Union HRD Minister Smirti Irani on Wednesday defended his ministry writing four letters to the University of Hyderabad Vice-Chancellor to look into a matter of students “personally” last year before the issue snowballed into a major controversy, leading to research scholar Rohith Vemula committing suicide on Sunday.
Addressing a press conference in New Delhi, Irani also tried to convey that it was not a dalit versus non-dalit battle as some people were trying to make it out to be. Vemula was a dalit student who was expelled by the university and was living outside the campus in a makeshift tent.
“We are seated before you with facts and not conjecture, I again say it that it’s not a dalit vs non-dalit issue. Let us be extremely responsible; it’s easy to ignite passion,” said Irani. “My request is to be extremely responsible; I will not comment on unsubstantiated reports.”
The letters written by the HRD Ministry to vice-chancellor Appa Rao Podile have been doing the rounds on TV channels and social media over the issue. In these letters, the ministry said that the V-C should “look into the matter personally”.
Irani pointed out that Vemula’s suicide note did not blame anyone for his extreme step.
“This suicide note does not mention an MP, any university official or an organisation,” she said. “They are some media debates which claim a particular suicide note. We requested a copy from local police.”
Vemula, 26, committed suicide by hanging himself with a rope on Sunday. He left a suicide note, which read: “No one is responsible for my act of killing myself.”
Vemula and a few of his friends were camping outside the university campus and he and four other dalit students were allegedly expelled from the university hostel after a tussle with students affiliated with, Akhil Bharatiya Vidhyarthi Parishad, the student wing of the BJP. Tuesday was the 13th day they were camping outside the university.
The BJP-led government is currently at the centre and Iranji is part of it. Some media reports said that Venmula was expelled allegedly at the behest of two ministers of the Narendra Modi’s cabinet — Smriti Irani and Union Minister of Labour and Employment Bandaru Dattatreya.
Irani also defended fellow BJP MP Dattatreya, who had written a letter to the HRD ministry, complaining that the university was being “a mute spectator” after a group of Dalit students, including Rohith Vemula, clashed with an ABVP leader. An FIR has been filed against Dattatreya in Hyderabad.
“Bandaru Dattatreya ji was not the only MP who expressed concern on Hyderabad University, Congress MP Hanumantha Rao also wrote. The letter from Congress MP Hanumantha Rao shows that such incidents were happening in past for years as well,” she said. “If Congress had fixed it back then, possibly Rohith would have been alive today.”
However, soon after Irani’s press conference, Hanumantha Rao countered the minister. “I wrote a letter to Smriti Irani ji on different issue — regarding students issue and corruption,” he said.
Smriti also said, “The students challenged the order of suspension from hostel, High Court refused to put a stay on the order.”
She expressed grief over death of Rohith Vemula.