Although the Ministry of Human Resource Development is stoutly denying any hand in the events leading up to the suicide of PhD student Rohith Vemula at Hyderabad Central University, the Ministry sent four fairly detailed letters to the same University where Vemula was a student, asking for details on the "matter" raised by Minister of State Bandaru Dattatreya. Some media reports are pegging the number differently at 5 letters and 4 reminders but either way, why so much Delhi muscle in a south side story?
The "matter" here is Dattatreya accusing the University of being a “mute spectator” after a group of Dalit students, including Rohith Vemula who committed suicide Sunday evening, clashed with ABVP leader Nandanam Susheel Kumar.
Was ABVP leader injured at all?
But the latest reports from Hyderabad suggest huge question marks over the clash itself. Last August, ABVP leader Nandanam Susheel Kumar alleged he was assaulted by members of the Ambedkar Students Association (ASA) in his hostel room. He was admitted into Archana Hospital in Madinaguda by his brother Vishnu Kumar on 4 August, he was operated upon for appendicitis on August 7.
“After collecting all the medical reports of Susheel Kumar and examining them, I could not reach the conclusion that he developed appendicitis due to the alleged assault," says Dr Anupama Rao, Senior Medical Officer of the University of Hyderabad who, along with then Vice Chancellor R P Sharma, visited Susheel Kumar on August 8 — a day after the surgery, according to The Indian Express.
ABVP is the student wing of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and was founded even before the BJP. It works with BJP's official youth wing, Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha and claims to be the largest student political body in India. Bandaru Dattatreya is Minister of Labour and Employment in the Narendra Modi Government. He was also a Union minister in the Atal Behari Vajpayee government He was re-elected to the 16th Lok Sabha from Secunderabad constituency.
Cong wants Irani, Dattatreya to be sacked
Vemula's suicide has snowballed with BJP’s rivals wading in and demanding the removal of Union Ministers Smriti Irani and Bandaru Dattatreya, accusing them of being responsible for the death. As Congress mounted the demand for the sacking of the HRD and Labour Ministers, Rahul Gandhi led the multi-party charge attacking them and the Vice Chancellor Appa Rao saying “The VC and the Union Ministers in Delhi have not acted fairly. This youngster was put in so much pain that he had no option but to kill himself.”
— INC India (@INCIndia) January 19, 2016
Modi govt constitutionally duty bound to uplift dalits. Instead Modi ji's ministers got five dalit students ostracised n suspended(1/2)
— Arvind Kejriwal (@ArvindKejriwal) January 19, 2016
It's not suicide. It's murder. It's murder of democracy, social justice n equality.Modi ji shd sack ministers n aplogoize to the nation(2/2)
— Arvind Kejriwal (@ArvindKejriwal) January 19, 2016
Why 4 reminders from HRD ministry?
The Indian Express has published contents of the four reminders that went from the HRD ministry to the University.
On Tuesday, HRD Ministry spokesperson Ghanshyam Goel said the Ministry was only doing its duty by seeking the university’s comments as it is obligated to give a time-bound reply to all “VIP references”, reports The Indian Express.
“The Ministry was only following procedure. As per the Central Secretariat Manual of Office Procedure, the government should acknowledge a VIP reference within 15 days and respond to it in another two weeks. As it is evident from the content of the letters, the university was asked to only respond with comments and facts so that the government can draft its reply to the VIP reference. Reminders were issued as there was no reply from the university authorities. It’s wrong to insinuate that the Ministry put pressure on the university administration,” Goel told the Express.
The Hindu reports that the HRD ministry sent five letters, including four reminders following Dattatreya’s letter dated August 17 last year. Four of the five students expelled are sons of agricultural laborers, fueling even more grassroots anger against the establishment.
In his defence, Mr. Dattatreya explained that he wrote after ABVP students from the campus had approached him.
Mr. Gehlot also met with ICSSR chairman Sukhdeo Thorat on Monday who handed him a memorandum submitted by the expelled students. The memorandum was the last in the series of letters the students had sent out following their expulsion from the campus.
Subject line: "Anti-national"
“Since no response was coming from the University, the Ministry had to send reminders,” spokesperson Ghanshyam Goel said.
The Ministry was hard-pressed to explain why it chose to re-direct letters to the University of Hyderabad, marked anti-national as subject matter of correspondence — giving rise to suspicion that Irani’s office was taking the lead from Mr. Dattatreya’s complaint referring to the students as ‘anti-nationals.’ The university replied on January 7.
