The suicide of Rohith Vemula, a PhD scholar at the Hyderabad Central University has triggered protests in Hyderabad and other parts of the country.
Those protesting are asking for action against Union Labour Minister Bandaru Dattatreya who had written to the Union HRD minister, exerting pressure to act against five Dalit students, including Rohith, who were involved in an altercation with HCU student leader Susheel Kumar of the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP).
The issue can be traced back to a Facebook post by Susheel in which he called the students belonging to Ambedkar Students Association including Rohith Vemula ‘goons’ for organizing protest against Yakub Memon’s hanging. Agitated students forced Susheel to apologise. The two sides then gave different versions with Susheel alleging that he had been attacked, leaving him injured. ASA said they had not resorted to any violence.
Though a Proctorial Board gave a first report clearing the ASA members citing lack of medical evidence to prove that Susheel was harmed, a second report few days later indicted them. The reports eventually lead to their suspension.
Speaking to The News Minute just a day after Rohith’s suicide, Susheel Kumar now says that he is shocked and went numb after hearing about Rohith’s suicide.
“I have known him for almost five years. We were ideologically different, but he was brave. He would rip apart posters we placed in campus, he was at the forefront of their agitations. I never imagined this would happen. Never,” he said.
“This was just student politics. I have engaged in many conversations with Rohith, though we always disagreed. I stopped speaking to them after August 2015,” he said, adding that he is willing to answer all questions.
If it was just an instance of student politics, then why did a Union Minister have to intervene?
“I did meet Bandaru Dattatreya and ask him to help. We had met a lot of our leaders and ASA met their leaders too.”
But why did the minister have to write a letter?
“The issue is not that simple. When the protests against Yakub Memon’s hanging were on, they shouted slogans like ‘If you hang a Yakub, thousands of Yakub’s will emerge.’ The university has a history of students turning radical and as a sitting MP of that constituency, he wrote a letter. We asked him to.”
But was it right to exert this kind of pressure on students and flex the ruling party’s muscle?
“It was all done in the heat of the moment. But no one would have thought that a person like Rohith would commit suicide.”
ABVP leader has been blamed of ‘pretending’ to be injured and making a false case against the ASA activists. Why did you do that?
“That’s not true, I was attacked by them. In the night they came to my room and threatened me. When the first committee enquired, I could not appear before them. The second committee had included my version, which is why the ASA activists had been found guilty.”
In hindsight, do you wish you had acted differently in August 2015?
“I don’t know what to say. It was all done in the heat of the moment.”