Protests over the suicide of a Dalit student in Hyderabad spread to other cities in Tuesday as opposition parties mounted pressure on the BJP-led NDA government to sack Union minister Bandaru Dattatreya for allegedly driving the scholar to end his life.
Police have booked Dattaterya, the vice-chancellor of University of Hyderabad Appa Rao and two members of the right-wing Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) for abetment of suicide by 26-year-old Rohith Vemula, who was among the five research scholars suspended by the university and also one of the accused in a case of assault on a student leader.
The five were suspended, allegedly after Dattaterya wrote a letter to HRD minister Smriti Irani describing the university as a “den of casteist, extremist and anti-national politics.”
An umbrella organisation of student groups launched an indefinite strike at the university seeking the vice-chancellor’s resignation, escalating their protests over the suicide.
Watch: Protests outside Dattatreya’s residence
Arpita, a leader of the students’ joint action committee (JAC) who uses only one name, said they will not allow classes to run till vice-chancellor steps down.
The JAC is also likely to meet with the two-member committee formed by the HRD ministry to probe the death. The panel is expected to reach the varsity on Tuesday afternoon.
Dozens of activists of the Telangana Jagruti Yuva Morcha, considered the cultural wing of the ruling Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS), held a demonstration outside the residence of Dattatreya in Ramnagar in Hyderabad. Sources said the protestors were arrested and shifted to Musheerabad police station.
In Pune, the students of the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII) sat on a day-long hunger strike outside the institute’s gate, expressing “solidarity” with students protesting over the alleged suicide.
The hunger strike started with eight students and slowly other students too are joining the protest, FTII Students’ Association president Harishankar Nachimuthu said.
“We feel that the unfortunate incident…is an institutional murder. The very ideology that led to this devastating tragedy has to be fought across. We stand together with the students’ community fighting for quality of education, beyond caste, class and biases,” said Yashaswi Mishra, member of another students’ body.
In Mumbai, students held a protest outside the office of Mumbai University in Kalina area to condemn the Dalit student’s death.
The students’ wing of NCP also held protests at various places in Maharashtra while in Delhi, the NSUI and the Aam Aadmi Party also planned protests outside the ministry of human resources and Jantar Mantar respectively.
Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi also travelled to Hyderabad and met protesting students at the university while the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), Trinamool Congress and CPI (M) announced separate fact-finding teams to the city.
Met students of the Ambedkar Students Association, Hyderabad University pic.twitter.com/YgbPAPrUVN— Office of RG (@OfficeOfRG) January 19, 2016
These students were protesting against the unjust expulsion and social boycott of Dalit students on campus— Office of RG (@OfficeOfRG) January 19, 2016
Gandhi was also likely to meet Rohith’s mother, who joined protesters at the varsity entrance demanding the resignation of the VC.
Congress leader Digvijaya Singh, accompanying Gandhi to Hyderabad, charged that vice-chancellors have been handpicked by the BJP-RSS and asked student wings to come together to fight the “communal forces”.
In a statement in New Delhi, the Congress demanded that HRD minister Smriti Irani should be also removed along with Dattatreya over the suicide.
Party spokesperson Kumari Selja said the HRD minister has “misguided” the whole country as she had written a number of letters on the issue and that Dattatreya was “against Dalit students in order to promote the ABVP”.
“Be it the statement of RSS sarsanghchalak Shri Mohan Bhagwat, calling for a review of reservation or shameless comment passed by Union minister VK Singh comparing Dalit children to dogs, a deep-rooted prejudice is writ large,” the former UPA minister said.
Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal, who described the death of the student as “murder”, also asked the Prime Minister to sack the ministers and apologise to the nation.
Md Salim, politburo member of the CPI(M) told Hindustan Times that Modi must speak up and announce what he plans to do to stop such discrimination against Dalit students at institutes of higher education.
“We have seen how Dalits are discriminated in villages, schools and other places. But the BJP and the RSS are trying to inflict this dangerous discrimination even in higher education institutes and encroach on the fundamental rights of students,” Salim said.
The BJP, however, rubbished the criticism and attacked the Congress for “politicizing”.
Minister of state for parliamentary affairs Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi on Tuesday accused the grand old party of aggravating the already tense situation.
“Rahul Gandhi and the Congress think they can simply condemn everything. They are rubbing salt instead of soothing the wounds in the matter and I vehemently condemn that,” Naqvi said.
The BJP mounted a spirited defence of Dattatreya, describing him as a leader “who has been fighting all his life for the rights of Dalits and backwards and he is compassionate towards them.”
(with inputs from agencies.)