Radhika Vemula on Bhim Auto
"On March 14, Raja (Vemula) and I will start the Dalit Swabhiman Rath Yatra." - Radhika Vemula
"…The value of a man was reduced to his immediate identity and nearest possibility. To a vote. To a number. To a thing. Never was a man treated as a mind. As a glorious thing made up of star dust. In every field, in studies, in streets, in politics, and in dying and living.
…My birth is my fatal accident. I can never recover from my childhood loneliness. The unappreciated child from my past."
– Excerpts from Rohith Vemula’s suicide note
The middle of this month would witness a different type of Yatra on the streets of Telangana and Andhra Pradesh. It would neither be led by high profile leaders – who have the aura of Z plus security with them – nor would it be undertaken in an ultramodern bus – fitted with latest facilities and which could even be used as podium for a public meeting.
It would be taken out on a blue pickup truck renamed Bhim Auto and would be led by a 50-year-old woman Radhika Vemula along with her son Raja demanding justice for her elder son Rohith.
During this yatra Radhika intends to visit one Velivada (Dalit hamlet) after other in the two states to tell people how castiest forces are hell bent upon denying dalits their due rights and how justice is still being denied to her son who committed suicide because of the machinations of such people.
She would also communicate to them that the ruling dispensation at the Centre led by BJP but the and the state governments in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana have been callous towards the plight of the Dalits and have joined hands to deny justice to her son. Not so long ago the government of Andhra Pradesh had made outrageous statements about Rohith not being a Dalit and earlier in February had demanded that Radhika 'prove' that she is Dalit in 15 days.
Speaking at a rally in Bengaluru Radhika Vemula announced her plan in detail.
“On March 14, Raja (her other son) and I will start the Dalit Swabhiman Rath Yatra. We will travel across Telangana and Andhra for a month and conclude it on Ambedkar Jayanti (April 14). We will try and cover every Dalitwada (Dalit settlement) in these two states.” She also exhorted the audience "[t]o revisit what Rohith use to say the radical Ambedkar for 'liberation of dalits.'
She plans to raise two key demands through this awakening programme:
– Sacking of Hyderabad University vice chancellor & his prosecution under SC/ST Prevention of Atrocities Act.
– Passage of 'Rohith Act' aimed at stopping discrimination in educational institutions.
Today Radhika Vemula might have become a household name for her uncompromising struggle to render justice to her deceased son but a year and two months back not very many people – barring those from her own village and surroundings – had even heard her name. The mass upsurge which erupted immediately after Rohith's death, demanding justice to him and the manner in which she joined the ongoing struggle, has helped her emerge as a symbol of resistance against the dispensation at the Centre.
And she has not kept her concerns confined to her deceased son only. She was there when thousands of Dalits and other anti-caste forces and democratic formations gathered in Una, Gujarat on 15th August (2016) to demand 'land to dalits. She joined Fatima Naseem, mother of JNU student Najeeb Ahmed whose sudden disappearance – after a scuffle with the members of ABVP on the JNU campus – has become a cause of concern.
It has been more than a year that Rohith ended his life but there have been no concrete steps to ensure justice to him. We know how this activist of Ambedkar Students Association – who had started his political journey with a left student group – had decided to take the extreme step, how a biased administration with due connivance of a rightwing student formation and support from representatives of the central government continued to play havoc with the lives of dalit students, how it expelled them from hostels, how it stopped their scholarships, how it was instrumental in compelling them to live on 'Velivada' of a different kind on the Hyderabad Central University (HCU) campus.
Podile Apparao, the controversial vice chancellor of the university, who had to leave office temporarily in the immediate aftermath of the movement, has since resumed duties. And an all-out attempt is being made to silence all dissenting voices on the campus.
The authorities are so keen to mute all such oppositional voices that they did not even allow a rally of students, youth led by Radhika Vemula to enter the university campus and pay their homage to Rohith on his first death anniversary. (17th January 2017). All those students and concerned citizens were arrested at the gates of Hyderabad Central University itself. Perhaps authorities feared that if they are allowed to get in it might well rekindle the mass uprising which was had rocked the campus last year.
While justice still seems to elude Rohith, the only saving grace is that bowing to tremendous public pressure put up by the mass movement of student and youth, cases have been filed under strict provisions of the SC-ST Act, 1989 against all those who allegedly had a role in the whole episode. We are told that Podile Apparao and two central ministers do find mention in the FIR filed in the particular case. It is a different matter that things have stood still since then. And there has been no action against them.
What has further added urgency to the whole case is the planned manner in which attempts are on even today to deny Rohith his identity as a Dalit and portray him as basically a cheat and fraud and not a radical activist. The logic is simple: Deny dalithood to Rohith, and thus dilute the case filed against all those people who find mention in the concerned FIR.
The authorities have tried every trick in their kitty to deny him his identity and instead portray him as a member of the backward Vaddera caste – to which his father – who had deserted his mother long ago belonged. The latest in the case is the manner in which it was declared that Raja – Rohith's younger brother – has submitted false certificate to prove that he was a Dalit.
It is clear that the powers that be have deliberately glossed over the historic judgement by a two member Supreme Court bench of Justices Aftab Alam and Ranjana Desai which deliberated on the caste of the offspring in an inter-caste marriage where the mother happens to belong to one of the scheduled castes. It had clearly opined: “The determination of the caste of such a child was essentially a ‘question of fact’ to be decided on the basis of evidence in each case.” The child can claim the mother’s caste if he or she is brought up by the mother as an SC or ST
In a marriage between a tribal woman and a forward caste man, the offspring will get tribal status if the child is brought up in the mother's environment and will be entitled to reservation, the Supreme Court has held.
