Three days after Dalit PhD scholar Rohith Vemula’s suicide and calls for her resignation, Human Resources Development Minister Smriti Irani gave a blistering response to the media in a press conference.
On Sunday, Rohith Vemula hanged himself from the ceiling fan in one of his friends’ hostel rooms in Hynderabad Central University. He had been expelled from the NRS Hostel on December 16 along with three other students. Since then, they were sleeping in the open on the campus in a makeshift tent and were later joined by other protesting students as well.
In the days since his death, the case has snowballed into a major controversy for the BJP-led government at the centre. Media reports that the MHRD wrote five letters to the university over the alleged assault of ABVP activist Nandanam Susheel Kumar, only added to the pressure.
On Tuesday Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi spoke in support of the protestors and demanded strict punishment for union labor minister and the VC.
During the media conference on Wednesday, Irani refused to answer several questions as the matter was “sub-judice”, “out of her jurisdiction” (questions on the mention of ‘anti-national’ activities in Bandaru Dattatreya’s letter) or was not “based on facts”. Among those she answered, included queries on the letters to the university from the MHRD, and aspects of the suicide note.
Here are five takeaways from her press conference:
· Lot of “misrepresentation of facts” as there is no mention of any university official or central government in the suicide note. It is not Dalit vs Non Dalit issue.
· “A child has died. I don't want to indulge in a blame game. The Executive Council was not formed by this government.
· Congress and other political parties are trying to gain political dividends from the issue. “It is expected but unfortunate.”
· This are “malicious attempts” to ignite passions, misrepresentation of facts in Rohith's case, suicide note doesn't mention any MP, or political party. Dattatreya was not the only MP who raised concerns, Congress MP V Hanumantha Rao raised concerns over attacks on OBC students. MHRD wrote six letters seeking responses from the university.
· University Board enquired into matter; didn't consult any party. Proctoral Board didn't consult any political party. At every step the Dalit members of the student and faculty were informed. It was a council headed by a Dalit professor which upheld the expulsion.