Mothers have more than equal rights over children!
We are shocked by the casteist patriarchal submission made by the police in the High Court of Hyderabad that Rohith is not a Dalit. We believe this is part of the concerted effort being made by 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 and Rohith belongs to his father’s caste Vaddera. These attempts, including the procedurally flawed counter affidavit filed by the police, are blatantly violative of the law of the land and are therefore illegal and unconstitutional. The law laid down by the Supreme Court is very clear on this issue. If a child of an intercaste marriages continues to suffer the indignities and deprivations of his mother’s caste, then s/he will be considered an SC. Rohith therefore was/is an SC.
This malicious and unethical anti-women campaign draws its strength from the Brahminical, patriarchal norms wherein the child belongs only to the father, and the mother is regarded as a mere instrument to bring the children into the world. This is in stark contrast with reality where mothers spend their entire life nurturing and shaping their children, often sacrificing their own interests. In fact women in our society are socialized into the roles of mothers (wives) from very early on and go on to idealize the role of the mother. In ascribing his father’s caste to Rohith, the statement filed by the police is seeking to discredit the life-long struggle of not only Radhika but many such mothers in our society. It is also re-legitimizing an irresponsible and callous father who deserted his infant children and wife, leaving the destitute mother to take care of and raise the children.
Radhika has described in detail her life long struggle as a single mother, as an abandoned wife in an inter-caste marriage and her lived experience as a Dalit woman. She was ill treated in her marriage by her in-laws and suffered domestic violence as a wife. But without losing resolve she brought up her children as a single mother. Rohith’s and his brother’s lives were shaped by her love, labour and dedication. In a single stroke, this statement wants to delegitimize her many years of struggle as a single parent (and struggles of scores of other women) and reinstate the rule of patriarchal caste hierarchy by making the cruel and unjust claim that a child belongs to the father’s caste even after he has abandoned the family.
In fact, Rohith’s absent father was brought into the story after his death to claim that his deceased son, who he has not met in two decades, was a Vaddera. The local Vaddera association also gave a statement that Rohith was not a Dalit. The Home Minister made a statement on the floor of the Telangana state Assembly that he was not a Dalit.
This is in total contrast to what Radhika had to say. She has clearly stated that as a deserted woman she and her sons lived among the SC community and she brought up her children in their midst. Rohith has written about the caste discrimination that his mother and he suffered. Throughout his all too short educational life, Rohith held a certificate issued by the Collector of his district, stating that he was S.C. His lived experience, his social identity and his membership of Ambedkar Students’ Association clearly demonstrate his identity as a Dalit. Even in his death he chose to identify as a Dalit. By slotting Radhika and Rohith into the category of the wife and son of an upper caste man, this entire social experience of Rohith’s family is being erased. It is as if their lived experience, that Radhika narrated even in her statement to the police, does not matter.
Even in terms of procedure, the SC caste certificate of Rohith remains valid. Cancellation of a caste certificate requries an elaborate enquiry by the Scrutiny Committee which will submit its findings to the District Collector. This comes within the purview of the revenue department. The District Collector is the sole authority who is vested with the power of cancellation or otherwise of the caste certificate. Such an enquiry is yet to be held. Until it is held and the Collector takes a decision in this regard, Rohith will continue to be considered an SC. The police are well aware of the necessity of such an enquiry and yet stated that Rohith does not belong to SC.
The ongoing attempt to establish Rohith’s identity through the patriarchal principle of father’s bloodline amounts to nothing but humiliation, harassment and mental torture of his mother who has been subjected to caste discrimination throughout her life and has tragically lost her son. Radhika’s life exemplifies the lives of lakhs of single mothers who survive the caste patriarchal order that smothers them and deprives them of the dignity guaranteed to them by our Constitution. The statement by the police to the High Court is steeped in the values of Manu Smriti and reinforces the denial of equality and human rights. We strongly oppose this statement and demand that it should be withdrawn.
Solidarity Forum for Rohith’s mother Radhika