Two months after the Guntur district administration certified that Rohit Vemula was a Dalit, the 26-year-old research scholar who committed suicide in the University of Hyderabad (UoH) on January 17 this year, a panel set up by the Ministry of Human Resource Development said the contrary.
According to an Indian Express report, the one-man judicial commission, set up by the HRD to probe the circumstances leading to Vemula's suicide, said that he was not a Dalit.
The one-member commission has reportedly submitted its findings to UGC officials in the first week of August, though there has been no official confirmation.
The fight over whether Vemula was a Dalit or not has been going on for a while
Earlier, Union Ministers Sushma Swaraj and Thaawarchand Gehlot had questioned the student's caste identity.
Both Swaraj and Gehlot had said that Vemula belonged to the Vaddera community — a caste which falls under the Other Backward Classes (OBC) category — and that his suicide was being projected as an issue of caste discrimination to fuel tempers.
Days after Vemula was founding hanging in his friend's room in the university, Human Resource and Development Minister Smriti Irani had said that Rohith Vemula's suicide was not a caste battle.
"This is not a Dalit versus non-Dalit confrontation," Irani had said.
Vemula had committed suicide by hanging himself from the ceiling of a hostel room in the university. The incident had triggered a political storm with Opposition parties launching a massive attack on the Centre over the issue. They also accused the university authorities of mishandling the situation, which led to Vemula's suicide.
Vemula's caste identity was in question soon after his demise as his father Mani Kumar claimed that Vemula was a Veddera, a caste which falls under Other Backward Classes (OBC).
Vemula's mother Radhika Vemula, a divorcee, had contested her ex-husband's claim that their deceased son belonged to Vaddera (OBC) community, stating that she and her three children, including Rohith, had lived in a Mala village as Malas throughout their lives.
Rohith Vemula's brother Raja rejected the observation of the judicial commission.
"We lived like Dalits. We were raised in a Dalit community. Yes, my father was from a backward class, but whatever we know is from our experience of living like a Dalit. We have been discriminated against all our lives," he told Indian Express.
PL Punia, chairman of the National Commission for Scheduled Castes (NCSC), had earlier confirmed that Vemula was a Dalit.
"As per the available documentary evidence with the Tahsildar Guntur, Sri. Rohith Chakravarthy Vemula belongs to Hindu Mala caste, which is classified as Scheduled Caste in Andhra Pradesh and his family comes under Below Poverty Line. The statements recorded from the grandmother of Sri Rohith Chakravarthy Vemula and others are also enclosed herein for favour of information," noted the report.
Punia said that the District Collector is the final authority in this matter and that this is a 'conspiracy' of the BJP government.
"He (The district collector) already submitted a report that Vemula was a Dalit. All records and investigations proved he was a Dalit," he said.
Punia said the the BJP government and its ministers have been trying to prove that he was not a Dalit.
"There can't be a bigger example of anti-Dalit mentality by this government. It's a conspiracy against Dalits," he added.
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