Rohith Vemula Not a Dalit, UoH Action Justified: Roopanwal Report

Close to two years after the suicide of University of Hyderabad (UoH) research scholar Rohith Vemula, the Ashok Kumar Roopanwal Commission report was made public on Tuesday.

The Roopanwal Commission was formed after Rohith killed himself in the university on 17 January 2016.

Though the report was leaked to the media in October last year, sparking an outrage, it has been officially released now.

The commission confirms most of what has already been reported, claiming that Rohith was unhappy with 'worldly affairs' and his own problems, which led him to suicide.

“He was frustrated for the reasons best known to him...He also wrote that he was all alone from childhood and was an unappreciated man. This also indicates his frustration. He did not blame anybody for his suicide," Manash Gohain from the Times of India quoted the report as saying.

The report also exonerates union ministers Bandaru Dattatreya and Smriti Irani, claiming that they were only discharging their duties.

The students had earlier termed the report an attempt to shield two Union ministers and the vice chancellor in the suicide case.

“If he would have been angry with the decision of the university, certainly either he would have written in specific words or would have indicated in this regard. But he did not do the same. It shows that the circumstances prevailing in the university at that time were not the reasons for committing the suicide,“ the report said, according to TOI.

While the report did highlight that the varsity did not have a proper grievance redressal mechanism, it justified the suspension of Rohith along with others, claiming that the administration was not under any pressure.

It also made several allegations, including the claim that Rohith’s mother, Radhika, "branded" herself as a Dalit to avail the benefits of reservation.

This follows a report by the District-Level Scrutiny Committee (DLSC) that was released in February this year, which also alleged that the certificate was “fraudulently” obtained by Rohith and his mother Radhika Vemula.

Based on the DLSC report, the district administration threatened to cancel the Dalit certificate obtained by Rohith and his mother and declare them as belonging to the OBC community.

The controversy over Rohith's caste first broke out after a certificate of his brother, Raja Vemula, stated that he was a ‘Vaddera’, a caste which is categorised as OBC in Andhra Pradesh.

It was later revealed that Rohith’s father Mani Kumar was a Vaddera, and his mother was a Mala. However, Mani Kumar was an alcoholic who deserted the family once he realised that Radhika was a Dalit, the family claimed. Therefore, Rohith, who never knew his father, claimed his mother's caste, and grew up as a Mala.

Speaking at the gates of UoH on Rohith's death anniversary in January this year, Radhika had narrated her version of incidents that took place at the Guntur Collector's office.

She had alleged that the officials were bent on taking Mani Kumar's side and insistent to prove that Rohith was not a Dalit.

When details of the report had surfaced earlier, students who were suspended with Rohith, in a statement, had argued that the Roopanwal Commission overstepped its mandate by going into Rohith’s caste, noting that only the district magistrate is the appropriate authority to inquire into his caste.

They pointed out that the magistrate had ruled that Rohith was a Dalit and the National Commission for Scheduled Castes had affirmed his stand.

The opposition parties and activists also slammed the probe panel’s report.

Academic scholar and Dalit rights activist Kancha Ilaiah alleged that the report has been written to present the government's version of the story.

"What surprises me is that what the then HRD minister Smriti Irani had said about Vemula's death is what forms the content of the report.”

"We would have taken it more seriously if Irani would have then said that 'look we do not know what happened and we are constituting an enquiry to know about it'," Ilaiah told reporters, adding "What the minister wanted to say is all that has been written in the report".

The student body of Jawaharlal Nehru University, JNUSU, refused to trust the findings of the Commission.

"It's not just Hyderabad University, but in all the central universities that the Centre is engaging in manipulatory tactics. The report's findings are stupid in that its outcome was predecided," Amal PP, Vice President, JNUSU said.

(This article was originally published in The News Minute, and has been republished with permission.)

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