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Dalit student's suicide snowballs into a major political row; protests spread to more cities

The Suicide By A Dalit Student Of Hyderabad University Today Snowballed Into A Major Issue With BJP’s Rivals Wading Into It And Demanding The Removal Of Union Ministers Smriti Irani And Bandaru Dattatreya, Accusing Them Of Being Responsible For The Death.

PTI | Updated on: 19 Jan 2016, 09:54:34 PM


The HRD ministry had written as many as five letters to Hyderabad University on Labour Minister Bandaru Dattareya’s complaint regarding “anti national activities” on the campus and the “violent attack” on an ABVP leader but maintained it was standard procedure on such “VIP references”.

Questions have been raised about the HRD ministry’s five letters, which have been blamed as one of the major reasons for the suicide of Rohith Vemula, a Dalit student, which has snowballed into a massive political row.

HRD officials however claimed that after Dattatreya, MP from Secunderabad, wrote the letter on August 17 last year, the ministry only followed the standard practice by writing to the University on September 3, seeking the “issues raised by the MoS may be examined and facts intimated.”

“It would be wrong to say that the Ministry has put any pressure on the Hyderabad University. The Ministry had only followed the procedure as per the Central Secretariat Manual of Office Procedure.

“According to the procedure, if there is a VIP reference, it has to be acknowledged in 15 days and another 15 days may be taken to reply to it. Since no response was coming from the University, the Ministry had to send reminders,” HRD Ministry spokesperson Ghanshyam Goel said.

After its first letter, the ministry sent four reminders on - September 24, October 6, October 20 and November 19 last year, to the University seeking facts expeditiously so that it could respond to the Minister of State Dattatreya.

HRD officials said the University finally provided a reply only on January 7, this year.

An official said not only are the ministries supposed to reply in a time bound manner to VIP reference, but even in Cabinet meetings, the number of pending references, greivances, assurances etc has to be shared which makes it important that these are pursued.

HRD minister Smriti Irani, who today visited Assam and accompanied the Prime Minister to IIIT Guwahati, had yesterday said the government neither intervenes in functioning of the university nor does it have administrative control over it.

Political row

The suicide by a dalit student of Hyderabad University today snowballed into a major issue with BJP’s rivals wading into it and demanding the removal of Union Ministers Smriti Irani and Bandaru Dattatreya, accusing them of being responsible for the death.

As Congress mounted the demand for the sacking of the HRD and Labour Ministers, Rahul Gandhi led the multi-party charge attacking  them and the Vice Chancellor Appa Rao saying “The VC and the Union Ministers in Delhi have not acted fairly.  This youngster was put in so much pain that he had no option but to kill himself.”

Though he did not name Irani, who had just over the week attacked Rahul in his constituency Amethi of failing youths there, the reference was obvious to her against the backdrop of ministry’s action which is blamed for the suicide by Rohith Vemula, a dalit research scholar, on Sunday night.

Protests escalated in Hyderabad and cities across the country including in Delhi, Mumbai, Pune and Chennai. Student organisations including the pro-Left AISA and AAP-backed CYSS and Congress’ NSUI held protests in Jantar Mantar and the HRD ministry in the capital demanding the sacking of the ministers and strong action against the VC.

Various political parties and leaders have blamed Labour Minister Dattatreya’s letter of Aug 17 last year to Irani seeking action against the “anti national activities” of a students union and the alleged assault of an ABVP leader and a series of five communications from the HRD Ministry between Sept 3 and Nov 19 demanding follow up action for the suicide.

The HRD ministry, however, today rejected allegations that it had put any pressure on the University relating to either suspension of Rohith or keeping him out of the hostel.

The communications, it maintained, was not aimed at putting pressure but was in compliance with the standard protocol adopted in accordance with the Central Secretariat Manual of Procedure whenever a “VIP Reference” is received.

The Centre has received a “factual report” from the Telangana government on alleged suicide by a dalit student for which Union Labour Minister Bandaru Dattatreya and Hyderabad University Vice Chancellor have been named in the FIR.

“It is a factual report detailing the incident of alleged suicide of Rohit Vemula and the action taken by the police,” a Home Ministry official said.

The report, based on the investigation and action by the Hyderabad Police, said Rohit was found hanging in the university’s hostel room yesterday and his post mortem report was still awaited.

Dattatreya and the Hyderabad University Vice Chancellor were yesterday named in an FIR over the alleged suicide of the dalit student, triggering massive protests and demands for their removal from their posts.

The issue took a political turn with allegations that the extreme action was a result of discrimination against dalit students at the behest of Dattatreya, who had written a letter to HRD Minister Smriti Irani, seeking action against them for their “anti-national acts”.

Rohit was among the five research scholars who were suspended by Hyderabad Central University (HCU) in August last year and also one of the accused in the case of assault on a student leader. They were also denied access to the hostel.

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First Published : 19 Jan 2016, 07:40:00 PM