Rohith Vemula was a Dalit,says SC/ST panel chief Punia

LUCKNOW: Refuting claims of external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj, SC/ST commission chairman PL Punia said here on Sunday that Hyderabad scholar Rohith Vemula who committed suicide early this month was a   Dalit.

Talking to reporters here, Punia said: "He was a member of the Scheduled Caste. Some people are only trying to water down the issue. Rohith and his siblings were brought up by a single mother, so how can any law determine his caste by that of his father who had left the family years ago?" he asked. Punia, who visited Hyerabad Central University a day after Rohith committed suicide, said: "I met the university officials and his friends, including those who were suspended from the hostel, and I believe Rohith was a Dalit."

Punia also claimed that Rohith's mother was a Dalit and so are his other siblings and they have certificates to establish their claims. "How can he belong to a different caste then," Punia, who is also a Rajya Sabha MP, said. Targeting those who have criticized Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi for joining the hunger strike with those protesting against Rohith's death outside the university campus in Hyderabad, Punia said: "I am thankful to Rahulji for standing up so strongly for the cause of Dalits."

Punia also claimed that he had asked the University authorities to ensure action on the FIR lodged against those responsible for Rohith's death in which University VC and Union labour minister Bandaru Dattetreya had been named as accused.

A retired IAS officer of UP cadre, Punia, also came down heavily on Union HRD minister Smriti Irani for claiming that the probe against Rohith was conducted by university professors who were Dalit. "It has been proved beyond doubt that she had lied," he said. "Even if, for a moment, we believe that Rohith was from the OBC, should he have been forced to commit suicide, the way he was?" he said.

Manikumar Vemula, father of PhD scholar Rohith Vemula, had claimd that his son hailed from the backward Vaddera community. "My son was not a Scheduled Caste person. We hail from the Vaddera community of backward classes," he said wondering how his estranged wife Radhika was claiming SC status.