The Big Story: Caste in stone

A 41-page report looking into the death of Dalit scholar Rohith Vemula has concluded that his suicide was entirely his own fault, and was not the result of pressure by the government, Hyderabad University or even an outcome of discrimination, according to The Indian Express. The report prepared by Justice AK Roopanwal goes further, spending some time looking into the question of Vemula's caste and concludes that the scholar's mother faked her Dalit status for the sake of getting benefits.

PhD scholar Rohith Vemula and four other members of the Ambedkar Students' Association had been expelled from the University hostel last year as a fall-out of an altercation with members of the right-wing Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad. Vemula's suicide led to widespread agitations by students and particularly Ambedkarites across the country, and turned the spotlight on the pervasive nature of caste discrimination.

Yet efforts were made from the beginning to both ensure that the ABVP and Bharatiya Janata Party leaders associated with this tragedy, including Union Ministers Smriti Irani and Bandaru Dattatreya, would not face any legal repercussions for the death of a Dalit scholar, which would come under the Prevention of Atrocities Act. By insisting that Vemula's mother "branded" herself Dalit, this report seems to do exactly that, removing out the caste angle entirely and then declaring that Vemula's death was entirely of his own making.

How the government reacts to this judicial commission, based on the depositions of more than 50 people, could tell us plenty about its approach to caste-based discrimination. The BJP has been attempting over the last few years to bring more Dalits into its fold, an effort that has faced serious challenges since Vemula's death. In the aftermath of that, and an attack on tanners in Una, Gujarat, the BJP has tried to put its Dalit voices forward and insist it has the community's best interests at heart. How it deals with a judicial report that seeks to dismantle the legacy of a young man who, after his death, has become a Dalit icon, will be telling.

The Big Scroll

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