Amid a rising chorus by the Congress seeking the resignation of Union Labour Minister Bandaru Dattatreya, who has been named in an FIR filed after the suicide of a 26-year-old Dalit student at the Hyderabad University, the HRD Ministry on Monday constituted a two-member fact finding team to investigate the death. V Rohith, the second-year research scholar of science, technology and society studies department, was found hanging in a hostel room on Sunday night at the University of Hyderabad. He, along with four other research scholars, was expelled from the University 12 days ago over an alleged clash with another student group.
The ministry, which had been accused of interference in the students' altercation that apparently led to the tragic death, has said that it had only sought a status report regarding the clash last August when a group of students allegedly attacked Susheel Kumar, the then President of ABVP Unit in the University of Hyderabad leading to the expulsion.
PTI sources said that the team comprising Shakila T Shamsu, OSD in the HRD ministry, and Deputy Secretary-level officer Surat Singh is headed to Hyderabad to look into the entire matter and submit the report to the ministry.
ISSUE TOOK A POLITICAL TURN
The issue took a political turn with allegations that the extreme action by Rohith was a result of discrimination against Dalit students at the behest of Dattatreya, who had written a letter to HRD Minister Smriti Irani, seeking action against their "anti-national acts". He had also alleged that the university administration had turned into "a mute spectator to such events".
The minister also wrote that Kumar, president of ABVP in the campus, was manhandled when he protested against the Ambedkar Students Association (ASA) when the latter held protests against hanging of 1993 Mumbai blasts convict Yakub Memon.
Irani yesterday said the government neither intervened in the functioning of the university nor had any administrative control over it. Ministry sources told PTI that on the night of August 3 last year, a group of students affiliated to the Ambedkar Students Association allegedly attacked Kumar and the Proctorial Board of the University enquired into the matter.
It was the Executive council of the University that then approved the expulsion of five students including Rohith.
Ministry sources also emphasised that subsequently, an Executive Sub Committee which included a senior Dalit faculty member and headed by the senior-most professor was constituted, which upheld these recommendations.
However, later at a meeting of Executive council, a lenient view was taken as expulsion would have deprived the students of continuing their Ph D and it was decided to permit them in their departments, library and academic meetings and not in hostel, administration and other public places.
The decision was challenged by the students in the court. Three of the students also started protest by sleeping in open.
The Dean, Students Welfare, had regularly counselled the students to have patience before the Court gave its decision while the Vice Chancellor had also discussed the issue with them.
Last night, a letter purportedly written by Rohith was found in the hostel room where he allegedly committed suicide.
"I am writing this kind of letter for the first time. My first time of a final letter," he wrote.
"I always wanted to be a writer. A writer of science, like Carl Sagan. I loved Science, Stars, Nature, but then I loved people without knowing that people have long since divorced from nature. Our feelings are second handed. Our love is constructed. Our beliefs colored. Our originality valid through artificial art. It has become truly difficult to love without getting hurt. The value of a man was reduced to his immediate identity and nearest possibility. To a vote. To a number. To a thing.
Never was a man treated as a mind. As a glorious thing made up of star dust. In every field, in studies, in streets, in politics, and in dying and living," he wrote.
WHAT LED TO THE EXTREME STEP?
A report in the Indian Express claimed that from July, the university had stopped paying Rohith his monthly stipend of Rs 25,000 (excluding HRA). His friends alleged that he was being targeted for protesting under the banner of Ambedkar Students Association (ASA).
The decision to suspend the five was upheld on December 17, and on January 3 the sanction was confirmed. The five students moved out of their hostel rooms and set up a tent inside the campus, according to the report. Students alleged that it was a social boycott of sorts.
Rohith, who would have turned 27 on 30 January, told his friends that since his stipend was on hold, he was unable to give them “even a small treat”.
Some of the teaching faculty has also demanded action against those responsible for the incident.
"The incident is very sad. The (five suspended) students were on strike for the past 15 days. The VC should have heard what Rohit said in his letter (wrote on December 18). This university has history of Dalit students committing suicides. So authorities should have been more sensitive," said Deepa Srinivas, Associate professor of Social Sciences at the Hyderabad University.
The Joint Action Committee for Social Justice of the varsity in a statement demanded that any family member of Rohit be provided employment, besides compensation of Rs 50 lakh.
Meanwhile, several students of Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) in Mumbai boycotted classes, field work and other institutional activities today to condemn the "institutional murder" of Rohit. Students gathered in front of Dining Hall, Old Campus, from 9 AM to protest the scholar's death.
About 100 students are continuously participating in the protest, a member of the Joint Action Committee of TISS, Mumbai said.
Meanwhile, TRS MP and Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao's daughter K Kavitha alleged that tension at the university increased because of Dattatreya writing a letter to Smriti Irani.
Dattatreya and Hyderabad University Vice Chancellor were named in the FIR over the suicide, triggering massive protests and demands for their removal from their posts.
Irani said she would not make any political statement but would await the report of the fact-finding committee.
The Vice Chancellor said he would quit if the "majority" of the students, faculty and administrative wanted it. He said the action against the Dalit students had happened much before he had come into the picture and he was working with the faculty to "reduce" the punishment.
The agitating students demanded immediate removal of Dattareya from the Union Cabinet.
"Dattatreya should be removed from the Cabinet. Ramachandra Rao should be removed from the MLC post. Vice Chancellor should be sacked," said D Prashant, one of the five suspended students.
The Congress demanded the immediate sacking of Dattatreya.
"Now an FIR has been registered against the Union Minister and the letter written by him prima facie amounts to abetment of suicide, Congress demands that Dattatreya resigns with immediate effect, failing which the Prime Minister should sack him", party spokesman R P N Singh told reporters.
Alleging that the mindset of BJP was anti-Dalit, he recalled that only recently another Union Minister V K Singh had allegedly compared Dalit children to dogs.
The CPI(M) too demanded action against Vice Chancellor of Hyderabad Central University under SC/ST Prevention of Atrocities Act.
"The Central government must conduct a thorough enquiry into this incident in this prestigious Central University that was established by law by the Parliament of India," the party said in a statement. (Inputs from PTI)
Contact HuffPost India
Also on HuffPost: