The incident of Rohith Vemula’s suicide and the touching philosophical note that he has written engendered a global protest but the central Government is trying to project it as an accident that got politicised by the opposition parties. Rahul Gandhi’s two visits, particularly the January 30 sit-in with the students on hunger strike is being projected as deliberate politicisation of the issue. To have a clear understanding one must understand where the political party interference started there. We, therefore, must carefully look at the letter written by the Union labour minister Bandaru Dattatreya to the minister of human resource development Smriti Irani.
The letter addressed to Irani on his ministry’s letterhead reads as follows: “As you are aware, I represent Secunderabad in parliament which constitutes a major part of Hyderabad. Hyderabad University, a central University located in Hyderabad has, in recent past, become a den of casteist, extremist and anti-national politics. This could be visualised from the fact that when Yakub Menon (sic not Memon) was hanged, a dominant student union that is, Ambedkar Student Association has held protests against the execution. When Shri Shushil Kumar, president of ABVP in the campus protested against this, he was manhandled and as a result he was admitted in the hospital. What is more shocking is that the university administration has become a mute spectator to such events...”
As the minister informed the country after Rohith’s death that he did not write any letter that he just forwarded somebody’s representation is not correct. The above mentioned is not a forwarding letter but it is a letter written for serious consideration of the MHRD minister herself. Secondly, the content of the letter is about the law and order problem not about labour related issues like wages, recruitments and so on, of the university employees. Why did the ABVP get the letter written by him as a minister? If they wanted just an MP’s intervention the HCU comes under Chevella constituency, which is represented by Konda Vishweshwar Reddy of Telangana Rashtra Samithi.
If the law and order problem was so serious Dattatreya should have written this letter to Telangana home minister or the Union home ministry. Why has this letter has gone to the minister of MHRD? The contents of the letter are purely about tackling the law and order issues. It just does not talk about one incident of protests about Yakub Memon hanging protest. It informs MHRD minister that the HCU has become a “den of casteist, extremist and anti-national politics”. In fact the letter reads like an intelligence report.
As part of the moral responsibility of minister he did not take impartial view of student activities but acted like a karyakartha of the Bharatiya Janata Party, who was working to strengthen its student wing — the ABVP — on the campus. Did any other ruling party minister in the past — be it the Congress or any other party — write letters on such law and order issues to MHRD or to the Home ministry? There is no evidence.
Assuming that ASA activists were extremists and anti-nationals, assuming that they had guns and bombs with them what should have ABVP done? It should have gone to the police authorities of the state Government. But since they are in power at the national level they thought that their ministers are everything. Even if the protest against Memon’s hanging was anti-national, as the letter of the minister claims, the complaint should have gone to the police of the state not to the MHRD.
The MHRD has written several letters about the action taken report, naturally against the extremists and anti-nationals of ASA. As a result what happened, the whole nation knows now.
The question here is what kind of inter-departmental letter writing should take place between different ministries, which is a natural course of administration. It normally would be about the issues concerning that particular ministry. In this case Dattatreya by completely rubbing off ministerial neutrality politicised a quarrel between two student organizations. This lead to the events that happened one after the other.
As a teacher with more 38 years teaching experience, in both state (Osmania) and a central university (Maulana Azad National Urdu University), I feel this kind of political interference has huge implications for higher education.
When one minister writes to the other on issues like this all enquiries are bypassed. Here Dattatreya has vouched for what happening as the truth. And it was not an issue of higher education standard, syllabus or an injustice in an appointment, or of wages of contract labour so and so forth.
The ministries and the Indian parliament must address this issue. Now that Rohith has left a moving suicide note and that too he died in the process of their struggle for justice after expulsion, the issue has rocked the nation. The nation has to debate about the moral responsibility of ministers. The nation should also debate about the complex forms of discrimination that could kill young brains that otherwise could produce knowledge that this country and the world could prosper with.
Kancha Ilaiah is the author of ‘Why I am Not a Hindu’ and the director of Alberuni Centre for the Study of Social Exclusion and Inclusive Policy at the Maulana Azad National Urdu University, Hyderabad.
The views expressed are personal.