The National Commission for Scheduled Castes expressed its disappointment on Tuesday with the pace of a probe into the suicide of Dalit research scholar Rohith Vemula in Hyderabad that has snowballed into a massive political controversy.
Speaking to HT, commission chairman PL Punia said the agency will also keep a close watch on the investigation’s progress and will not hesitate to summon officials to ensure “a quick and fair inquiry”.
The suicide of Vemula, a research student at the University of Hyderabad, has triggered nationwide outrage with two central ministers, Smriti Irani and Bandaru Dattatreya, facing allegations that pressure exerted by them may have pushed the Dalit scholar into taking his own life.
“Hours before our team arrived at Hyderabad, police actually sprung into action. I had already summoned the police commissioner in Hyderabad and conveyed our disappointment,” said Punia. He also pointed out that police had ignored previous complaints filed by Vemula and his friends.
Observers also pointed out that the scholar’s suicide is likely to be the first major case to be tried under the recently revamped Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 2015.
The new law categorically states that “social or economic boycott” of Dalits or tribals is a punishable offence which can invite a jail term of up to five years.
“The students clearly faced social boycott and discrimination. They were barred from entering common areas,” said Punia.
The legislation, passed by both Houses barely a month ago in the previous Parliament session, also deems an offender someone who gives “false or frivolous information to any public servant and thereby causes such public servant to use his lawful power to the injury or annoyance of a member of a Scheduled Caste or a Scheduled Tribe”.
Police have booked Dattaterya, vice-chancellor Appa Rao and two members of the right-wing Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) for abetment of suicide by 26-year-old Vemula, who was among five research scholars suspended by the university and also an accused in a case of assault on a student leader.
Punia also raised questions on how a person can be punished after being exonerated twice on the basis of the same set of complaints.
“We have also spoken to people and they have revealed many facts. We have to also see if probe agencies take cognizance of those facts as well,” he said.