There seems to be a perfect disconnect between Union Minister for Human Resources Development Smriti Z Irani and the Dalit academics of the University of Hyderabad (HCU). Peeved by her observations, Dalit staffers went hammer-and-tong against the minister and they wanted to drive home the point that it was for sure an issue of persecution of Dalits. As a mark of protest, they all – 12 in total — resigned from the administrative positions they held at the university.
Irani said on Wednesday: "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.
This naturally ignited the controversy and tempers rose high across the campus.
The Dalit staffers have taken a very strong objection to the minister’s observation that it wasn’t a ‘Dalit versus non-Dalit’ confrontation. Dr Ravindra Kumar and S Sudhakar Babu, representatives of University of Hyderabad SC/ST Teachers and Officers’ Forum “strongly condemned” this statement.
They postulated their standpoints on the minister’s observations and asserted that it was “unfortunate that the Union minister misrepresented the facts of the case, and said that the senior-most Dalit professor actually headed the Executive Council (EC) sub-committee that took the decision to suspend the students.”
They said that the committee was indeed headed by an upper-caste professor Vipin Srivastava, and there are no Dalit members of faculty in the sub-committee of the EC. The dean of students welfare Professor Prakash Babu was nationally coopted as an ex-officio member of the committee and that was incidental, the Dalit staffers pointed out. They went on to add that there was no Dalit on the EC ever since the HCU came into being.
They alleged that the minister “distorted the facts” suggesting that the wardens had suo motu powers to expel students. It was just a coincidence that the chief warden, who had simply implemented the orders of the higher authorities, happened to be a Dalit. Sudhakar Babu and Ravindra Kumar said that the “baseless and misleading statements coming from the HRD Minister amounts to bringing down the morale of the Dalits holding administrative positions in the university” as well as other universities.
They alleged that by deflecting the issue, the HRD minister was absolving herself and her colleague Bandaru Dattatreya of being responsible for the death of Rohith Vemula.
The Dalit teachers and officers’ body has expressed its solidarity with the protesting students, who began an indefinite hunger strike on the campus, demanding action against the ministers, the vice-chancellor and Rs 50 lakh ex-gratia to Rohith’s family and a senior-level employment to one of the kin of the deceased.
They also expressed solidarity with the agitating students who are demanding the lifting of police cases filed against the Dalit students and the revocation of their suspension.