When Rohith Vemula, a dejected Dalit research scholar in University of Hyderabad, committed suicide by hanging himself in a university hostel room, little did people realise that his demise would impend in such a national outrage across the country. A day after the news broke out in the campus with the suicide letter of the deceased scholar shared widely across the country, fierce protests broke out in Hyderabad which resulted in the booking of central minister Bandaru Dattatreya and three others for violating the SC/ST act and for abetment of suicide.
Not only did University of Hyderabad witnessed the storm of public and students anguish, protests also rocked the national capital with students marching towards the office of the Union Human Resources Development Minister Smriti Irani to thump their anger on the table. The students carried placards and pictures of B.R. Ambedkar and raised anti-government slogans which were drowned by water-canon used by police who also arrested several protesters after the barricades broke down.
Smriti Irani, Union Human Resources Development Minister, who spoke to reporters expressing her sympathy towards the victim’s family, however, refused to comment on the incident by saying that the ministry had no administrative control on the central universities. The central ministry has constituted a committee of two-members to probe the scholar’s suicide. The report will be submitted by the panel in two days.
The campus of University of Hyderabad was today gripped with tension as students refused to let the police take possession of Rohith’s body which had been locked away in a room only to be opened if the Vice Chancellor Appa Rao visited the corpse. However, by sheer use of force, police took possession of Rohith’s body and shifted it for autopsy to Osmania Hospital.
Rohith Vemula was one of the five students who were, after a scuffle with Akhil Bharatiya Vidhyarthi Parishad (ABVP), expelled from the hostel and restricted entirely from all university facilities except the classrooms. ASU (Ambedkar Students Union) students had been relentlessly protesting against this “discrimination” and “social boycott” on the campus for the last 15 days.
In his suicide note running six-pages long, Vemula tells about his dream of becoming a writer of science. The research scholar also confessed that beliefs of people were coloured.
Rohith had his roots in Andhra Pradesh to a poor family in Guntur district. In his suicide letter, he mentions that his family be paid the amount of his seven months of fellowship at the university. Rohith’s mother, Radhika, joined by students and leaders of different Dalit groups, today sat at the campus demanding the explanation from the vice chancellor about why her son had been suspended.
A Joint Action Committee (JAC) of various student groups blamed growing influence of right-wing groups on the campus for the incident. A JAC leader said nine Dalit students have committed suicide during last five years.
They held central minister Bandaru Dattetreya, the vice chancellor, ABVP leader Sushil Kumar and Vishnu responsible for the suicide.
A student filed a complaint against the four in Gachibowli police station booking them for abetment of suicide and for the violation of the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes Act.
The Union Labour Minister wrote to Smriti Irani insisting for immediate action against elements which were “anti-national” and “anti-social” which had eventually led to the suspension of the five Dalit scholars from the campus.
Dattetreya said that he or the Bharatiya Janata Party did not partake in any actions which might have driven the scholar to kill himself. However, directly denying them a free pass, Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) MP K. Kavitha said that due to the pressure which had been put on the vice chancellor by the two ministers, the scholars were then suspended. She further added that the minister should not have interfered in the politics of the campus.
Congress spokesperson R.P.N. Singh said, “The minister, against whom an FIR was filed, should immediately be removed from the cabinet. The vice chancellor and others involved in this crime should also be removed from their respective posts.”
The initial spark to the clash between the ASU group and the ABVP had its inception in August last year when in a rally, ASU condemned the ABVP’s assault on the documentary screening related to the Muzaffarnagar riots in DU.
(With Inputs from IANS)