The death of a 26-year-old Dalit PhD scholar who committed suicide in a hostel room in Hyderabad Central University (HCU) took a political turn on Monday as student groups and the Opposition demanded immediate action in the case.
Rohith Vemula, a second year PhD student, was among five research scholars who were suspended by the central university administration in August last year after being accused of assaulting a leader of the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), the student wing of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
The issue has taken a political turn with allegations that the extreme action against the students was a result of discrimination against Dalits at the behest of Union labour minister Bandaru Dattatreya, who along with and university vice chancellor Appa Rao Podile, has been booked on the charge of abetment to suicide.
Earlier in August 2015, Dattatreya had written to Union HRD minister Smriti Irani alleging that university had become “a den of casteist, extremist and anti-national politics”. He had also alleged that the university administration had turned into “a mute spectator to such events”.
However, Dattatreya, while defending his move to write to the HRD minister, denied any involvement of the BJP or him in the suspension of the Dalit students.
“I had received a representation from Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad leaders that they were beaten up by anti-national and anti-social elements. I forwarded the same to the ministry. I don’t know what action was taken on this,” Dattatreya told reporters on Monday.
Nonetheless, the Congress seized the opportunity and demanded that the Union minister be removed from the Cabinet.
“The minister, against whom an FIR was filed, should immediately be removed from the Cabinet. The vice chancellor and others involved in this crime should also be removed from their respective posts,” Congress spokesperson RPN Singh said.
Meanwhile, student organisations under the banner of Left-affiliated All India Students Association (AISA), Students Federation of India (SFI) and Congress-affiliated National Students Union of India (NSUI) upped the ante by marching to Shastri Bhawan demanding a response from the government and HRD minister Smriti Irani over the action that led to the suicide.
The protest turned violent as students tried to jump over barricades and attacked security personnel causing injuries and prompting the police to use water cannons and detain students. Around 70 students were detained after scores of them engaged in violent protest outside the HRD ministry to vent their ire over the incident.
“The protest turned violent and several police officials including an additional DCP and SHO of Connaught Place police station were injured,” DCP (New Delhi) Jatin Narwal said.
The HRD ministry has constituted a two-member fact finding team to look into the incidents that led to the suicide, but Smriti Irani has said the Centre will not intervene.
“Everyone knows that in central universities, the administrative control belongs only to the varsity. The government has no role to play,” Irani told ANI.