The protesting students of University of Hyderabad have termed the official confirmation of Rohith Vemula's caste as Dalit, a vindication of their stand and a clearance of path for the police to arrest the University's Vice-Chancellor Prof. Appa Rao Podile and Union Labour and Employment Minister Bandaru Dattatreya for the "institutional murder" of the 26-year-old scholar in January.
The confirmation has come through a report prepared by Guntur District Collector Kantilal Dande. According to the report, which has been submitted to the National Commission for Scheduled Castes (NCSC), "as per the available documentary evidence with the Tahsildar Guntur, Sri. Rohith Chakravarthy Vemula belongs to Hindu Mala caste, which is classified as Scheduled Caste in Andhra Pradesh and his family comes under Below Poverty Line."
Even though the announcement of the confirmation hasn't been officially expressed to them, the Joint Action Committee for Social Justice - University of Hyderabad, which has been spearheading the protest campaign in campus, said the "drama created over the caste of Rohith by BJP's top brass after his suicide is now finally over and truth is before the Indian public."
"The report has exposed the BJP's hidden agenda of creating a manufactured opinion and its attempts to absolve its ministers and henchmen from the murder of a Dalit," Dontha Prashanth, a member of JAC and Ambedkar Students' Association, told ScoopWhoop.
Prashanth, one of the five Dalit scholars who along with Rohith were suspended by the University in January over a clash between the members of ASA and Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad last year, also said that the confirmation should not restrain police from "immediately arresting VC Appa Rao and other accused."
Following Vemula's suicide, the issue made headlines for months after it came to fore that the suspension of Rohith and four other Dalit scholars after the intervention of Union Minister and BJP leader Bandaru Dattatreya. It was revealed that Dattatreya had apprised Human Resource Development Minister Smriti Irani of university's alleged role of acting as a "mute spectator" to the "anti-national" and "anti-social" elements on the campus.
Subsequently, between the month of September and November last year, the Ministry of Human Resource Development had sent four letters and an email to the university, seeking "comments/facts" on the issue raised by Dattatreya. Questions were also raised on whether Rohith actually was a Dalit or belonged to some Other Backward Class (OBC) , with even External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj claiming that Rohith was not a Dalit and alleging the case was raised as a communal incident by some people.
"The Dalit or no-Dalit logic was used by BJP, not us. Rohith got admission in the university on a Dalit certificate. It doesn't matter to which caste he belonged. He was a human being and our Constitution gives everyone right to live with dignity and respect," another JAC member, Munna Sannaki told ScoopWhoop.
"Now when it has been proven Rohith was a Dalit, we demand quick and swift action against the VC and all those BJP ministers and leaders who tried to play politics with the Rohith's dead body," he added.
While Hyderabad Police has booked union minister Bandaru Dattatreya and University vice chancellor Appa Rao and two others for abetment of suicide and also for violations of the Schedule Caste and Schedule Tribe Atrocities Act, the protests have continued against the varsity administration.
It is being said that the report prepared by the Guntur District Collector is likely to give weight to Vemula's case.
"There was an impression that if Rohith was proven to be an OBC, the provisions of the Schedule Caste and The Schedule Tribe (Prevention Of Atrocities) Act, 1989 won't apply against the accused. The report has proven that he was not," Vemula's lawyer Bhim Rao told ScoopWhoop.
"It has definitely made our case stronger," the lawyer added.