By Abhishek Jha:
The National Commission for Scheduled Castes (NCSC) has advised the Commissioner of Police, Cyberabad, to complete investigation into the death of Rohith Vemula and file chargesheet ‘at the earliest’, as the question of his caste has been settled. In a document titled “Record Of Findings Of The Commission In The Case Of Suicide Of SC Scholar Shri Rohith Vemula At University Of Hyderabad” dated 22.06.2016, signed by the NCSC Chairman P. L. Punia, the Commission has observed that in its meeting with the District Collector, Guntur, on 18.04.2016, it was told that “there is no rival claim questioning the validity of these certificates”, referring to disputes over Rohith’s caste.
The Commission has also made observations on caste discrimination faced by Rohith and the circumstances leading to his suicide, and advised the MHRD and the University administration to examine the same. It has also recommended monetary assistance to Rohith’s family.
The Commission has all the powers of a civil court for investigating any matter related to safeguards provided for the Scheduled Castes under the Constitution or any other law or any order of the Government as well as for inquiring into specific complaints with respect to deprivation of rights and safeguards of the Scheduled Castes. It had taken suo motu cognisance of the expulsion of the SC students by the University as well as Rohith’s suicide. The major observations in the 22.06.2016 document made by the NCSC, which YKA has accessed, are as follows:
1. While Telangana Police had contested the caste of Rohith Vemula in an internal communication in February, stating that his father was from a backward caste, NCSC has observed that Rohith Vemula belongs to a Scheduled Caste. The Commission has relied on the report of the District Collector, which it says “has examined the issue in detail”.
2. The District Collector’s report, the observations say, notes that SC certificates were issued to Rohith on four occasions (in 2004, 2005, 2014, and 2015), which has been verified through reports by Guntur Tehsildar, Revenue Divisional Officer, and Sub-Divisional Magistrate. His siblings too had been “granted valid SC certificates in 2007 & 2014”.
3. The Commission further observes that Rohith lived in an SC locality with his mother, had a valid SC certificate, which was used while taking admission to college. “Hence in his perception and in the perception of society at large, he lives as SC and experienced the life and age old discrimination faced by SCs and also raised his voice against such discrimination especially in his University student life,” NCSC observes.
4. The NCSC also says that “it is a well settled case law”, irrespective of which parent is a member of the SC community, that as long as the child is brought up by the SC community as a member of the community, they would be entitled to receive benefits as such. “This applies fully to the case of Rohith Vemula,” it concludes.
5. The Commission has called “treatment of people” based on “perception of caste” unfortunate, before adding that this was also the perception of treatment received by Rohith. The treatment, it says, was “discriminatory like the suspension from University and hostel, stoppage of his fellowship, etc, which anguished him and which finally drove him to commit suicide (sic)”.
6. The observations also note letters written by Rohith to the VC on 18.12.2015 and by the President of Ambedkar Students Association on 28.12.2015. The December 18 letter had asked the VC to supply Dalit students with 10 mg of sodium azide at the time of admission with directions to use when they feel like reading Ambedkar and had also asked for a supply of rope in room of all Dalit students, citing discriminations on the grounds of caste in the University. On the basis of the two letters, NCSC has observed that “the University authorities did nothing to assuage the feelings/ or rectify the problems as it has culminated in Rohit’s suicide (sic)”.
7. The NCSC has stated that it feels that ‘whole set of circumstances’ leading to the suicide be examined by the University authorities and the MHRD.
8. The Commission also asks the University authorities and the MHRD to ensure that “SC students are not discriminated against and are fully assimilated into the university life” across campuses in the country.
9. In consonance with the demand for a Rohith Act, the NCSC too says that “there seems to be a necessity to frame separate law to cover the cases of discrimination and atrocities in educational institutions”.
10. As Rohith’s family falls under the BPL category, the District Collector, Guntur, has been instructed to provide house, employment, monetary help as per rules to the family.
11. The Commission has also advised the district administration to make half of the relief amount, Rs. 4,12,500, to Rohith Vemula’s mother as per Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (PoA) Rules, 2016. The remaining amount is to be paid when the chargesheet is filed in the case.
12. As per a report of the UoH dated 08.02.2016 and that of MHRD dated 17.06.2016, Rohith’s brother had not been provided employment by the University because students are not covered under the compassionate appointment scheme. The appointment, the Commission has recommended, may be done “as a gesture towards fulfilling the commitment made by the Vice-Chancellor”.
13. As Rohith’s mother has refused to take the financial assistance offered by the University, the Vice-Chancellor has been advised “to hand over the financial assistance cheque/draft of Rs. 8 lakh” to her.
14. Finally, the Commissioner of Police, Cyberabad, has been advised “to complete the investigation and file the report at the earliest”.