Politics upstages Hyd stir, despite claims on the contrary

INDIA-STUDENTS-SUICIDE-PROTEST Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi (R) talks to protesters on Hyderabad Central University campus on January 19 | AFP
  • Rohith has committed suicide, but the condition for his suicide was created by the vice-chancellor, the minister in Delhi, and the institution—Rahul Gandhi

Suicide of Dalit research scholar Rohith Vemula on the University of Hyderabad (UoH) campus seems to have turned into a full-blown political confrontation, with leaders of differing political persuasions making a beeline to the city.

Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi is the latest to join the protesters, demanding to hold union ministers Bandaru Dattatreya and Smriti Irani accountable for the death. He also called for the removal of UoH Vice-Chancellor P Appa Rao.

Gandhi arrived in Hyderabad on Tuesday by a special flight and joined the protesting students on the campus at Gachibowli. He called on Rohith’s mother and assured her that the Congress party would stand by her family in the hour of crisis.

A combative Rahul then addressed the students and demanded stringent action against those responsible for driving Rohith, a 26-year-old science research scholar, to take the extreme step.

Rohith was found hanging in his friend's room in the university 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 ABVP activists. Students protesting in Hyderabad since then alleged that the five Dalit students were "socially boycotted".

“Rohith has committed suicide, but the condition for his suicide was created by the vice-chancellor, the minister in Delhi, and the institution," the Congress leader said, without naming the minister.

There has been mounting pressure from student organisations and opposition parties to sack Union Labour Minister Bandaru Dattatreya for allegedly influencing the university authorities to take disciplinary action against members of Ambedkar Students' Association (ASA) for assaulting a local ABVP leader.

Based on his letter to Human Resources Development Minister Smriti Irani, the authorities had suspended five Dalit students belonging to ASA including Rohith.

Rahul Gandhi asserted that he was not politicising the issue, but yet insisted that the vice-chancellor had no right to continue.

“There is no question or merit for the VC to remain here any further. Whatever may be the cause of death, the man-in-charge should have the bare minimum respect to at least meet the mother of the boy and console her. His absence is an insult to the country and every single student of the university,” Gandhi said.

“This young man (Rohith) came here to learn, to express himself... but he was put in so much pain, that he had no other option but to kill himself. I have come here for Rohith... He is not alone.

“Every student, every university in the country has this problem. I have not come here as a politician, I have come as a young person who understands your concern," Gandhi, who demanded a fair compensation for the bereaved family, said.

He also called for bringing in a legislation for protection of the rights of students to express their opinions freely, irrespective of their caste and religion, and the autonomy of the universities.

Other members from various political parties also made a beeline to the university campus to express solidarity with the protesting students.

The Trinamool Congress and Bahujan Samaj Party representative will also join protest.

Meanwhile, HRD Minister Smriti Irani has sent a two-member team of officials to the campus to probe the incident and submit a report. The police barricaded the campus's main gate as hosts of students and activists poured into the university.

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