The protests over the alleged suicide of Dalit student Rohith Vemula intensified on Thursday as 10 professors from the University of Hyderabad resigned from their administrative posts, according to reports.
Reports also said that all the professors who resigned belong to SC/ST communities and have now joined the students in their protest against the Narendra Modi government and the university vice-chancellor.
The professors are also angry about the alleged misrepresentation of facts by Union HRD Minister Smriti Irani, according to Hindustan Times.
The protesting students in Hyderabad University have also made five demands, the first of which is the revocation of suspension of the university's remaining four students.
The groups also demanded immediate sacking of Vice-Chancellor P Appa Rao, Union Minister Bandaru Dattatreya and action against BJP MLC Ramachandra Rao for their alleged roles in the case.
They also demanded a judicial probe into the matter.
"The family of the Rohith Vemula should be granted a compensation of Rs 5 crore, a home should be given to his family and his kin a job in government sector," said Kiran Kumar of the Joint Action Committee of students of Hyderabad University.
The resignations by 10 professors comes a day after Irani on Wednesday accused her political rivals of attempting to "instigate" students all over the country on this issue.
After keeping a low profile for the last two days, Irani addressed a press conference flanked by three ministers where she took on Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, saying the party wants to "shoot" on the issue which is "expected but unfortunate".
The minister was at pains to project that an ABVP student, who was attacked due to student rivalry, belonged to the OBC community, as was Dattatreya, who had written a letter to her about the attack.
Claiming that a "malicious attempt" was being made to project the suicide as a Dalit versus non-Dalit caste battle over which "passions" are being ignited, the minister rejected allegations that her ministry's intervention through letters had led to the suicide of the student Rohith Vemula.
Facing a number of questions, Irani said she did not want to get into political mud-slinging or a blame game and was only bringing certain facts to set the record straight in the face of attempts to create caste divisions in the society.
"An effort is on to instigate students all over the country. My appeal is: Please do not instigate students and communities deliberately.
"There has been a malicious attempt to ignite passions and present this as a caste battle which it is not. It is not a Dalit versus non-Dalit confrontation as has been the efforts of some to project it that way," she said repeatedly.
Asked about the resignation demand made by Rahul during his visit to the university on Tuesday, Irani said, "They need to look at all these facts. Today I want to answer (to his statements) only through these two reports." She was referring to the standard protcol followed by government from the time of the UPA.
Irani sought to downplay the letter of Dattatreya, who had sought action on the issue of clash between two student bodies and the "anti-national activities" in the varsity, and her ministry's five communications to the university as a follow-up, which have been blamed for the suicide.
Seeking to turn the tables against Congress, she produced a letter of Congress MP V Hanumantha Rao, who had written a letter in November 2014 seeking her intervention over various issues including suicide by students of marginalised communities in four years due to "alleged caste discrimination".
"Why did the Congress not debate and fix the issue then? Why is it debating on the issue now?, she asked, adding "The Congress MP says it's not a new problem but one that persisted for four years. If they (Congress) had fixed the problem four years ago, perhaps Rohith would have been alive," the minister said.
Justifying the five communications in the present case, Irani said six letters were sent to the University by her ministry even on the complaint of Hanumantha Rao. She said whatever her ministry had done was done in accordance with the protocol of the Central Secretariat Manual of Office Procedure.
She also produced a certified copy of the suicide note of Rohith to say that it did not mention any university official, political organisation or any MP.
Asked whether she would go to Hyderabad, Irani said she would not make a visit as she would not like to give an impression of "interference".
Speaking in the same vein, Union minister Nirmala Sitharaman too said that it is not "a Dalit versus non-Dalit issue".
"In every sense and at every level, the university has made sure that because it involves a Dalit student, the sensitivity has to be appreciated and where the presence of a Dalit professor was required, a warden was required, they have been brought in... saying it is Dalit versus something is absolutely baseless," she told reporters in New Delhi.
She also said that the Human Resource Development Ministry has responded to all the letters related to problems in the Hyderabad Central University whether it was written by a member of the current government or by any MP from Congress.
"...every reference from a minister or from a Member of Parliament has been treated equally," she added.
With inputs from PTI