As more details about the circumstances of Dalit research scholar Rohith Vemula’s suicide in Hyderabad University on Sunday have become public, students and teachers have begun to question why the Ministry of Human Resources Development chose to take an interest in what seemed to be a dispute between two student groups.
Students point out that the ministry sent at least four letters to the university about the case.
Vemula was among the five members of the Ambedkar Students' Association who were suspended by the university last year after a leader of the Bharatiya Janata Party's student wing, the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad, claimed that they had assaulted him. Though a proctorial board that looked into the incident found no substance to the allegations, BJP Minister for Labour and Employment Bandara Dattatreya wrote to the Human Resource Development Ministry complaining about "antinational, casteist" elements at the university. In an abrupt switch, the proctorial board found the Dalit students guilty.
The students were expelled from their hostel and barred from using university facilities.
Over the past two days, protesting students at the Hyderabad University campus have been demanding the resignations of Dattatreya and Human Resource Development Minister Smirit Irani for their alleged role in the affair.
On Monday, the Human Resource Ministry sent a two-member committee to the university to investigate the circumstances of the tragedy. Irani, meanwhile, distanced herself from the controversy on Monday and told CNN-IBN that the matter related to “law and order”, which is a “state subject”. The Central government does not intervene in the matters of university administration, she claimed.
“It is not a time for political blame game," she said. "It is an unfortunate incident and I express my condolences to the family who lost their son. We have sent a two-member team from the ministry who will apprise us on what prompted the student to take the extreme step.”
However, not everyone is buying this defence. Students claimed that Irani's ministry had sent the university at least four letters asking for action and progress on Dattatreya's complain.
“After the tragic death of Rohith Vemula, the MHRD has been trying its level best to pretend that it had nothing to do with the victimisation of Rohit and four other Dalit students in the University of Hyderabad,” said Ashutosh Kumar, Secretary, Delhi wing of the All India Students’ Association. “However, these letters clearly show that the MHRD too was actively involved in pressurising the University to act against Rohith and other Dalit students.”
This chain of letters started in September when Ramji Pandey, the Under Secretary with the ministry, sent the registrar of the university email asking for details on the case.
Here is the alleged correspondence, released by the All India Students’ Association.
A reminder was sent on September 24, asking for more details on the “anti-national” activities on the campus and asked the administration to “expedite” the matter.
On October 20, the ministry noted that the information had not yet been received.
The five students had already been suspended in September. In November, the ministry sought specific answers into the alleged attack on the ABVP leader and asked the Vice Chancellor to look into the matter personally.