Education

Rohith Vemula’s Family, Peers Cry Foul at Smriti Irani’s Claims

The HRD minister was “blatantly lying” in her parliamentary speeches, they allege

Smriti Irani LS

New Delhi: Speaking in both houses of parliament, HRD minister Smriti Irani has attempted to counter those questioning the government on Rohith Vemula’s suicide and the interventions made by ministers into what was an internal inquiry at the University of Hyderabad into an affray in which the Dalit student was involved. In an emotionally charged speech saying that she took the allegations against her personally, Irani constantly referred to 28-year-old research scholar Vemula as a ‘child’ and made several claims about how the events in UoH unfolded.

A few hours after Irani’s Lok Sabha speech, 150 students and supporters were detained by the police after a peaceful candlelight vigil at India Gate in Rohith’s memory.

In a press conference held on February 26, Rohiths’s mother and brother, and three other students who had been suspended from UoH with Rohith, refuted many of the statements she made and said she was misrepresenting the facts to “divert attention from the issue”. One of the suspended students, Vijay, said that Irani’s “cinematic and dramatic expressions” would not “make false statements true”.

Irani: “No police officials, doctors allowed into the room”

Irani claimed that students did not allow the police and doctors into the room after Rohith was found. She said no doctor was given a chance to revive the ‘child’ and the police was only allowed into the room the following morning.

However, the university medical officer on duty that evening, Dr. M Rajshree, has said that she was called when Rohith was found and reached the room within 4-5 minutes. She declared him deceased after she conducted an examination at the site. Rohith’s brother, Raja, adds that when he reached the site at 8:30 pm both the police and a doctor were already there. “On what basis is she saying that nobody was allowed inside the room?” he asked.

Irani quoted a Telangana police report, where in fact no mention of Dr. Rajshree and her examination is made. “The Telangana police is conniving with the Central government”, the suspended students said. “This is why we want a Special Investigation Team to look into the matter”.

Irani: “There was SC/ST representation in the inquiry board that suspended the students and expelled them from hostel”

This is yet another claim that Irani made that Rohith’s family and the other suspended students have called counter factual. “There were 11 members of the committee”, explained student Prashant Dhontha. “And not one of them was from the SC or ST community. We have the names of all 11 members”.

Irani also added that none of the people in the inquiry committee were BJP appointees, they had all been appointed during the UPA government. However, the students argue, this ignores the presence of the chairperson of the committee – UoH vice chancellor Appa Rao Podile. “He was chosen as the VC by the HRD ministry under Smriti Irani!” Dhontha said.

Also questioning Irani’s claim that Central government interventions did not interfere with the functioning of the internal committee, Dhontha quoted the committee’s report as saying that decisions were taken “in response to communication from the MHRD”.

Irani: “Vemula not a Dalit”

Rohith Vemula’s caste has been questioned by ministers including Irani and Bandaru Dattreya ever since the matter first began. “Don’t make this into a Dalit issue”, Irani said in the Lok Sabha. “A child has died, how can you use that for your politics? I saw him as a child, not as a Dalit student”.

Rohith’s mother, Radhika Vemula, said she and her children all had Dalit certificates. “In the name of caste inquiry, they harassed my adoptive mother repeatedly. She died of a heart attack. How many more people do you want to kill?” Radhika Vemula asked.

“Only a magistrate is a competent authority to determine a person’s caste”, Dhontha added.

Irani: “Doing her duty”

Irani also said in her speech that she was “doing her duty” the entire time, and “would not apologise for that”. Questioning what she thinks her duty is, the students and a statement from the Joint Action Committee for Social Justice, University of Hyderabad (JAC-UoH) asked why the facts have been so blatantly misrepresented.

Dhontha also brought up a letter Rohith had written to the VC on December 18. In the letter, he goes on to describe the situation of Dalit students on the campus and says given how things are, it would be better to serve Dalit students 10 mg of Sodium Azide at the time of their admission, and a rope for all their rooms. For those (including himself) for whom it is already too late as they have learnt about Dalit self-respect, he requested facilities of euthanasia. “Rohith could not sustain the victimhood imposed on him”, Dhontha said. “In spite of Rohith writing letters like this, the VC never informed me”, Radhika Vemula said. “Till date, he has never met me, nor explained the reasons for Rohith’s suspension”.

“Smriti Irani read out so many documents that suited her, including Rohith’s Facebook post crticising [CPI(M) leader] Sitaram Yechury. Why was no mention made of this letter or his criticism of the BJP and ABVP?” asked Seshriya, the third of the suspended students present. “The real issues are being ignored. Is the government scared?”

The JAC-UoH statement talk about out how the students’ anguish was heightened by interventions from government ministers. “By dubbing dissent as anti-national, [the government is] criminalising students everywhere”. Radhika Vemula adds: “How can they dub students as anti-national and extremist? I demand an explanation. A mother’s pain at this branding can’t be expressed”.

This branding was not addressed by Irani in her speech.