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Fearing Political Damage, Congress Govt in Telangana Reopens Rohit Vemula Case

At a time when Congress is foregrounding the issue of social justice and dubbing the BJP as anti-reservation, the closure report filed by Telangana Police could hurt its prospects electorally. 
A painting of Rohith Vemula in a still from <em>The Unbearable Lightness of Being</em>

Hyderabad: The Congress party’s desperate bid to garner nationwide sympathy generated by the Rohit Vemula case is palpable with the Revanth Reddy-led government deciding to reopen the probe hours after the closure report was filed by Telangana Police at a court here in Hyderabad.

In the words of Telangana director general of police (DGP) Ravi Gupta, the report was prepared on the basis of an investigation of the case prior to November last year when the previous Bharat Rashtra Samiti (BRS) government was in power in Telangana. Since the relatives of Rohit had raised objections to the report, a petition will be filed in court again seeking to reopen the investigation, the police chief said.

Rohit’s mother Radhika, Congress MLCs Balmuri Venkat and Mahesh Kumar Goud and friends of Rohit who were part of the 2016 ‘Justice for Rohit Vemula’ campaign called on chief minister A. Revanth Reddy on Saturday seeking justice.

They told media persons waiting outside the chief minister’s residence that they had taken up with Reddy how the earlier probe was biased to misrepresent the caste of Rohit, which was central to the incident, under assault from the BJP and Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS).

Former BJP legislator N. Ramchander Rao who led the agitation by Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) students during the unrest on the university campus prior to the suicide by Rohit said the Congress was politically exploiting the issue. The party had always exploited Dalits for political gains.
He reminded that the Congress government was digging up the case again though it was the same party which filed the closure report on March 21. Merely because the investigation was closed in the BRS regime should not alter its colour in a different government, he said.

It may be recalled that the DGP had said on Friday that the closure report was filed on the basis of an investigation in the case up to November last year, days ahead of BRS being voted out of power in the state assembly elections.

With Parliament elections in Telangana in ten days, the issue has again come to the fore in the background of Congress and BJP sparring over reservations and the resolve of the former party to protect the interests of SCs, STs, other backward classes and minorities.

The Congress was at the forefront of a backlash across the country highlighting caste discrimination in institutions of higher learning following Rohit’s suicide. Its leader Rahul Gandhi himself participated in a mass hunger strike by students on the road opposite the University of Hyderabad a day after the incident. He had also led a frontal attack on BJP, particularly then Union minister for human resource development Smriti Irani, in the debate over the incident in Parliament.

Former chief minister of Telangana K. Chandrasekhar Rao while expressing concern over the death of Rohit deplored the emergence of new trends among students in universities. He referred to a “kiss festival” celebrated in one university and wondered whether it was good for the student community.

The Congress identified itself with the groundswell in support of Rohit and the raging discontent against casteism in universities by inviting his mother Radhika to join the party. She was also supportive of the idea and had even walked briefly with Rahul Gandhi during his Bharat Jodi Yatra near Shamshabad on Hyderabad’s outskirts.

Radhika Vemula, the mother of Rohith Vemula, joined Rahul Gandhi’s Bharat Jodo Yatra in Hyderabad on November 1, 2022. Photo: Twitter/@INCIndia

Radhika tweeted later that she “expressed solidarity with Rahul Gandhi. Called upon Congress to save the Constitution from BJP- RSS assault, passing Rohit Vemula Act, increasing representation of Dalits and oppressed sections in higher judiciary and education for all”.

Rahul Gandhi had promised a law named Rohit Vemula Act if the Congress returned to power to safeguard the right to education and dignity for SCs, STs, OBCs and minorities.

The closure report filed by police in court said the suicide by Rohit was a sequel to events on the university campus after the hanging of terrorist Yakub Memon in Nagpur Central Jail a year earlier.
Rohit and four other students conducted a programme on the campus in memory of Memon who was involved in the Bombay bombings of 1993 a couple of months after his hanging. Taking exception to the programme conducted under the banner of the Ambedkar Students Association (ASA), the president of the ABVP unit of the university Nandanam Susheel Kumar posted a message on his Facebook page insulting the association members as goons.

The social media post was preceded by clashes between ASA and ABVP members. The issue flared up with an ABVP office bearer Krishna Chaitanya lodging a complaint with Vice Chancellor P. Appa Rao against ASA.

Thereafter, BJP legislator Ramchander Rao led an agitation demanding action against Rohit and others who were involved in the attacks on ABVP activists. Then Union Minister Bandaru Dattatreya forwarded the complaint of Krishna Chaitanya to his Cabinet colleague Smriti Irani who directed the Vice Chancellor to initiate action against ASA members. Promptly Rohit and four others of ASA were suspended. The suspension was attributed to harassment by the Vice-chancellor at the instance of BJP and ABVP leaders because they happened to be Dalits.

After Rohit ended his life in a hostel room on January 17, 2016, when his request to the Vice Chancellor to lift the suspension went unheeded, the police investigation revealed that there were multiple reasons for him to commit suicide.

While stating this in its closure report, the police cited a lack of evidence of harassment by the accused, including members of ABVP, BJP and university top officials, as driving Rohit to the extreme step.
The police said it also investigated the contentious issue of whether Rohit belonged to to a Scheduled Caste in view of claims that he was a Vaddera, a community listed among the backward classes under category ‘A’.

The police ruled out Rohit was an SC and said his family belonged to BCs but obtained SC certificate by fraudulent means. The police also examined harassment aspect, alleged compulsion mounted on the Vice Chancellor to take action and findings of a commission headed by a retired judge Ashok Kumar Roopanwala. The inquiry commission was set up to examine whether the punishment to ASA members was the circumstance for Rohit to commit suicide.

The punishment was also challenged in High Court but Rohit committed suicide when the matter was still pending in court.

Rohit’s suicide was wholly his own as his note said. He had his own problems. He was disappointed and unhappy over his childhood, he seemed to be unhappy with the organisations with which he worked as he was aware that he does not belong to SCs. His mother got him an SC certificate and “that could be one of the constant fears he nursed as the exposure of his caste would put him to loss of his academic career and benefits accruing to him as SC”.

The 60-page closure report kicked off angry reactions from students on the university campus on Friday evening. Students took out a protest march up to the main gate raising slogans demanding justice.

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