Stop the attack on Rohith’s mother!
We believe there is a concerted effort on the part of the powers-that-be to diffuse the nation-wide mass protests against Dalit research scholar Rohith Vemula’s death and caste discrimination in higher educational institutions. They are keen to demonstrate that Rohith did not face caste discrimination by claiming that his mother Radhika is not a Dalit. Rather than addressing the critical issues that his death and the protests have raised, these misdirected attempts seek to dissolve the issue in narrow legalese. And thereby somehow save the people named in the students’ complaint from the stringent penal provisions of the SC/ST Atrocities Act. This malicious campaign is unethical, illegal and undemocratic.
More importantly, it is an attempt to discredit Radhika. Her life long struggle as a single mother, as an abandoned wife in an inter-caste marriage, her lived experience as a Dalit woman are being ruthlessly put under the scanner. Her and her childrens’ struggles against the caste order and its violence are being erased. By delegitimizing her struggle as a single parent it reinstates the rule of patriarchal caste hierarchy and makes the cruel claim that a child belongs to the father even after abandonment.
Despite his possession of an SC certificate, a series of statements issued forth from the Central Ministers such as Smriti Irani and now Sushma Swaraj and the leaders of BJP and ABVP that Rohith was not a Dalit. Rohith’s absent father was brought into the scene who claimed that his deceased son, who he has not met in two decades, was a Vaddera. Two days ago, the local Vaddera association also gave a statement that Rohith was not a Dalit.
Radhika has clearly stated that she and her sons lived among the SC community and she brought up her children. Rohith has written about the caste discrimination that his mother and he suffered. If this is the social experience of Rohith’s family, why is Radhika being asked about her biological identity? Why is there an investigation into the personal life of Radhika? This attempt to establish Radhika’s identity through the principle of bloodline amounts to nothing but humiliation, harassment and mental torture of a person who has been subjected to caste discrimination throughout her life and who has just lost her son.
This atrocious exercise thereby seeks to fall back on the patriarchal law set out by Manusmriti, against which the law of the land has been framed, and has dangerous implications. Adjudicating one of the several cases that come before the court, a recent SC judgment (Rameshbhai Dabhai Naika Vs.State of Gujarat and others, 2012) clearly lays out the rules in determining the caste of the child borne of marriages between a non-Dalit father and a Dalit mother. “It is open to the child of such marriage to lead evidence to show that he/she was brought up by the mother who belonged to the scheduled caste/scheduled tribe”. It clearly lays out the questions to be asked in each case. “Did his father’s non-Dalit status give him an “advantageous start in life” or did he suffer “the deprivations, indignities, humilities and handicaps like any other member of the community to which his/her mother belonged? Additionally, was he treated like a member of the community to which his mother belonged not only by that community but by the people outside the community as well?”
Rohith belongs to Scheduled Caste and chose to live his life as a Dalit. His lived experience, his social identity and his membership of Ambedkar Students’ Association clearly demonstrate this. Even in his death he chose to identify as a Dalit.
Despite the social life and legal status, Radhika’s and her family’s dignity, privacy and emotional well-being is being viciously attacked and damaged by none other than the representatives of the State. Central Cabinet Ministers, the Intelligence Bureau, National Security Advisor, District administration and the state police, are all being deployed in this attack on the dignity and privacy of Radhika and her family. This attack must stop.
On behalf of Solidarity Committee for Rohith’s mother Radhika