NEW DELHI: “Rohith Vemula was a Dalit, as was his mother, brother and sister. They have valid documents certifying their Scheduled Caste status and the BJP is whipping up a fraudulent campaign”, said P.L.Punia, MP and Chairperson of the National Scheduled Caste Commission. “This government is anti-Dalit,” he added.

In an interview to The Citizen, Punia was clear that the Dalit status of Vemula was certified and legal. He said that the children had been raised by their Dalit single mother whose husband had left her and the family. And as per the rules they were Dalits, having been raised and brought up by her.

Punia was castigating about the BJP led government at the centre wondering at the effort it had put into the campaign to prove Vemula was not a Dalit. Incidentally, following the protests that broke out across the country and not just in Hyderabad following Vemula’s suicide, the matter was taken up the National Security Advisor and former intelligence sleuth Ajit Doval who let it be known that the young scholar was not a Dalit. Punia refuted this strongly saying that Vemula is a Dalit and there can be no two legal views about it.

“This government is anti-Dalit,” he asserted, as it believed more in tokenism than on action on the ground. Punia said that the effort to prove that he was not a Dalit was to get the Vice Chancellor of Hyderabad Central University and others involved in the events leading up to Vemula’s suicide out of the scope of the SC/ST Act.

And as he added, “and how is this campaign justified. Even if Vemula was not a Dalit and an OBC as the government, including Minister Sushma Swaraj is claiming, does that justify the suicide and the reasons for it?”Rohith Vemula, long with four other Dalit students, had been penalised by the University authorities under pressure from the Ministry of Human Resource Development, He was thrown out of the hostel, and denied access to University facilities.

Punia said that the stipend paid to Vemula had been stopped since July last year. “Why did they did all this, and what are they trying to do now I do not understand at all,” Punia said. “The government’s entire effort seems to be to justify the action against Vemula and the others, so now they are even insisting he was not a Dalit” said the visibly perplexed SC Commission Chairperson.

As for political leaders visiting the HCU campus, and Vemula’s family Punia had a point. “Of course we want political support, how are you going to fight this battle against discrimination and marginalisation without political support. The BJP could have supported us, could have supported Vemula but they are going in the opposite direction and then attacking other politicians if they choose to support the protest, and join in the demand for justice,” he said.

Punia said that the BJP led government had demonstrated its anti-Dalit prejudice by slashing the budget for welfare schemes for the marginalised sections, and by reducing the Dalit sub plan by Rs 20,000 crores in the last budget. He said that a constitutional amendment to ensure reservation for the marginalised groups had been introduced in Parliament earlier and passed by the Rajya Sabha not the Lok Sabha. “Now the BJP has a robust majority in the Lok Sabha, why don’t they prove their support for the Dalits and pass it, we can assure you we will pass it in the Rajya Sabha,” Punia said.

He said that so far reservation for the Dalits was in the shrinking space still with the government. It was imperative for this to be extended to the private sector, he said. “Will the BJP do this? They will not” he said.

The protests against the government are spreading across the country. In response to activist Rajeev Ramachandran Carl Segan’s wife Ann has written, rather poignantly, “Deeply grateful to you for writing to me about Rohit Vimula, whose death and lost promise I mourn.

To read his suicide note and to learn the details of his predicament is to get a vivid inkling of the actual cost of bias to our civilization. If we could somehow quantify the totality of lost contributions and innovations as a result of prejudice, I believe we would find it staggering.

You tell me, Rajeev: Is it possible that the attention paid to Rohit’s story will lessen its chronic repetition? I am trying to find something hopeful in an otherwise heartbreaking example of needless suffering and squandered potential.



Vemula in his suicide note had written: “I always wanted to be a writer. A writer of science, like Carl Sagan. I loved Science, Stars, Nature, but then I loved people without knowing that people have long since divorced from nature. Our feelings are second handed. Our love is constructed. Our beliefs colored. Our originality valid through artificial art. It has become truly difficult to love without getting hurt.”