The government ordered a judicial inquiry on Friday into the circumstances that led to Dalit scholar Rohith Vemula’s suicide as the crisis at University of Hyderabad intensified after protesters rejected the revocation of four students’ suspension and refused to end their strike until the vice-chancellor resigned.
The decision came on the recommendation of the human resource development (HRD) ministry’s fact-finding committee that pointed to “a complete systemic failure” and blamed university authorities for handling the issue “insensitively”. The judicial probe report would be submitted within three months, the ministry said.
Vemula’s suicide found an echo in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s speech at the convocation ceremony of Ambedkar University in Lucknow where he said he was saddened by the suicide and could feel the pain of the scholar’s family that had lost a bright son. “I am not going into the reasons, the politics of the issue, but I empathise with the family which has lost so much,” Modi said as tears welled up in his eyes.
A few students who shouted slogans of “Go back, Modi” during the PM’s speech were whisked away from the venue by security personnel. The students protesting in Hyderabad said the PM’s response came too late and that the judicial probe was just a diversionary tactic.
University authorities announced a compensation of Rs 8 lakh for the bereaved family and HRD minister Smriti Irani spoke to Vemula’s mother to assure her that justice would be done.
The HRD ministry’s fact-finding committee said corrective measures should be taken such as institutionalising a mentor system for disadvantaged students, a grievance redress mechanism and an orientation programme to sensitise administrators on Dalit issues.
In an 11-page report submitted to Irani, the fact-finding committee said punishment was awarded to only one group and not the other. “There were two groups involved and somehow the authorities punished only one group, which created an atmosphere of distrust and anger among the students,” a source said.
The suicide note left by Vemula was sent for forensic analysis on Friday and police said they were exploring various leads, including a struck-off portion of the note. The SC/ST staff of the university mounted pressure on vice-chancellor Podile Appa Rao, with more members giving up their administrative posts to protest the alleged bias against Dalits.
Vemula’s mother refused to meet Rao at her residence and said she would meet him on campus accompanied by the suspended students. The decision by the students to continue their strike came barely hours after the university decided to “terminate” the suspension of four fellow students of Rohith who were punished along with him for clashing with members of the ABVP.
The suicide has snowballed into a massive political controversy with critics alleging that the HRD ministry pushed for the Dalit students to be punished by sending five reminders to the university’s vice-chancellor after labour minister Bandaru Dattatreya complained to Irani’s department.