The protests over suicide of Dalit research scholar rocked University of Hyderabad while police booked central minister Bandaru Dattatreya and three others for abetment of suicide and also for violations of the SC/ST act.
A day after Rohith Vemula hanged himself in a university hostel room, protests broke out on the campus of the central university and echoed in the national capital, where students tried to lay siege to the office of Union Human Resources Development Minister Smriti Irani.
Police used water canons and arrested several students as they broke the barricades. The protestors, carrying pictures of B.R. Ambedkar and raising anti-government slogans, clashed with police.
The central ministry constituted a two-member committee to probe the suicide. The panel will submit report in two days.
Irani, while expressing sympathy with the student’s family, declined to comment on the incident. She merely said the ministry had no administrative control over the central universities.
The varsity campus in Hyderabad remained tense since morning when police used force to take possession of Rohith’s body, which the students had locked in a room and were insisting should be visited by Vice Chancellor Appa Rao.
Policemen in riot gear used batons to disperse the slogan-shouting students and arrested eight of them before shifting the body to Osmania Hospital for autopsy.
The 28-year-old, a second year research scholar of science, technology and society studies department, was found hanging in his friend’s room in the hostel on Sunday.
He was one of the five students expelled from the hostel and barred from all facilities except their classrooms following a clash with leaders of Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP).
The students belonging to Ambedkar Students Union (ASU) had been staging protest on the campus for last 15 days against this “discrimination” and “social boycott”.
Hailing from a poor family in Guntur district of Andhra Pradesh, Rohith in his six-page suicide note said no one was responsible for his suicide.
“I always wanted to be a writer. A writer of science, like Carl Sagan. At last, this is the only letter I am getting to write,” he wrote.
His mother Radhika along with students and leaders of various Dalit groups staged a sit-in on the campus, demanding that the vice chancellor come to them and explain why her son was suspended.
A Joint Action Committee (JAC) of various student groups blamed growing influence of right-wing groups on the campus for the incident. A JAC leader said nine Dalit students have committed suicide during last five years.
They held central minister Bandaru Dattetreya, the vice chancellor, ABVP leader Sushil Kumar and Vishnu responsible for the suicide.
A case for abetment of suicide and for violation of the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act was booked against the four in Gachibowli police station on a complaint by a student.
A police officer told IANS that they will take further action after investigation.
Dattetreya, who is union labour minister, had written to Irani, demanding action against “anti-national” and “anti-social” elements on the campus, which led to the suspension of the students.
While defending his action, the minister said he or the Bharatiya Janata Party had nothing to do with suspensions or suicide.
Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) MP K. Kavitha alleged that the pressure by two union ministers on the vice chancellor led to suspension of five Dalit research scholars.
She said Dattetreya should not have intervened into the campus politics.
The Congress demanded that Dattatreya be removed from the cabinet.
“The minister, against whom an FIR was filed, should immediately be removed from the cabinet. The vice chancellor and others involved in this crime should also be removed from their respective posts,” Congress spokesperson R.P.N. Singh said in New Delhi.
The row between the students groups broke out in August last year when ASU took out a rally to condemn the ABVP’s attack on the screening of a documentary on the Muzaffarnagar riots at Delhi University.
ABVP leaders took objection to the protest. Later, Sushil Kumar lodged a complaint that ASU activists assaulted him. The accused students however denied the allegation.