” and that she was enraged as a “child’s death is being used as a political weapon.”
Madam, it is not a natural or an accidental death. It is a suicide. A scholar, who “wanted to become a science writer like Carl Sagan”, had left a bitter suicide note before taking the extreme step. It cannot be slighted.
Another crucial point,which could embarrass the government,Smriti Irani conveniently had avoided was how Prof Appa Rao Podile was chosen for the coveted position of the Vice-Chancellor of UoH. Reports suggested that he had surpassed 35 others above him in the list for the top job, thanks to his powerful political connections.
Rohith’s mother Radhika chose to voice her indignation about all this in Delhi where she talked about how the V-C just ignored her and didn’t even bother to meet her when her son died. Rohith’s friends said at the same press conference that “It is these ministers and the BJP whose political interference and the casteist attitude of the VC and other complicit administrators that led to the politicisation and death of Rohith.”
Though MsIrani had provided statistics that 16 VCs out of the 20 were appointed by the Congress-led UPA, she did not talk about the political leanings of Prof Appa Rao that were highlighted during the peak of the controversy that ensued Rohith’s suicide. She might not have found it as convenient as quoting a Roman philosopher, who, for reasons best known to her, could pip Chanakya, at least for once.
After a long hiatus – after the conclusion of a saga that lasted for little over eight years between 2000 and 2008 through 1,833 episodes of India’s favourite TV soap on Star Plus, Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhee Bahu Thi, its lead actress Smriti Irani, in her capacity as the HRD Minister, is now at the centre of another multi-episode real life challenge.
When she had thundered, “My name is Smriti Irani. I challenge you to identify my caste,” what crossed my mind is the famous dialogue of Aamir Khan in his latest flick PK: “Kahaan hai thappa, dikhao?” But there may be nothing much to debate as to who had triggered this kind of discrimination on the basis of such religious identity.