New Delhi: Union Minister for Human Resource Development Smriti Irani today expressed regret over the death of Dalit scholar Rohith Vemula in Hyderabad, but stressed that caste had no role to play in it.
The HRD minister clarified that the issue was not a conflict between Dalits and non-Dalits. “Passions have been ignited through misconstrued and misrepresented facts. This is not a Dalit versus non-Dalit conflict as is being projected by some to ignite passions,” Irani said at a press conference today.
The minister also came out in support of Union Minister Bandaru Dattatreya who has been under fire from the opposition parties who allege that the minister exerted ‘pressure' on the university to suspend the student for being “anti-national”.
“There has been a malicious intent to fan sentiments. The document being circulated as Rohith Vemula's suicide note does not name any MP, minister, political organisation or university official,” Irani said in defence of the Labour minister.
Rohith Vemula ended his life on Sunday in the University of Hyderabad after his suspension following an alleged clash with a leader of the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad.
Irani's comments come amid allegations that her ministry pressured officials at the Hyderabad University to take action against a group of students from the Ambedkar Students' Association for allegedly beating up a leader of the ABVP, who filed a police complaint.
Days after that, Union minister Bandary Dattatraya wrote to Irani, describing the campus as "a den of casteist, extremist and anti-national policies". Her ministry then sent five reminders to the Vice Chancellor, Professor P Appa Rao, seeking information on what action was being taken.
Refuting the allegations, the HRD minister defended the action taken by the university against the students saying all due procedure was followed in the matter. “A group of students allegedly attacked another student; we have ascertained that this is not a Dalit vs non-Dalit confrontation,” she said.
The minister further informed that an Executive Council of the university had in its meeting upheld the punishment given to the students. “The students challenged the order of suspension from hostel, HC refused to put a stay on the order,” she added.
“The Executive Council was not formed by this government and its members were appointed by previous government,: she said.
Reacting to allegations of the HRD minister exerting pressure on the university to act against the students, Irani countered it saying it was part of a standard operating procedure. “When an MP communicates to us, we have to seek facts from the university,” Irani said.
She also cited a letter by the Minister of State for Personnel, Public Grievances & Pensions and the Prime Minister`s Office in the Congress-led UPA government V Narayansamy which reminded all departments and ministries of following the same procedure as has been followed in the present case.
Irani further cited similar complaints against the state of affairs at the university by Congress Rajya Sabha MP from Telangana V Hanumantha Rao. “Six reminders were sent regarding Rao's letter. Law and procedure are equal for all,” Irani said.
The December 2014 letter by Rao spoke of deteriorating law and order situation in the University of Hyderabad and increasing number of suicides by students from the marginalised community. Besides, it also spoke of land grab, misappropriation of funds, kidnapping and rape in the last four years, when the Congress-led government was in power at the Centre.
On his part, Bandaru Dattatreya also clarified his stand on the matter today. “On the 10th August 2015, I received a representation on the state of affairs in the University of Hyderabad which disturbed me greatly and I forwarded the same to the MOHRD. On 29th August 2015, I received a second representation in this and this too I forwarded to the MoHRD with a request to look into the matter & to do the needful. My role was only limited to forwarding two representations. I would have happily forwarded representations of any other student body, if they were to have approached me,” he said in a statement issued today.
Smriti Irani's press conference: