By Mohammed Shafeeq Hyderabad/New Delhi, Jan 20 : As protests continued for the fourth day at University of Hyderabad over a Dalit research scholar’s suicide, the central government said on Wednesday that this was not a “Dalit versus non-Dalit issue”.
Human Resource Development Minister Smriti Irani said there was a “malicious attempt to project it as a caste battle”. Another central minister, Bandaru Dattatreya, insisted he did not influence the university to suspend Rohith Vemula – who killed himself – and four other students.
“There has been a malicious attempt to project the issue as a caste battle. The truth is that, it is not,” Irani told the media in New Delhi, in her first reaction to the raging row.
She said the case was being “misrepresented”.
“It’s not a Dalit versus non-Dalit confrontation,” she said, adding there had been media debates suggesting that Vemula mentioned the names of people and organisations who forced him to commit suicide.
She flashed a letter, saying it was the only document police got while investigating the case. She also read out a few lines from the letter, suggesting what was being widely projected was not the truth.
The other suspended students, who continued their protest on the campus, condemned Irani and accused her of trying to twist the facts.
The Joint Action Committee (JAC) for social justice, an umbrella of student groups, continue its protest at the university that remained shut. The protesters have vowed not to allow classes till Vice Chancellor Appa Rao resigns and justice is done to Rohith’s family.
A two-member committee sent by the human resource development ministry continued its probe for a second consecutive day.
Minister of State for Labour Dattareya, who represents Secunderabad in the Lok Sabha, clarified that he did not put pressure on the university to suspend any student.
He said he merely forwarded two representations he got from the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) to the human resource development ministry.
Dattatreya extended his heartfelt condolences to Rohith’s family.
Politicians meanwhile continued to swarm the campus for the second day. On Wednesday, CPI-M general secretary Sitaram Yechury sought President Pranab Mukherjee’s intervention.
The president is Visitor of the university.
Addressing the students, Yechury demanded the sacking of central ministers Irani and Dattatreya and also the vice chancellor, saying all three were part of a criminal conspiracy.
He called the probe ordered by the ministry an eyewash, saying a judicial or CBI investigation should be ordered.
When Republican Party of India leader Ramdas Athawale came to the campus, he had to face the ire of students who asked him to first withdraw support to the BJP-led NDA government. Police escorted him out.
YSR Congress party chief Y.S. Jaganmohan Reddy also met the students and demanded action against the guilty.
Trinamool Congress MPs Derek O’Brien and Pratima Mondal also met the students.
Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal will visit Hyderabad on Thursday to meet the family of Rohith, an official told IANS.