The Congress insisted on a probe by a sitting high court judge against HRD minister Smriti Irani on Wednesday, saying her “culpability” should be investigated following protests over the suicide of a Dalit student at the University of Hyderabad.
The party also demanded that Prime Minister Narendra Modi “break his silence and take concrete action” in the case and sack Union minister Bandaru Dattatreya.
Congress spokesperson Deepender Singh Hooda said instead of apologising, Irani described the whole issue as “Dalit vs non-Dalit”.
“The culpability of Union HRD minister Smriti Irani should be investigated by a sitting high court judge and the Union labour minister should be immediately sacked,” he said. He also demanded the immediate sacking of the Hyderabad university vice-chancellor Appa Rao and the immediate withdrawal of the suspension of four Dalit scholars.
Hooda told the media that the Hyderabad university had stopped payment of the Junior Research Fellowship (JRF) stipend to Rohith Vemula, who committed suicide last Sunday, since July 2015 and asked if it was not a case of “clear-cut harassment”.
Vemula ended his life on Sunday. He was staging a protest along with four other Dalit research scholars over their suspension following an alleged clash with some leaders of the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad, a students’ wing of the RSS.
Addressing a news conference, Irani accused the Congress of trying to use the issue for political gains and referred to a letter written to the HRD ministry by party MP Hanumantha Rao in September 2014 where he had talked about suicides by marginalised students in the university for over four years.
Hooda said a university board had recommended removing suspension of all five Ph D students, including Vemula, but later “changed its stance” under pressure from the vice-chancellor and the HRD ministry.
He accused Irani of trying to mislead the country on the issue.
Hooda also referred to “five communications” of the ministry to the university following a letter by Dattatreya, and said “it clearly demonstrates the malice and malafide writ large”.
Hooda accused the Modi government of “anti-Dalit and anti-poor mindset” and said it had imposed a cut of Rs 19,734 crore in the Scheduled Castes sub-plan in 2015-16 and a cut of Rs 305.78 crore in the post-matric scholarship scheme for the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes in 2015-16.
He sought compensation and a job to a family member of Vemula.