All the people responsible for putting pressure on a dalit research scholar of University of Hyderabad that forced him to commit suicide “should be punished” and the family of Rohith Vemula should be adequately compensated, demanded Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi on Tuesday.
Speaking to a gathering of students of the university in Hyderabad, Gandhi picked “the minister in Delhi” and the university vice-chancellor for special attention, without pronouncing their names, while seeking punishment for all those responsible for aiding and abetting the suicide.
“There are certain people who are responsible for this boy’s death. The vice-chancellor is among them, the minister is among them, and the people who applied pressure on this boy for expressing his ideas, his thoughts, are among them. Whoever is responsible for this outcome [suicide] has to be punished in the strictest manner possible,” Gandhi said.
Gandhi supported the “perfectly valid demand” of students to have asked for compensation, which he said could in the form of money, a job for a member of Vemula’s family, or respect.
Gandhi said that vice-chancellor Appa Rao Podile must go.
“….he has committed suicide. But the conditions for his suicide have been created by the vice-chancellor and the minister and the institution. And that means that there is no question – absolutely, no question – on merit for the vice-chancellor to remain here,” he thundered.
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 (ABVP), 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. Some media reports said that Venmula was expelled allegedly at the behest of two ministers of the Narendra Modi’s cabinet, Union HRD Minister Smriti Irani and Union Minister of Labour and Employment Bandaru Dattatreya.
Many TV channels on Monday showed letters exchanged between the Smriti Irani-headed HRD Ministry and vice-chancellor Appa Rao Podile over the issue. In these letters, the ministry said that the V-C should “look into the matter personally”.
Eight students were arrested on Monday after a night of protests in which a large group of students sat with Vemula’s body and raised slogans alleging discrimination against dalits.
Gandhi claimed that the vice-chancellor didn’t even show minimal courtesy to Vemula after his death.
“When a student of a university dies – whether it is suicide, or it is an accident, or it is an illness – the man in charge of the university has to show the bare minimum respect and courtesy to go and meet that person’s family. And that fact that this gentleman has not had the decency and the dignity to meet the mother [of Rohit Vemula] here is also an insult, not only to this country, it is an insult to this institution and it is an insult to every single student in this institution and it is an insult to every single teacher in this institution,” he said.
“The institution instead of acting fairly…has used its power to crush them. And the vice-chancellor and the minister in Delhi have not acted fairly. What is the result? The result is that this youngster who came here to improve this country, who came here to learn, who came here to express himself, was put in so much pain that he had no other option but to kill himself. So, to me, I agree with the students here,” said Gandhi.
Gandhi said these kinds of incidents are happening in “every single university” in India. “It is very important that we did not let this ball fall here. It is very important that we carry this flag forward and that we, in the future, create a legislation, a law that gives certain minimum rights to every single Indian student,” he said.
Earlier, Gandhi arrived in Hyderabad in the morning and met the students sitting on protest.
“This morning I came and sat with the students there, what you have very nicely called the dalit ghetto. The idea of a university is that the young people from the country come here and express whatever is there in their hearts; this is like a stage,” he said addressing the students’ gathering.
“They can come, whether their ideas are interesting, not interesting, smart, not smart…every student must feel that when I go to university, regardless of who I am, how much money I have, what community I come from, what religion I come from, what type of hairstyle I have, wat type of shirt I wear, he must that this is the institution where I say whatever I want without punishment, without pain,” Gandhi said. “The idea of a university is [to impart] knowledge. And when you try to impose on youngsters like yourselves one idea, and you try to tell them ‘sorry, only this idea is acceptable’, you cause tremendous pain to the passion that that person has. And you all would have felt this.”
Gandhi said he has also told the students and to the family of Vemula that “my door is open to them. Anytime they need anything from me I am at their service, and that goes for all of you too”.
Meanwhile, in Hyderabad, a police case has been registered against Union Minister of Labour and Employment, Bandaru Dattatreya, who is being accused of aiding the suicide with a letter he had written in August. Students protested outside his residence on Monday.
Simultaneously, students in different parts of the country protested over the Vemula suicide issue.
Also on Monday, Social Justice Minister TC Gehlot said Secy that he was appointing Anita Agnihotri, secretary in the Department of Social Justice & Empowerment, to probe the death of Vemula.