NEW DELHI: Another Union Minister today joined the chorus of voices questioning whether Rohith Vemula -- the University of Hyderabad (UoH) student whose suicide last month triggered a nationwide debate on the treatment of Dalits -- was a Dalit all.
"There is no question of this being a Dalit versus non-Dalit issue. Rohith and his family are OBCs. They belong to the Vaddera caste," said social justice and empowerment minister Thaawar Chand Gehlot, speaking at a function to hand out Ambedkar merit awares to Scheduled Caste students.
However, he acknowledged, "They are saying his mother is a Dalit, which is correct."
Gehlot joins fellow Union ministers Sushma Swaraj and Jual Oram in examining Vemula's caste credentials. Since his suicide by hanging, the 26-year-old student has become an icon around whom the issue of treatment of Dalits in academic institutions is being debated.
After being on the back foot in the aftermath of the suicide, ministers in the Union government have bagun questioning the very basis of the protests.
"Rohith was born in 1990," said Gehlot. "As per the facts that have emerged from the investigation, he got his certificate made in July 2014 stating that he is a Dalit. So, the certificate was made after almost 25 years. He was living with his father till then.
"So, the question here is why didn't he get a certificate made before that and why he got a certificate made now?" he asked.
Gehlot alleged that the Congress was politicising Rohith's suicide for its own gains. "Before Rohith's suicide, nine students committed suicide on the same campus. Why didn't those become a big issue?," asked Gehlot.
"All these political leaders - Rahul Gandhi, Arvind Kejriwal and others, who are rushing to Hyderabad after Rohith's suicide -- I want to ask them where were they when nine students from the university committed suicide. And those happened during the UPA's rule," he said.
Gehlot said Rohith and the organisation he was associated with were involved in "anti-national" activities: they condemned the execution of Yakub Memon for his role in the 1993 Mumbai serial bomb blasts.
"ABVP (BJP's students wing) objected to their activities, following which 30-40 boys had roughed up a student. That's why they were expelled," he said.
At the same time, Gehlot said, "However, we will ensure they (Rohith and his associates) get justice."
The union minister said "a judicial inquiry has been set up by the government into his death and whoever is found guilty will be punished."
Rohith's family members have refused to accept an ex-gratia amount of Rs 8 lakh and the government will ensure that they get justice, he said.