Rohith Vemula suicide: facts that education ministry’s probe chose to overlook

Rohith Vemula
A sketch of Dalit scholar Rohith Vemula.

At the beginning of this year, the human resource development ministry— then headed by former television actress, Smriti Irani– set up a one-man panel headed by a former judge of the Allahabad High Court to probe into the circumstances that pushed the Dalit PhD scholar, Rohith Vemula, to snuff out his life inside the hostel of the University of Hyderabad.

Over six months after Vemula’s suicide– he was pursuing a PhD in Science Technology and Societal Studies– the one-man commission’s findings are out and have resurrected the fear that dissent has no space in the campus politics— particularly when the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party is ruling the country with an overwhelming majority.

Denying Rohith Dalit Status

The inquiry report of former judge, A K Roopanwal, claims that the research scholar’s mother, Radhika Vemula, called herself as Mala (Dalit) after she managed to get the caste certificate. The report states that “the evidence on record shows that Vemula’s mother belongs to Vaddera Community (Rohith’s father belongs to Vaddera Community) and, therefore, the Scheduled Caste certificate issued to Vemula cannot be said to be a genuine one and he was not a Scheduled Caste person”.

However, arguments attempting to deprive Vemula, who many described as a bright and promising scholar, and his family of Dalit status are based on concocted facts. In a report submitted to National Commission for Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe, the Collector of Guntur district in Andhra Pradesh had stated that the research scholar belonged to Mala caste. The report based this claim on the assertions of Vemula’s father who had divorced the scholar’s mother when she was expecting Vemula. Contesting her former husband’s claims, the mother, Radhika, had also asserted that she and her three children lived in Mala village as Malas.


The government refused to accord her a MBBS seat to Sabbella— pointing that her father belonged to upper caste and her mother’s schedule caste status could not be availed.


The former retired judge’s observation that Vemula’s mother branded herself as Dalit to avail reservation benefits also falls flat as Vemula’s kin told The Hindu in January that “Rohith never used his SC status for reservation. He cleared CSIR fellowship twice. But he was identified by his caste certificate and hence was targeted.”

The argument that Vemula was not a Dalit, based on his father’s OBC status contradicts with the Supreme Court Judgement of 2012 which was used by a Hyderabad court in August this year in a case. The court observed that “a person’s upbringing should be taken into consideration while determining his or her caste if they are born out of inter-caste marriage”.

The Hyderabad court observed this in its judgement in the case filed by Sabbella Siri Manjoosha Reddy from Visakhapatnam. Sabbella had filed a petition in the court after her scheduled caste certificate was questioned by the authorities of NTR Health University and the social welfare department of Andhra Pradesh.

The government refused to accord her a MBBS seat to Sabbella— pointing that her father belonged to upper caste and her mother’s schedule caste status could not be availed.

However, the court in Hyderabad concluded that the Apex Court judgement of 2012—which ruled in favour of Rameshbhai Naika who was also facing discrimination— was the basis for judgement in such cases and therefore ruled in favour of Sabbella.


Kumar had claimed that Vemula and his friends had assaulted him after he protested against Ambedkar Students’ Association’s decision to hold an event against the execution of Mumbai blast convict Yakub Memom.


There are stark similarities between Rohith’s mother, Radhika, and plea by Sabbella’s mother. In an affidavit filed in court, Sabella’s mother said that after her marriage, she stayed with her family and brought up her children in village according to the customs and practices prevailing in the community. After being divorced, Vemula’s mother had lived a similar life.

Rohith Vemula 2
Rohith (right) moving out his luggage after eviction orders from university.

‘No Political Pressure’

The commission has even rejected claims that University administration expelled Vemula under political pressure. It has described the university’s decision to expel the scholar, who was a member of the Ambedkar Students’ Association, and four other scholars from the hostel as “most reasonable and lenient” in comparison to the university proctor board’s recommendation for complete suspension from the university.

But the panel fails to mention that the primary report of the same university board had called the right wing Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad member Susheel Kumar’s bluff, rejecting his claims that he was assaulted by Vemula and his friends. The university board’s interim report stated that it “could not find any hard evidence of beating of Mr. Susheel Kumar”. Kumar had claimed that Vemula and his friends had assaulted him after he protested against Ambedkar Students’ Association’s decision to hold an event against the execution of 1993 Mumbai blast convict Yakub Memom.

The university registrar B Pandu Reddy also rebutted Kumar’s claims in an affidavit, saying that “allegations that Susheel Kumar was attacked were a little overboard and he is only trying to generate sympathy”.


He wrote, “I am happy to say I got suspended for a semester, because I am vocal against ABVP and RSS backed system.”


Caravan magazine reported in September issue that Kumar’s roommate Anand Gadekar said he had witnessed the incident, “there was no physical beating. I told this to police and retired judge.”

On August 17, BJP Parliamentarian and Minister in the Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s cabinet, Bandaru Dattatreya wrote to then education minister, Smriti Irani, supporting the ABVP activist Kumar. Dattatreya claimed that when Kumar protested against an event which sought commuting of Yakub Memon’s death sentence, the Ambedkar Students’ Association (ASA) students manhandled him and he had to be hospitalised. Irani forwarded this letter to University authorities and followed up on it with several reminders. Under fire from the Central ministers, the final report of the university board focused on narrative of two unnamed witnesses.

In December, the university vice chancellor, Appa Rao Podile, ordered expulsion of ASA students, including Vemula, from their hostel and barred them from using public spaces in the campus. The chain of events reveal that despite lack of clinching evidence, the ASA students were punished by the university authorities. The judicial commission report fails to explore why university acted against the students even though there was no concrete evidence against Vemula and four other scholars.

‘Suicide Unrelated’

After dismissing caste angle and possibility of political pressure, the report even blames Vemula’s “personal affairs for suicide”. It does not take into account string of Facebook posts of the Dalit scholar and other students and also the situation he was pushed into.

After the final report recommended suspension of Vemula and his batch-mates from university for rest of the semester, Vemula took to the Facebook, to express his anger and anxiety. He wrote, “I am happy to say I got suspended for a semester, because I am vocal against ABVP and RSS backed system.”

After Vemula and others were barred from the campus by the new committee set up under V-C Appa Roa, ASA wrote on Facebook, “Isn’t it (decision of University Executive council) similar to dominant-upper caste ostracising a Dalit household from a village”.

Shunted, Vemula took refuge with his friend Uma Anna. In the suicide note Vemula apologised to Anna for “using your room for this thing (suicide)”. He also worried about his mother, who should get the fellowship funds, which remained unpaid for six months. Remember, Vemula was barred from hostel and campus and had no room to live. The neglect and discrimination at the hand of University authorities is completely overlooked by judicial commission report.

The report also does not take note of Vemula’s letter to Appa Rao, asking him to provide euthanasia to Dalit students after his stipend was abruptly stopped after disciplinary action. In fact the probe report considers expelling Vemula from hostel as ‘most reasonable.’

(Prathamesh is a journalist based in New Delhi. He observes student politics in India. If you wish to write for Kashmir Dispatch, send your submissions to news@kashmirdispatch.com)