In a bid to defuse the raging controversy, the Centre today decided to set up a judicial commission to go into the Dalit student’s suicide in Hyderabad University, which announced an ex-gratia payment of Rs.8 lakh to his family but protests raged on.
Even as Prime Minister Narendra Modi broke his silence and expressed his grief over the death of Rohith Vemula, seven students continued their indefinite hunger strike demanding removal of Union Ministers Smriti Irani and Bandaru Dattatreya and the Vice Chancellor.
HRD Minister Smriti Irani sought to reach out to the family of the deceased student by speaking to Rohith’s mother over phone and assuring her that justice will be done on the basis of a judicial inquiry. On its part, the University sought to reach out to the agitating students when it announced an ex-gratia of Rs 8 lakh to Rohith's family.
The announcement came a day after university authorities revoked the suspension of four students - five counting Rohith in, for allegedly assaulting an ABVP leader in August last year. Based on the report by a fact-finding team, the HRD Ministry decided to set up a judicial commission to look into the sequence of events leading to the suicide of Rohith Vemula, a Dalit scholar at the Hyderabad Central University.
The commission will submit its report within three months, said a ministry statement. The two-member fact-finding committee comprising HRD officials, which visited the university, said in its report that there was a “lack of sensitivity” shown in some areas by the varsity authorities in dealing with events that led to the suicide. The committee submitted its report today.
The HRD ministry said in order to prevent such incidents in future, all VCs and senior administrators would be 'sensitised' to reach out to students and there will be “zero tolerance” for any acts of discrimination on campus. Rohith’s body was found hanging in the varsity’s hostel room on Sunday, which sparked massive protests across the country. The agitating students outright rejected the termination of suspension against the four research scholars, terming the HCU decision as an “illegitimate circular”.
“At a time when the legitimacy of Prof Appa Rao to continue as the Vice Chancellor is in question, without attending to the protesting students, who are on indefinite hunger strike, the absconding VC and Executive Committee met today (not inside the campus) and issued a circular. “We outright reject this illegitimate circular since it came through a Committee headed by the VC, who in our opinion is not the legitimate VC anymore, but in fact a criminal on the run,” the Joint Action Committee for Social Justice had alleged yesterday.
A group of seven students, who have been on indefinite hunger stike for the past three days, said the protests would continue till their demands–removal of Vice-Chancellor Prof. Appa Rao, Rs 50 lakh compensation to Rohit’s family, employment to one of his family members, “unconditional” revocation of suspension of the four research scholars and withdrawal of “false cases” against them filed in connection the alleged assault on ABVP leader Susheel Kumar–are met.
The suicide has snowballed into a major political storm with parties demanding the ouster of Union Minister Bandaru Dattatreya and HRD Minister Smriti Irani. The Hyderabad University had suspended Rohith and four other students after they allegedly assaulted an ABVP leader. The suspension came after Dattatreya shot off a letter to the HRD ministry in August last year, asking it to look into the matter. Students have alleged that his suspension led to Rohith’s depression and his eventual suicide.
Sources said the two-member fact-finding team has stressed the need for inclusion of socially, educationally and economically disadvantaged students and sought swift action on the grievances from these students. There are areas where more “sensitivity” could have been displayed by Hyderabad University authorities in dealing with the events which led to the suicide, according to the report by the team.
Sources said the panel members spoke to a cross section of stakeholders. Even as student protests continued in the university, teachers today urged the Vice Chancellor to initiate a dialogue to settle the unrest.
“The unanimous decision is that we are all teachers here. App Rao is also a teacher. He was also president of University of Hyderabad Teachers Association. He can understand the problems. So let him come and address the faculty, listen to them. That is what everybody unanimously decided,” UHTA’s former president K Lakshminarayana told reporters after a meeting of teachers.
He said the VC should also go to the agitating students and talk to them to see that normalcy is restored on the campus. “Secondly, most of the people are also saying that he should listen to the students, because students are the victims. Unless you talk to the victims solution cannot be there. It is not created by the teachers. It is created by the administration. On behalf of the administration, VC should go to the site of protest. We are all there. Students are not violent. There is no evidence to show that,” he said.
He said the decision taken at today’s meeting has been communicated to the VC. A total 15 dalit (SC/ST) faculty members and officers have given up administrative positions in solidarity with the agitating students, according to Sudharkar Babu, convenor of SC/ST Teachers Forum. “Total 15 members have put in their papers . Only two or three are yet to give up their positions,” he told PTI.
Eighteen of about 50 SC/ST faculty members and officers working in the varsity are assigned administrative positions, he said.