In this filr photo, demonstrators climb over police barricades during a protest march near the Indian Parliament in New Delhi. (Photo: Reuters)
Hyderabad: The suicide of PhD scholar Rohith Vemula in Hyderabad Central University (HCU) on January 17, 2016 sparked nationwide outrage and protests. Over a year after the scholar’s death, old wounds were reopened on Tuesday when the Guntur district magistrate held in a report that Vemula had falsely claimed that he was a Dalit. Raja Vemula, the brother of the deceased PhD scholar, spoke to News 18’s Uday Singh Rana in an exclusive interview about the report and said it was prepared under 'undue pressure' from the central government. The family is now preparing to take the battle to the court.
My first question to you is, are you a Dalit?
Yes. I can state that categorically.
How did you react when the Guntur district administration report held that your brother Rohith was not a Dalit?
Honestly, we were expecting this report. The BJP is playing out a conspiracy against us. All departments have surrendered to the BJP. We will give our reply to this report and we are preparing for a legal battle. We will take our fight to the judiciary. What is odd is that the same Collector in June last year had said that Rohith was, in fact, a Dalit. So why the U-turn? Now BJP is saying that he was not a Dalit but Bandaru Dattatreya in his letter to Smriti Irani had referred to Rohith as a “casteist extremist”.
You mentioned that the administration has made a U-turn. Why do you think this is the case?
This is being done to safeguard the BJP. They know that if the truth comes out, BJP leaders will go to jail. From Bandaru Dattatreya to Smriti Irani to (HCU vice-chancellor) Appa Rao, they were all involved in pushing Rohith to suicide.
So you’re saying the pressure is coming directly from the central government?
Yes. It is an open secret that the Centre has been applying pressure on the local administration for a while now.
Your mother Radhika Vemula was also served a show-cause notice. Do you think she is being targeted and if so, why?
Of course she is being targeted. The fact that a common Dalit woman has decided to take on the might of the Sangh Parivar has not gone down well with them. They are trying to punish her for questioning the establishment. I can only say that I am proud of my mother.
After Rohith’s death, there were nationwide protests against the BJP. What do you think has been the biggest achievement of the movement?
The biggest achievement has been that the anti-Manuwaadi forces in the country finally united and saw the BJP and the RSS as fascist organisations. This is particularly true of Dalits and minorities. You can even say that after Rohith’s death, there was an awakening among Dalits and minorities.
Another counter-narrative has emerged wherein supporters of the establishment branded you and your family as “anti-national”. How do you counter this?
For the RSS, anybody who questions the government is anti-national. They said Rohith was anti-national, they said I was anti-national and even said my mother was anti-national. Anybody killed by the RSS is an anti-national. I only want to request them to give us an ID card that says ‘I am anti-national’.
Why do you think universities have been a particular spot of unrest recently?
That is because they are systemically targeting universities. And they are targeting universities because they produce the decision-makers of the future. The RSS is trying to control the education system by dismantling social structures within them. And they are doing this through the hands of the ABVP, their student wing. Slowly, we are seeing that they are trying to saffronise textbooks as well.
Do you think the disappearance of JNU student Najeeb Ahmed is connected to Rohith’s death in any way?
Of course! Najeeb and Rohith were both at loggerheads with the ABVP. Just hours after a fight with some ABVP activists, Najeeb goes missing. He has been missing for the last four months. The disappearance of Najeeb is an alarming and urgent matter. We stand with his family and friends in their fight for answers. I think the government won’t reveal any answers till the elections in UP are over.
What do you think when Prime Minister Narendra Modi calls himself a follower of BR Ambedkar?
Oh, come on! This is very ironic. If Mr. Modi was really a follower of Baba Saheb, he would at least react when stories of oppression against Dalits pour in from all parts of the country. He would ensure justice for Najeeb, justice for Rohith and justice for the victims of the Una flogging incident. He is only invoking Baba Saheb’s name because he treats Dalits like a vote bank.