The Congress wants Union Labour Minister Bandaru Dattatreya sacked from the Cabinet after he was named in an FIR over the suicide of a Dalit PhD student Rohith Vemula in Hyderabad Central University. The 26-year-old Dalit scholar hanged himself in hostel room 207 on Sunday after his desperate pleas to reverse a varsity decision to expel him and four Dalit students from the hostel and common areas got only deafening silence in response. Vemula was suspended from Hyderabad Central University over a political dispute. The Opposition said Vemula's suicide shows the “anti-Dalit mindset” of the Union government and the RSS
Vemula would have turned 27 on 30 January. Hours before he hanged himself, Vemula told his friends he did not have enough money to give them "even a small treat", reports The Indian Express.
Last August, Union Labour Minister Bandaru Dattatreya had written to the HRD ministry accusing the university of being “a mute spectator” after a group of Dalit students, including Rohith Vemula, clashed with an ABVP leader. Vemula's friends say the trouble began in the first week of August 2015, when five of them protested against the hanging of Mumbai-blasts accused Yakub Memon and condemned the ABVP attack on the screening of the documentary ‘Muzaffarnagar Baaqi Hai’ in Delhi University.
Over the last 6 months, Vemula's defenses broke, his stipend stopped, a series of curious flip-flops between the University, Labour ministry and local political groups (ABVP) led to Vemula's complete and crushing isolation from what he loved best - campus life. Why did the Labour minister interfere in the internal affairs of an educational institution is a question that is raging. Vemula made one last call to his mother but a lethal mix of anger and sadness inside finished the young man days before his 27th birthday.
Vemula requested for "euthanasia" facility
Vemula wrote a stinging letter to the Hyderabad Central University vice-chancellor last month seeking euthanasia facilities for students, reports The Indian Express.
“First, let me praise your dedicated take on the self-respecting movement of Dalits in campus. When an ABVP president got questioned about his derogatory remarks on Dalits, your kind personal interference into the issue is historic and exemplary,” Vemula wrote to V-C Prof P Appa Rao on 18 December, reports The Indian Express.
“I request your highness to make preparations for the facility ‘euthanasia’ for students,” Vemula wrote in the same letter.
Students said that Vemula, hailing from a poor family of agriculture labourers in Guntur district, was supporting his family, including mother and younger brother, with his stipend. He had been unable to send any money home for the past several months.
As protests gathered steam at the university and in Delhi, Union HRD minister Smriti Irani sent a two-member committee to Hyderabad to confirm facts about Rohith Vemula's suicide.
Criminal case against Dattatreya
The Cyberabad Police also booked vice-chancellor Appa Rao Podile, BJP legislator Ramachandra Rao and two student leaders of the university under the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act 200 Rapid Force Action personnel battled student groups protesting the suicide on campus. The police registered a criminal case against Dattatreya and others following separate complaints from the warden of the hostel and a student, Prashanth, who was among those expelled.
In his complaint, Prashanth blamed Dattatreya for "forcing" Vemula to end his life. Vemula and his fellow research scholars, all members of a dalit group, Ambedkar Students Association, were expelled in December last year for an alleged brawl with activists from the rival Akhila Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad over the July hanging of Yakub Memon in the Mumbai blast case.
“Now that an FIR has been registered against Union Minister Dattatreya and, the letter written by him prima facie amounts to abetment to suicide, the Congress demands that Dattatreya resign with immediate effect, failing which the Prime Minister should sack him immediately,” Congress spokesperson R P N Singh said.
He called his mother and abruptly cut the line
Vemula's friend Krishna Kumar says that at 4 pm, Sunday, Vemula left the group and said he had to finish "some work." "When he did not return till 6 pm, we started searching for him. By then his mother had also called us, saying that Rohith had called her and sounded very depressed. She said he had abruptly cut the call, and had stopped answering her calls. Then, we found him hanging from the ceiling fan in a friend’s room (207), which was also the ASA activity room. He used a ASA banner to hang himself.’’
“The unfortunate and tragic suicide by Dalit research scholar Rohith Vemula… amidst circumstances deliberately orchestrated by Dattatreya, the HRD ministry and their cohorts of the ABVP, is yet again a blatant manifestation of the anti-Dalit agenda and mindset of the government at the Centre and its controller the RSS,” the Congress said.
Vemula reached out to former UGC chief
On December 30, 2015 five research scholars of Hyderabad University, including Vemula, expelled for their political activism, reached out to former UGC chairperson Sukhdeo Thorat, reports The Hindu. The five students handed over a 10-page memorandum, detailing the events leading to their expulsion in mid December 2015.
Mr. Thorat, who handed over the memorandum to Social Justice Minister Thavar Chand Gehlot on Monday, said activism, integral to student life, should not have been held against them. The memorandum sought his immediate intervention with the National Commission for Scheduled Castes, Ministry of Social Justice and the Ministry of Human Resources and Development and mentioned how the five students, who also belong to the Ambedkar Students Association, were restrained from entering the administrative building and other common areas.
“When I met them, they talked about discrimination as a fact of life in campuses that governments find it difficult to admit. I did not for a moment think one of the students I had met would be forced to take his life,” Thorat told The Hindu.
Seven years ago, Thorat submitted a report on the circumstances leading to the death of a medical student in the prestigious All India Institute of Medical Sciences in New Delhi. The administration did not accept the findings.
"I feel a growing gap between my soul and my body"
The Indian Express reports on the sequence of events that broke down Vemula.
From July 2015, the university stopped paying Rohith his monthly stipend of Rs 25,000. Friends said that he was targeted for raising issues under the banner of Ambedkar Students Association (ASA).
In August, the university set up an inquiry against Rohith and four other ASA members, two days after they allegedly assaulted ABVP leader N Susheel Kumar.
In August, Dattatreya wrote to HRD Minister urging action and claiming that the “Hyderabad University… has in the recent past, become a den of casteist, extremist and anti-national politics”.
The five students, Vemula included, were suspended in September.
On December 17, the decision was upheld.
On January 3, after the sanction was confirmed, the five moved out of their hostel rooms to a tent they set up inside the campus and began a “relay hunger protest”.
On Sunday, Rohith Vemula hanged himself. His suicide note read: “I feel a growing gap between my soul and my body. And I have become a monster.”