Protests swept through several top universities across the country, including Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi where classes were suspended on Wednesday as the agitation over the death of a Dalit scholar turned into a movement against caste bias on campus.
The nationwide agitation came in the midst of widespread outrage over the suicide by Rohith Vemula at the University of Hyderabad, an incident which had turned into a political duel between the Congress-led opposition and the BJP government at the Centre.
What fanned the agitation at the JNU was the threat by a Dalit research scholar’s to commit suicide after he was allegedly denied an extension for pursuing his PhD.
Students from JNU and Delhi University staged demonstrations at the iconic Jantar Mantar and demanded resignation of Union ministers Smriti Irani and Bandaru Dattatreya as well as the Hyderabad university vice-chancellor, accused of abetting Rohith’s suicide.
Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) members also joined the protests.
“After the tragic death of Rohith Vemula, the MHRD has been trying its level best to pretend that it had nothing to do with the victimization of Rohith and four other Dalit students. However, the letters clearly show that the MHRD too was actively involved in pressurising the university to act against Rohith and other Dalit students,” said Ashutosh Kumar, the secretary of the Left-wing All India Students’ Association, Delhi.
The Irani-led ministry had written several times to the university after Dattatreya complained that the campus had become a “den of casteist and anti-national activities”.
Members of the National Students’ Union of India (NSUI) too gathered outside Smriti Iran’s residence demanding justice for Rohith Vemula.
“We will not let BJP get away with this case. We demand her resignation from the minister,” the NSUI said in a statement.
In Ranchi, NSUI activists burnt the effigy of Dattatreya outside the Ranchi University main gate on Monday while protest rallies were also taken out in Jamshedpur, Dhanbad and parts of Santhal Pargana.
At Hyderabad, the epicentre of the agitation, protesting students burnt the interim vice-chancellor’s residence and shouted slogans against him. However, the interim vice-chancellor Vipin Srivastava – who took over the previous VC after Appa Rao went on long leave – was not present.
Students also took out a rally from the university’s south campus to the north shopping complex, the protest venue and said they will not allow classes till their demands of removal of VC and compensation of Rs 50 lakh to Rohith’s family is met. The university has announced compensation of Rs 8 lakh to Rohith’s family.
In Guntur of Andhra Pradesh, Rohith’s home district, students boycotted classes at the Nagarjuna University in solidarity with the all India strike call given by the Joint Action Committee.
“It has been 10 days since the suicide but no action has been taken by the government. Irani and Dattatreya should resign and VC Appa Rao should be suspended,” said a student who sat on protest at NU.
Hyderabad University has been witnessing protests ever since Rohith committed suicide on January 17 after being suspended by the authorities along with four others. They were accused of assaulting an Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad union leader.
Though the university has revoked the suspension, the students have refused to call off their strike until the VC resigns.
(With inputs from HTC Ranchi)