P.L. Punia, chairman of the National Commission for Scheduled Castes, tells Bula Devi that the BJP believes in tokenism for Dalits and the IB report on Rohith Vemula (which stated that he was not a Dalit) was manipulated to suit the government.
Do you think the BJP exerted itself to term Rohith Vemula a non-Dalit?
"The BJP is belittling the gravity of the episode. It’s like carpet-bombing.”
It was initially Thaawar Chand Gehlot, minister for social justice & empowerment, who said Rohith was not a Dalit—followed by Venkaiah Naidu, Sushma Swaraj and so on. HRD minister Smriti Irani said the head of the committee that recommended suspension of the students was a Dalit, which is incorrect. The BJP often tries to belittle the gravity of the entire episode. The amount of hard work it’s putting in is enormous. It is like carpet-bombing. When you put so many people to defend yourself, it is clear that they have a political issue. Their eyes are on the 2019 elections and the upcoming assembly polls. It is no longer confined to Telangana.
The BJP is not worried about the plight of Dalits, it believes only in tokenism. It feels it has done a great job by commemorating the 125th birth anniversary of Babasaheb Ambedkar and wants to send out a message to Dalits they are well-wishers. But this incident proves they are not. Leaders of most parties visited the campus, but it’s amazing that BJP leaders did not dare to do so. The HRD minister should have been the first one to visit the campus. It’s her baby.
Maybe the idea is only to protect the minister and others from the stringent punishment under the Scheduled Caste and Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act?
It is possible, after all the FIR mentions Section 306 of the IPC and the Prevention of Atrocities Act. To protect the minister and the V-C, who is the BJP’s favourite. I told the Hyderabad police commissioner it was very objectionable that the police sent a team to Guntur. They should have followed procedure, processed the case after going through the statement of the complainant and witnesses.
The IB report, reportedly sent to the NSA, states that Rohith was not a Dalit.
That’s a manipulated report to suit the government.
What does the law say?
It is simple—if a father deserts the family, the children can adopt the mother’s caste. This is a case of a single mother family and the mother brought them up by doing tailoring work in the village. She belongs to the Dalit community, Mala. Rohith, his mother and brother hold SC certificates, issued after due enquiry. There is no complaint against these certificates and they have not been cancelled.
Did the commission hold a suo motu enquiry?
We’ve taken suo motu cognisance of the case. The incident happened on Jan 17, I visited the place the next day. On Jan 20, I asked for an action taken report from police, the Telangana chief secretary and the V-C, within 10 days. Since the V-C’s office was locked, he did not get the fax in time. Now that his office has been unlocked, they all will be visiting the Commission on Feb 8.