Hyderabad/New Delhi: The protest over the suicide of a Dalit research scholar in University of Hyderabad intensified with Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi again joining the agitators at the campus and observing a day-long fast on Saturday, even as the BJP targeted him for “playing politics over dead bodies”.
For more than 12 hours, Gandhi, who had participated in a candlelight vigil after Friday midnight and spent the night on the campus, sat with students, including the four others suspended, and Rohith Vemula’s family members, as they held a day-long hunger strike for justice at the protest venue near the Shopping Complex. They also marked the birth anniversary of Vemula, who committed suicide two weeks ago.
Dalit ideologue Kancha Ilaiah offered fruit juice to him in the evening to end the fast.
Noting there was “massive discrimination” in universities and other institutions, Gandhi asked the BJP and the RSS not to impose their ideas on students and suggested Prime Minister Narendra Modi “look into the possibilities of passing a law against discrimination at universities”.
“My main opposition to Modiji and the RSS is that they are trying to crush the spirit of Indian youngsters by imposing one idea from the top. Don’t force one idea on students,” he said.
“Please put your idea in the market place of ideas and then if students accept that idea, I am fine with it,” he added.
Dozens of other students were also on the day-long hunger strike to press the demand for the resignation of Vice Chancellor P. Appa Rao and action against him and others responsible for the suicide.
“I am here today at the request of Rohith’s friends and family, to stand with them in their fight for justice,” tweeted Gandhi, who visited the campus for the second time in less than a week.
“A young life full of dreams and aspirations was cut short.”
Also paying tributes to Mahatma Gandhi on his death anniversary, he also commented that all owe it “to the memory of Gandhiji and to every single Indian student who dreams of an India free from prejudice and injustice”.
Former Lok Sabha speaker P.A. Sangma, workers of the Youth Congress, National Students Union of India (NSUI), students from Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII) and various universities also joined the mass hunger strike.
Congress’ Telangana unit chief Uttam Kumar Reddy and other party leaders and workers were arrested near the campus when they staged a protest against the Modi government’s inaction in the case.
Police beefed up security on the campus in view of the call given by the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) to protest Gandhi’s visit, and for a shutdown of educational institutions across Telangana to protest what it calls the attempts of the Congress leader to play politics over the suicide.
About 50 ABVP workers were arrested shortly after Friday midnight when they tried to stop Gandhi’s convoy at the university’s main gate.
In New Delhi, students belonging to various groups staged a protest near the RSS office, raising slogans against its “interference” in academic institutions.
Meanwhile, the BJP on Saturday asked Rahul Gandhi to “not politicise” the death of the Dalit research scholar, and stop “playing politics on dead bodies”.
BJP spokesperson Sambit Patra told reporters in the national capital that it was not a “Dalit versus non-Dalit” issue but a classic case of trying to score political points.
The Congress dismissed the allegations, with spokesman Ajay Maken saying Gandhi was raising his voice for justice, while central minister Bandaru Dattatreya had politicised the issue by writing to the human resource development ministry to take action against the Dalit students.
Gandhi had visited the campus on January 19, two days after Rohith committed suicide.
The university remained shut since the student committed suicide with Joint Action Committee (JAC) continuing their protest and offering stiff resistance to the attempts by the administration to conduct classes over the last two days.
Interim Vice Chancellor Vipin Srivastava, who had claimed on Thursday that normalcy will be restored soon, has proceeded on leave and the varsity said the next seniormost professor, A.M. Periasamy, will perform the duties of the vice chancellor till further orders.
Srivastava had taken over only a week ago after Appa Rao proceeded on indefinite leave in the wake of students’ demand for his resignation.
However, the students refused to accept Srivastava as he had headed a sub-committee of the executive council which suspended five Dalit students following an alleged clash with a leader of ABVP.
The JAC alleged that he was also involved in a case of suicide of Senthil Kumar, a Dalit research scholar, in 2008.