Though earlier judgments of this court said that “in an inter-caste marriage between a tribal woman and a non-tribal, the woman must in all cases take her caste from the husband,” these were not binding precedents, said a Bench of Justices Aftab Alam and Ranjana Desai.
Writing the judgment, Justice Alam said: “To hold that the offspring of such a marriage would in all cases get his/her caste from the father is bound to give rise to serious problem
Perhaps the matter should have ended at that but it still simmers, thanks to their machinations.
The authorities are not even bothered about how Rohith self identified himself as a Dalit in his last video. The video was released by his comrades since many questions were being raised about his caste. In the video Rohith Vemula clearly says:
“My name is Rohith Vemula. I am a Dalit from Guntur. Jai Bheem to all. I am a student of UoH since 2010. I am doing PhD in the social science department. The university has decided to suspend five Dalit students and they have expelled us from the hostel premises. They have said that the notice that we were served says that our presence in public places, hostel premises and administration building can be treated as criminal acts. I am the son of a daily wage labourer and my mother raised me.’’
The mischievous manner in which retired Justice Roopanwal Commission – which was formed to look into the case – declared that Rohith was not a dalit clearly transgressing its brief was also evident. In fact the one man commission had been assigned to two specific tasks via a proper notification:
– Examining the circumstances and facts, which led to the death of PhD Scholar Rohith Vemula and bringing the perpetrator, if any, to task.
– To review the functioning of the grievance committee and suggest measures for its improvement.
A cursory glance at the 12 pages of the judgement report of the committee makes it clear that four of its pages were devoted to declare the caste of Rohith Vemula and this despite the fact that it was not even asked to give an opinion about his caste nor the judge was the competent authority to do so. Retired justice clearly glossed over the fact that Guntur district collector Kantilal Dande, had already communicated to the National Commission on Scheduled Castes that Rohith was a dalit. Based on the inputs by the district collector and all related documents the National Commision on Scheduled Castes had also clearly declared that Rohith was a dalit. P L Punia, its then chairman had even demanded strict action nder SC-ST ( Prevention of Atrocities) Act against all those who compelled Rohith to end his life.
The powers that be did not want to take any chances.
Perhaps looking at the growing controversy around the determination of Rohith's caste and their dubious role to deny Rohith his due they planned another move. One Darsanpu Srinivas, who himself is a dalit but belongs to some Hindu organisation was asked to file a complaint to the Guntur collector regarding Raja Vemula. Darsanpu approached the Guntur collector with the complaint that Raja has obtained his caste certificate by fraudulent means. It is difficult to understand why the same collector who had already confirmed Rohith's caste sent the complaint to the Caste Scrutiny Committee of the district for verification. And this district level committee came out with a report that Raja was not a dalit.
Anybody can gather that the stakes are really high for the dispensation at the centre. Imagine one fine morning they have a change of heart and they decide to admit the dalithood of Rohith Vemula then what would happen. Under the strict provisions of the SC-ST Prevention of Atrocities act, actions will have to be initiated against all those people – which includes central ministers also – against whom FIR has been filed.
And this possibility looks remote.
Taking into consideration all the aspects of the particular case the powers that be seems to have resolved that Rohith's dalithood can wait for few more years.
On further probing one understands that it is not merely a question of Rohith alone and the manner in which this whole episode has exposed the anti-Dalit content of the Hindutva worldview. There are instances after instances where this facet of their politics has come to the fore again and again. Ranging from the banning of a student group Ambedkar Periyar Study Circle to the to the demolition of Ambedkar Bhavan to the way they tried to hush up the rape and murder of a dalit girl Delta Meghwal or the planned manner in which they tried to axe the admission policy of JNU which had made easier entry rule for deprived students. A random selection of news clippings makes it evident whatever might be there pretensions they Manuvadi to the core.
It was not for nothing that they decided to raise the whole bogey of 'nationalism' focussing themselves on JNU with a pliant media – ready with doctored videos – even to further their agenda just when the movement around justice for Rohith was at its peak. Remember, it was a time when the government had been put on the defensive because of the large scale churning among student youth as well as broad section of dalit masses.
Looking at the ambience in the country and the way powers that be seem determined not to 'listen' to the demands of aggrived sections it is not difficult to predict what would be the outcome of this Dalit Swabhiman Rath Yatra. A layperson can even predict whether the demand for Justice to Rohith and enactment of Rohith Act would be fulfilled or not? But it is difficult to hazard a guess whether the onward journey of this ordinary looking woman would help rekindle similar mass movement across campuses to pressurise the powers that be to listen to the voices of the humiliated and the marginalised.
Victory of the struggle or its continuation, one thing is certain that the justness of the cause which Radhika Vemula represents and the indomitable manner in which she has persisted – thanks to the grand support she has received from concerned individuals and various, left, Ambedkarite and democratic organisations – has already delivered a moral victory to her against the unholy trinity of insensitive and biased university administration, duly supported by people in power at the centre and a brigade of violent young lumpens who with all their acts and analysis seemed to imitate the storm troopers of the Nazi era.
Rohith might be dead but the cause for which he fought remains incomplete.
Question arises what people like us- students, youth, members of the academia and other concerned citizens, who are keen that Justice should be ensured to Rohith and who are themselves under onslaught of various types- can do in this unfolding situation?
We should remember one thing. Hindutva Supremacists have reached the citadels of power on their own for the first time but they are not going to remain there forever. If we join hands and launch united struggles it would be difficult for them to curb all such voices. Perhaps the issue of justice to Rohith could be a starting point once again.
Let us resolve to light a candle in Rohith's memory wherever we are and raise our voice in unison remembering a Chinese proverb which says :
Earth Sticks to earth and makes a wall
Poor people stick to poor people and overthrow a kingdom.
Published here with the permission of Sabrang India.
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