The University of Hyderabad on Thursday lifted the suspension on four Dalit students, four days after the suicide by one of their fellow scholars sparked outrage across the nation and led to a political slugfest between the government and the opposition.
Rohith Vemula, 26, who hanged himself on Sunday, was among five students suspended following allegations of assault on a leader of the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), an RSS-affiliated students’ body.
“The council after taking into account the extraordinary situation prevailing in the university, and after discussing the issue in detail, resolved to terminate the punishment imposed on the students concerned with immediate effect,” a statement by the university said.
Following the decision, vice-chancellor Podile Appa Rao asked the Ambedkar Students’ Association -- spearheading an agitation seeking his resignation -- to resume classes and maintain calm and harmony “under the extraordinary circumstances prevailing on the campus”.
However, there was no immediate reaction from students on indefinite hunger strike over the incident, which has come as a major embarrassment for the BJP-led NDA government ahead of crucial assembly elections in some states later this year.
Hours before the university decision, Union minister Smriti Irani faced a barrage of criticism for allegedly distorting facts in the case with the Congress and Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) accusing her of lying to absolve the BJP-led government in the incident.
Ten professors of the University of Hyderabad -- who have quit their administrative posts over the suicide -- also charged the Union human resource development minister of misrepresenting facts in the incident.
AAP leader and Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal met protesting students at the campus and charged Irani of dishing out “lie after lie” in the incident, an allegation also made by the Congress earlier in the day.
“The death of Rohith is a shame on the nation…on the society,” Kejriwal said while addressing the students. He also met Rohith’s mother, who has been protesting on campus demanding justice for her 26-year-old son.
Launching a stinging criticism of Irani for her comments that there were “malicious attempts” to turn the incident into a Dalit versus non-Dalit confrontation, the AAP leader said that instead of trying to create controversy, she should have been trying to ensure justice for Rohith.
He accused the BJP government at the Centre of trying to muffle the voices of those who disagreed with its views, “be it Hindus, Muslims or anyone”.
The Congress also stepped up the ante on Thursday, accusing Irani of lying in the case as it picked holes in the Centre’s defence in the incident.
“Kal Smriti Irani ji ne ek jhooth dabaane ke liye teen teen jhooth bole (Yesterday, Smriti Irani said three lies to hide one),” Congress spokesperson Randeep Surjewala said in Delhi, a day after the HRD minister defended her ministry, accused of allegedly putting pressure on the university to suspend the five students.
The Congress has demanded the sacking of both Irani and Dattatreya, who had wrote to the ministry alleging that the campus had turned into a “den of casteist, extremist and anti-national politics”.
The 10 SC/ST professors said in a statement that they decided to quit following Irani’s “fabricated statements” and also rubbished her claim that a Dalit professor was among the members of the university’s body that suspended the students including Rohith.
“It is very wrong to say that the sub-committee (of the executive council) which expelled the students was headed by a Dalit. It was headed by professor (Vipin) Srivastav who is not a Dalit,” a professor who did not wish to be identified told HT.
Administrative posts are non-teaching jobs assigned to professors like the recruitment committee of student admission panel.
ABVP leader Nandanam Susheel Kumar on Thursday demanded a “fair” inquiry and rejected claims that he had lied about being assaulted by Rohith and other members of the ASA.
Police have booked Kumar and another ABVP member besides Union minister Dattatreya and the university vice-chancellor for abetting Rohith’s suicide.