Indian college students hold placards of the deceased student Rohit Vemula during a protest demonstration in Bangalore earlier this year. Photograph: (AFP)
Protests had broken out across the country after his suicide early this year was blamed on caste-based discrimination
According to the 41-page report submitted to India's human resource ministry by former Allahabad High Court judge A K Roopanwal in August, PhD scholar Rohith Vemula committed suicide out of frustration, The Indian Express reported.
The one-man judicial commission set up to inquire into the suicide of the Hyderabad Central University student exonerates university officials and politicians of any blame. Vemula committed suicide on 17 January 2016, one month after he was expelled from university hostel.
Protests broke out across the country following his suicide which was attributed to caste-based discrimination and political interference in the university. The report of the judicial commission has used the testimonies of university teachers, officers, staff members, five university students, and members of the joint action committee that was at the helm of campus protests.
The judicial commission challenged Vemula's Dalit status by disputing his mother's caste. It concluded that Vemula's mother, V Radhika, "branded" herself as a Dalit "to take benefit of Scheduled Caste" and obtained the Caste Certificate from a corporator she was in cohabitation with for one and a half years. Since Radhika raised her two sons alone, Vemula's caste certificate depends upon whether his mother belongs to the Mala caste. The commission noted that his caste certificate was issued without proper inquiry. Radhika had identified herself as belonging to the Vaddera community elsewhere, which is Backward and not Scheduled Caste.
Building up on the same the report says, "The evidence on record shows that she belongs to Vaddera Community and, therefore, the Scheduled Caste certificate issued to Rohith Vemula cannot be said to be a genuine one and he was not a Scheduled Caste person.”
The commission rejected claims of discrimination and political interference leading to Vemula's expulsion from the university hostel. Vemula and four other students were expelled from the hostel owing to a disciplinary case. It drew attention to the fact that the interim report of the nine-member proctorial board was submitted on August 12, 2015, while the Union Minister Bandaru Dattatreya wrote to Smriti Irani, the Union HRD Minister on August 17.
The board wanted a strong warning to be issued to all the students involved in the case, including Susheel Kumar of ABVP, the student wing of India's ruling Bhartiya Janta Party.
The report says, “Moreover this cannot be believed that the report which was prepared by nine persons could be obtained by pressure. How nine persons could be influenced by anybody, political or non-political when none of them was directly under the control of anybody?”
Absolving the BJP ministers and councillors, the commission concluded, “Being the public representative, Shri Ramachandra Rao, MLC, took the issue up with the university authorities, Shri Bandaru Dattatreya, Minister of State for Labour and Employment wrote the letter to Smt. Smriti Irani, HRD Minister as the MP of Secunderabad Constituency and the letter written by HRD Minister was just to pursue the matter with the university authorities on the letter of Shri Bandaru Dattatreya.”
The report goes on to say, “His suicide note is on the record which shows that Rohith Vemula had his own problems and not happy with the worldly affairs.” Vemula had written a letter to vice-chancellor Appa Rao Podile on December 18, 2015 alleging discrimination and famously demanded cyanide and rope for Dalit students.
The commission, however, did not find this letter relevant to his suicide a month later. The report says, “But I feel that in view of the suicide note the anger shown in this letter cannot be the reason for suicide. It is because of the fact that the suicide was committed after about one month and by this time the expulsion from the hostel had been challenged in the High Court. He did not mention anything in his suicide note which were mentioned in the above mentioned letter. This shows that if there was any anger that did not continue by the date of suicide otherwise something regarding the anger shown in the letter would have been indicated in the suicide note.”
The Indian Express carried the following timeline on the case:
July 30, 2015: Funeral prayer organised by Ambedkar Students Association (ASA) on University of Hyderabad campus to protest hanging of Yakub Memon
August 3: In response, ABVP student leader Susheel Kumar put up Facebook post: ‘ASA goons are talking about hooliganism — feeling funny’
August 3-4 night: Some ASA members visit Kumar’s room, ask him to apologise and delete the post. He uploads apology letter but alleges he was roughed up by ASA members, files FIR
August 4: ABVP general secretary Krishna Chaitanya complains to vice-chancellor. Matter referred to university’s Proctorial Board
August 12: Board submits interim report recommending that a strong warning be issued to Kumar and also to Rohith Vemula, D Prashanth, Vincent, P Vijay, Sunkanna and Seshu Chemudugunta for forcing Kumar to apologise
August 17: MoS Bandaru Dattatreya writes to then HRD Minister Smriti Irani, calling HCU a den of “anti-national” activities and complaining about the incident. Letter forwarded by HRD Ministry to university for comments. Ministry sends five reminders till January 2016
August 31: Proctorial Board submits final report. Recommends suspension of Prashanth, Vemula, Vijay, Chemudugunta from university for ongoing semester. Recommendation approved by university’s Executive Council (EC)
September 10: Students protest against decision. EC, under chairmanship of then in-charge V-C R P Sharma, holds meeting and withdraws suspension with an understanding that a larger committee will investigate the matter afresh
September 21: Appa Rao is appointed new V-C
November 24: EC’s sub-committee, tasked to look into Proctorial Board’s recommendations, submits report, agrees with Board’s findings
November 27: EC meets again to consider sub-committee report. Resolves to suspend Prashanth, Vemula, Vijay, Chemudugunta from university hostel
December 18: Vemula writes to V-C complaining about caste discrimination in university. Around the same time, Chief Warden communicates EC decision to students, asking them to vacate hostel
Meanwhile, expelled students approach High Court against suspension. Court orders that their petition will be heard along with petition filed by Kumar’s mother. Matter listed for hearing on January 19, 2016
January 3, 2016: Suspended students and members of Joint Action Committee launch protest against suspension.
On January 13, students close down university’s administrative building
January 17: Vemula commits suicide, protests break out on campus
January 19: HRD Ministry despatches two-member fact-finding committee to HCU
January 22: Fact-finding committee submits report to HRD Ministry, slams university administration for flawed probe, says atmosphere of discrimination on campus
January 28: HRD Ministry sets up one-man judicial commission headed by retired Allahabad High Court judge A K Roopanwal to probe circumstances that led to Vemula’s death
August 1: Roopanwal submits his report