The storm over the suicide of a Dalit student in Hyderabad University intensified on Thursday despite the revocation of the suspension of four of his co-research scholars as the controller of examinations and 12 other faulty members belonging to SC/ST communities gave up their administrative posts in solidarity.
Wilting under relentless pressure from the students agitating for the removal of the Vice Chancellor Appa Rao and punishment for those responsible for the suicide of Rohith Vemula, the varsity Executive Council met and decided to "terminate" the punishment imposed on the students.
But the protesting students were not satisfied with the revocation of the suspension and burnt copies of the EC decision.
In solidarity with the students, the controller of examinations, chief medical officer and chief warden were among the 13 faculty members belonging to SC-ST communities who gave up their administrative posts which they were holding as an additional responsibility.
Vijaya Kumar, one of the students, whose suspension was revoked, said this was not enough.
"The VC must go. This (revocation) is a welcome decision. But we can't celebrate it because Rohith is not there. We are not able to accept your decision. We have other demands like appropriate compensation and a job for one of the members of Rohith's family."
University Dean Prakash Babu said the revocation of suspension is the first step that is subject to proceedings in the High Court and appealed to the students to accept the decision saying more announcements will follow on issues like the compensation.
"The VC will meet the students action committee and talk to them. The primary demand was revocation of the suspension and they should accept it," he said.
Earlier, members of Dalit (SC/ST) faculty of Hyderabad University said in a statement that it is unfortunate that the HRD Minister Smriti Irani "misrepresented" the facts of the case by stating that the senior most Dalit professor actually headed the executive council sub-committee which took the decision to suspend the students, while it was headed by an "upper caste" Professor Vipin Srivastava.
"Such a baseless and misleading statement coming from Honourable Minister of HRD amounts to bringing down the morale of the Dalits holding administrative positions in this university as well as other universities...In response to the Honourable Minister's fabricated statements, we the Dalit (SC/ST) faculty and officers will lay down our administrative positions," the statement said.
When contacted, a senior faculty member told PTI, "We (faculty and other officials) are going to give up our administrative posts if the minister doesn't correct her statement."
The faculty body further said that it is unfortunate that since its inception, no Dalit representation has been given in the Executive Council of University of Hyderabad.
They said it was just a coincidence that the chief warden was a Dalit and he only implemented the orders of the higher authorities that proclaimed of suspension of five students, including Rohith.
"By deflecting this issue, the Honourable HRD Minister is absolving herself and the Honourable Minister Bandaru Dattatreya from being responsible for the death of Rohith Vemula," the teachers' body alleged.
Expressing solidarity with the agitating students of the varsity, they demanded immediate revocation of suspension and withdrawal of all police cases filed against the students.
The HCU had in September last year suspended the five students, including Rohith, for six months (entire semester) for allegedly assaulting ABVP leader Susheel Kumar in August.
But, the suspension was later revoked. However, in December, while allowing them to attend classes, the HCU had denied them access to the hostel.
The five research scholars, under the umbrella of a Joint Action Committee, had termed their "expulsion" (except classrooms and workshops related to subject of their study) from hostel as "undemocratic" and a "social boycott" and were forced to sleep in a make-shift tent on the campus.
After the alleged suicide of Rohith, the issue sparked strong reactions on the campus.
In the statement, HCU Vice-Chancellor Prof Appa Rao Podile, who is under attack over the issue, appealed to the university community to maintain calm and harmony under the extraordinary circumstances prevailing on the campus and repose faith in the internal mechanisms to resolve the issue.
He urged all in the university to contribute to resuming regular class work, research activities and administrative work without further delay.
Adding further political thrust to the agitation, which saw non-BJP party leaders making a beeline to the campus in the last few days, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal reached the campus on Thursday and called for removal of Union ministers Smriti Irani and Bandaru Dattatreya.
