And then there were four.
One Dalit student at Hyderabad Central University - Rohith Vemula has killed himself after being suspended from attending classes or even access to the campus but his four friends, who were also punished, may get off the hook lighter now that the Hyderabad Central University (HCU) is under fierce attack after Vemula's suicide.
Sources in the HCU administration told The Indian Express that Vice Chancellor Professor Appa Rao called an emergency meeting of the Executive Council (EC) to discuss proposal to lighten the punishment to the other four Dalit scholars.
Rohith Vemula committed suicide on campus on Sunday, hanging himself from the ceiling fan in Room 207.
Rao is reportedly in favour of reducing the six-month suspension, starting 18 December, 2015, to one month.
University officials are worried about the political colour that Vemula's death has taken and are eager to distance themselves, at least now, from becoming pawns operated by Delhi powers.
The government went into damage control mode on Wednesday and held a joint press conference by HRD Minister Smriti Irani, Social Justice Empowerment Minister and MoS Commerce Nirmala Sitharaman.
Irani defended herself and the ministry saying they were going by the book by issuing a letter and four reminders to Hyderabad University seeking comments/facts on the issues raised by MoS for Labour and Employment Banadaru Dattatreya as the government is under obligation to respond to ‘VIP references’’ in 30 days.
Dattatreya had written to Irani in August last year, accusing the university of being a “mute spectator” after a group of Dalit students, including Vemula who committed suicide, clashed with ABVP leader Nandanam Susheel Kumar.
Irani said, "This was not a Dalit versus non-Dalit matter."
"It is unfortunate that the caste background of all the persons has to be mentioned in the case... An attempt is being made to provoke students across the country," Irani said.
Even as Irani was addressing the media, the Aam Aadmi Party questioned her, saying, "While Rohith, Sankanna, D Prashanth, Vijay Kumar & Sesu Chemudugunta were suspended, ABVP's Kumar was let off with a warning."
While Rohit, Sankanna, D Prashanth, Vijay Kumar & SesuChemudugunta were suspended, ABVP’s Kumar was let off with a warning #DalitVirodhiModi
— Aam Aadmi Party- AAP (@AamAadmiParty) January 20, 2016
Vemula had written a stinging letter to the university vice-chancellor questioning his intervention in a confrontation between the Ambedkar Students Association and the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) which is an arm of the rightwing RSS. "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.
"The suicide note does not mention any university official, minister or MP," Smriti Irani said, holding up a 'certified copy' of Vemula's suicide note.
BJP leader Bandaru Dattatreya who had written to the HRD ministry in August 2014 had reportedly termed the university a den of casteist, extremist and anti-national activities. It further sought action against 'anti-nationals' and blamed the university for not doing enough, as mentioned in this Firstpost report.