Student organisations including the pro-Left AISA and AAP-backed CYSS and Congress’ NSUI held protests in Jantar Mantar and the HRD ministry in the capital demanding the sacking of the ministers and strong action against the VC. Various political parties and leaders have blamed Labour Minister Dattatreya’s letter of Aug 17 last year to Irani seeking action against the “anti-national activities” of a students union and the alleged assault of an ABVP leader and a series of five communications from the HRD Ministry between Sept 3 and Nov 19 demanding follow-up action for the suicide.
The HRD ministry, however, Tuesday rejected allegations that it had put any pressure on the University relating to either suspension of Rohith or keeping him out of the hostel.
The communications, it maintained, was not aimed at putting pressure but was in compliance with the standard protocol adopted in accordance with the Central Secretariat Manual of Procedure whenever a “VIP Reference” is received. Ministry officials said the two-member committee of HRD officials have met people concerned in Hyderabad Tuesday and their fact-finding report is expected to be ready after their return tomorrow.
After Rahul Gandhi visited the campus, Hyderabad MP Asaduddin Owaisi also went there and asked why Prime Minister Narendra Modi was not saying sorry.
“It does not need even 140 characters,” he said in an apparent reference to the Prime Minister’s penchant for tweeting on issues. He alleged that there has been social discrimination that had led to the suicide.
Gandhi flew into Hyderabad from Delhi in the morning and drove straight from the airport to the University campus where he addressed the agitating students. He alleged that the institution instead of operating fairly has used its power to “crush” the freedom of students to express.
“The Vice Chancellor and the Minister in Delhi have not acted fairly. What is the result. The result is that the youth, who came here to improve the country, to learn and to express himself was put in so much pain that he had no option but to kill himself.
“Certainly he has committed suicide but conditions for his suicide were created by the Vice Chancellor, the minister and the institution,” he told the students, one of whom said before his speech that they did not want any politicising of the issue.
He demanded the “strictest punishment” for Vice-Chancellor and the minister holding them “responsible” for the death of the research scholar.
After meeting the students, Gandhi upped the ante against Irani and Dattatreya and the Vice Chancellor, by observing in a tweet: The VC and Union Ministers in Delhi have not acted fairly. This youngster was put in so much pain that he had no option but to kill himself.”
Union Labour Minister Dattatreya and Hyderabad University Vice Chancellor Appa Rao and three others were Monday named in an FIR lodged with the Cyberabad police over the alleged suicide of the dalit student.
The Congress Vice President said there is “no question of the Vice Chancellor remaining” on merit and criticised him severely for not even meeting the mother of the deceased.
“There are certain people responsible for it. Vice Chancellor is among them. The minister is among them,” Gandhi said insisting that whoever is responsible for this outcome has to be punished in strictest terms.
Party general secretary P Muralidhar Rao, who hails from Telangana, accused Gandhi of “unprincipled” behaviour, saying that the same Congress which had “harassed” the dalit icon, B R Ambedkar “all his life” was now trying to project itself as a champion of the Dalit cause.
He alleged that Hyderabad student Rohith Vemula’s suicide has been made into a political issue by “Congress, a section of media and some groups with vested interests”.
"BJP govt neither for minorities not for Dalits"
The AAP on Tuesday intensified its protest and demanded the resignation and arrest of union Labour Minister Bandaru Dattatreya and the vice chancellor of the University of Hyderabad.
Over 300 supporters of the Aam Aadmi Party's Delhi unit and its student wing, Chhatra Yuva Sangharsh Samiti, besides party leader Ashutosh and MLAs Sandeep Kumar and Rakhi Birla, gathered at the Jantar Mantar here.
"We demand the immediate resignation and arrest of union minister Bandaru Dattatreya for driving a Dalit student to suicide in Hyderabad," AAP spokesperson Sanjay Singh said at a press conference here.
He demanded that Human Resource Development Minister Smriti Irani's role in the matter should also be investigated.
"The Dalits have faced persecution after the Narendra Modi government came to power at the Centre. There are several instances, including those in Bharatiya Janata Party-ruled Haryana, where Dalits were targeted, persecuted and even murdered," he added.
Ashutosh, while referring to the Dadri lynching, attacked the NDA government saying, "This government is neither for the minorities nor for the Dalits."
"Today in this country, in the name of Hindutva ideology, there is no space left for any kind of protest. Baba Bhimrao Ambedkar in 1949 had warned the country about the RSS saying that they are a big threat to the nation.
He also demanded Smriti Irani's resignation saying, "The PM continues to shield ministers who ostracize Dalits. The PM should sack Bandaru Dattatreya, and Smriti Irani's role should be probed."
Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal demanded that Modi sack Irani and Dattatreya and apologise to the nation over the suicide.