The research scholar's alleged suicide following his suspension snowballed into a major row with BJP's rivals wading into it and demanding the removal of Irani and and Labour Minister Dattatreya, accusing them of being responsible for the death.
The agitating students have been demanding resignation of Dattatreya, removal of Vice Chancellor, Rs five crore compensation to Rohith's family and employment to a member of his family, besides revocation of suspension of four students.
There are about 50 SC/ST faculty and officers working in the university, out of which 13 are holding administrative positions.
"We (13) have laid down our positions. We have sent letters to that extent. But the letters are yet to be accepted. This should not be called resignation", HCU’s Chief Medical Officer Ravindra Kumar said.
Rejecting the order of termination of suspension of four research scholars from hostel, the agitators said they will continue their protests as they burnt a copy of this order.
The protesting students insisted that the termination of suspension appeared to be conditional and that action should be taken in the case, involving Union Minister of State for Labour and Employment Bandaru Dattatreya, Vice-Chancellor Prof. Appa Rao Podile and others named in the FIR, besides fulfilling the demands like Rs five crore compensation to Rohit's family.
They noted that this order seemed to be just a circular from the Dean of Student Welfare in the backdrop of "extraordinary situation" in the university and asked if the suspension would be invoked again if the "extraordinary situation came to an end".
The HCU had in September last year suspended the four students D Prashant, P Vijay Kumar, Sheshaiah Chemudugunta and V Sunkanna -- and Vemula Rohit Chakravarthi, who committed suicide in a hostel room on the campus on January 17, for six months (entire semester) for allegedly assaulting ABVP leader Susheel Kumar the previous month.
But the suspension was revoked later. However,last month while allowing them to attend classes, the HCU had denied them access to hostel.
The five students had termed the "punishment" against them barring entry into hostel (they were however permitted to attend classes and workshops related to the subject of their study) as "undemocratic" and a "social boycott" which forced them to sleep in a make-shift tent on the campus.
Lending further political weight to the agitating students, who are demanding the resignation of Union Minister of State for Labour and Employment Bandaru Dattatreya, removal of the Vice-Chancellor, Rs five crore compensation to Rohit’s family and an employment to a member of his family, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal interacted with the agitating students and extended his support to their protests.
Senior CPI leaders Suravaram Sudhakar Reddy and D Raja were among the politicians who visited the campus to support the protesting students.
Accusing Irani of trying to play "dirty caste politics", Kejriwal demanded her removal from the Cabinet, along with Dattatreya.
Smriti Irani lied yesterday and tried to play dirty caste politics and try to play with emotions of students. We demand that she seek an apology from the entire country for that. We appeal to the Prime Minister to remove Irani and Dattatreya from his Cabinet", he said.
Kejriwal further demanded that Irani’s name be included in the FIR booked in connection with the case, and all those who figure in it be arrested. He alleged that Irani tried to play caste politics to make the ongoing row in the University as a "Dalit verses non-Dalit" issue.
In the HCU statement on revocation of suspension, the VC also appealed to the University community to maintain calmness and harmony under the extraordinary circumstances prevailing on the campus and repose faith in the internal mechanisms to resolve the issue.
He urged everyone to contribute to resuming regular class work, research activities and administrative work without further delay. He also called upon all the teachers, students, officers and supporting staff to rise to the occasion.
When asked why it took so long to revoke the suspension of the research scholars from the hostel, HCU Dean (Students’ Welfare), Prakash Babu, said: "Since the matter is pending before the High Court, we sought legal opinion from our lawyer for revocation. However, due to holiday for Sankranthi, we could not get legal opinion so quickly. Meanwhile, this unfortunate incident (Rohit’s suicide) happened".
"Now that we got the legal opinion and today the Executive Council decided to revoke the suspension”, he added, and claimed that he was not in agreement with the decision of the Proctorial Board which recommended punishment for the students.
"I told them it (the punishment decision) will work against the students. I requested all committee (Council) members to consider this when they were drafting the resolution”, Prakash Babu added.