Police charged Union minister Bandaru Dattatreya on Monday with abetting the suicide of a Dalit scholar at the University of Hyderabad as the Centre constituted a probe into the incident that triggered an outpouring of grief and rage on social media.
The university campus was tense all day as hundreds of students clashed with security personnel over the death of research scholar Rohith Vemula and authorities clamped prohibitory orders. In Delhi, police fired water cannons at several groups demonstrating outside the human resource development ministry’s office.
Officials at Hyderabad’s Gachibowli police station said the labour minister was also booked under the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribes Prevention of Atrocities Act following allegations that he orchestrated the suspension of Rohith and four other Dalit students from the university hostel.
Police also registered a case for abetment of suicide against University of Hyderabad vice-chancellor Appa Rao and two Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad leaders, Sushil Kumar and Vishnu.
“We have booked a case on a complaint by a student. We will conduct further investigations,” Gachibowli inspector J Ramesh Kumar told HT.
In a controversial letter last year to HRD minister Smriti Irani that purportedly led to the suicide, Dattatreya had called the university a “den of casteist, extremist and anti-national politics.”
“This could be visualized from the fact that when Yakub Memon was hanged, a dominant students union that is Ambedkar Students Association has held protest against the execution,” he had said.
An HRD ministry spokesperson said a two-member team had left for Hyderabad and would be meeting the victim’s family soon. The report of the panel would shape the government’s response in the case.
Rohith, a second-year research scholar from the science, technology and society studies department, and others were suspended from the hostel last year following allegations that they attacked Sushil Kumar after a screening of the controversial documentary Muzaffarnagar Baaqi Hai.
Earlier this month, the five students were thrown out of the hostel amid allegations they were denied access to campus facilities, except their classrooms and respective workshops, on recommendation by an executive committee of the university.
Since then, they were protesting against the “undemocratic” “social boycott”, sleeping in a makeshift tent on the campus. They also laid siege to the administrative building in protest.
Rohith’s mother Radhika sat on a dharna on the campus along with several students and Dalit leaders, saying she wouldn’t move until vice-chancellor Appa Rao explained the reasons behind suspending her son.
Students demanded compensation and a government job for Rohith’s family as well as punishment to the guilty, saying the incident indicated the growing influence of Hindutva forces and saffronisation of the campus.
The last rites were performed at Amberpet crematorium in the evening amid tight police security.
The 28-year-old hailing from Guntur district in Andhra Pradesh was found hanging at a friend’s hostel room around 7.30 pm on Sunday. He came from a poor background and held a scholarship under the University Grants Commission’s Junior Research Fellowship programme.
As news spread of his death, hundreds gathered at the university and social media was flooded with quotes from his suicide note, where he wrote in great detail about his dreams of becoming a writer and scientist. He also alleged that he hadn’t received his fellowship money for several months.
“The value of a man was reduced to his immediate identity and nearest possibility. To a vote. To a number. To a thing. Never was a man treated as a mind. As a glorious thing made up of star dust. In every field, in studies, in streets, in politics, and in dying and living,” he wrote in the note.