By Ila Ananya
In an outrageous move, Radhika Vemula, who has been fighting for justice for her son Rohith Vemula, has been served with a show-cause notice to provide proof that she is Dalit in the next 15 days.
This happened after the District-Level Scrutiny Committee in Guntur, Andhra Pradesh, submitted a report stating that Radhika Vemula and her family belong to the Other Backward Classes category. If Radhika Vemula cannot ‘prove’ that she belongs to a Scheduled Caste in the next 15 days, the caste certificates issued to her family will be cancelled. According to The Hindustan Times, the government reportedly said that the family had obtained their certificate by “fraudulent means”. Raja Chaitanya, Rohith Vemula’s brother, has said that the family is considering moving court against the report.
On January 17th, 2017, the first anniversary of Rohith’s death, Radhika Vemula addressed students at Shahadat Din that they had organised at University of Hyderabad. She had referred to this same issue in her address, stating that the Government was desperate to declared Rohith as OBC. “After my son’s demise they are now behind me. They want to declare my son as OBC. I know what humiliation I have undergone being Dalit in the society,” she reportedly said.
Following the demand that she had 15 days to prove her caste status, Radhika Vemula also said she had been humiliated by revenue officials who had questioned her as part of the enquiry — “I had a humiliating experience of being subjected to grilling by RDO, Gurazala, and many revenue personnel. They subjected me to humiliation asking repeatedly as to how I have supported my family, as I have separated from my husband,” The Hindu reports she said.
This is evidently both a caste and gender issue. Each of Radhika Vemula’s statements remind us of what Gogu Shyamala, Dalit writer and activist, had told The Ladies Finger in an interview about being a part of the formation of the Radhika Vemula Solidarity Committee for Rohith’s mother after his death. Radhika Vemula, a Dalit woman, had married a Vaddera man. Her husband repeatedly harassed her about her caste identity, and she faced both caste and domestic violence at home. At some point, she had decided to leave home with her three children because she expected them to be harassed as well, and went to live in a Dalit waada. “After Rohith Vemula’s death, Radhika wasn’t given any identity in the entire discussion. This isn’t just Brahmanical upper-caste politics, this is patriarchal politics as well — she has a story of her own, but nobody is interested in it,” Gogu Shyamala said.
The turn-around happened after the Guntur district collector had first said in April 2016 that Rohith Vemula belonged to the Dalit community, but later ordered a probe into the matter. Ever since, protestors have argued that the district collector only ordered the probe because of pressure from the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government at the Centre.
As Gogu Shyamala had said in the interview with The Ladies Finger, “As a woman, as a single mother who fought the violence inflicted on her by her husband and brought her children up, and even as a Dalit woman, Radhika Vemula needs to be heard.”