Human Resource Development Minister Smriti Irani on Wednesday accused the Congress of trying to politicise the suicide of Hyderabad University PhD scholar Rohith Vemula. "The Congress says that this problem persisted for four years. If they had fixed the problem four years ago, perhaps Rohith's life could have been saved," she said.
Addressing a press conference, Irani also said that the case is unnecessarily being made into a caste issue. She said, "This is not a Dalit vs non-Dalit issue as being projected by some to ignite passion. A group of students allegedly attacked another student. However, unfortunately, facts have been misrepresented and there has been a malicious attempt to paint this as a caste battle which it is not." She also defended her government, saying Vemula's suicide note does not mention any MP or political party.
The HRD minister expressed grief over the death of the Dalit scholar, who was found hanging in his hostel room on Sunday evening, but defended the six letters sent by her ministry which students have alleged led to his death. "The HRD ministry acted within its jurisdiction. We followed the protocol that has been set in place by previous governments," said Irani.
The ministry’s letters were a response to a complaint from Union labour minister Bandaru Dattatreya, in which he alleged that members of the Ambedkar Student Association had attacked Akhil Bhartiya Vidyarthi Parishad leader Susheel Kumar. Vemula’s friends claim the university’s decision to suspend and subsequently expel five Dalit students, including Vemula, was directly linked to Dattatreya’s letter. Dattatreya and the university VC were named in the FIR in the death of the scholar.
However, the Union minister said in a statement on Wednesday that he had not influenced any decisions made by the university in the case, but had only forwarded two representations from the ABVP to the HRD ministry. "I would have happily forwarded representations of any other student body if they were to have approached me," he said.
The police are also investigating why Vemula had provided proof of being a Scheduled Caste member in his admission form to the university when he was not required to. Vemula had got admission to the university on general merit quota. "Since he got admission on merit, there was no need for him to prove his SC credentials," a police officer said.