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Dalit activists call for Irani and Bandaru Dattatreya’s removal

New Delhi(PTI): Calling the suicide of Dalit student Rohith Vemula at the University of Hyderabad (UoH) part of a systemic problems that Dalit students face, leading Dalit activists in New Delhi called for the removal of the Union HRD minister Smriti Irani, vice chancellor of Uoh P Appa Rao and labour minister Bandaru Dattatreya from their posts. Addressing the media, activists such as Ashok Bharti of National Confederations of Dalit Organisations (NACDOR), V Srinivas Rao of the Dalit Shoshnan Mukti Manch, Paul Divakar of the National Campaign for Dalit Human Rights, said that both men had been named in the police FIR after Vemula’s suicide, Dattatreya being booked for abetment, they should not hold office.

They also asked for Irani to go, as her role is in question after news broke that the MHRd had written repeatedly to UoH asking for the suspension of five Dalit students, including Vemula, to be upheld.

Vemula’s death caused by the state, said Bharti, was part of a list of staggering numbers of Dalit atrocities that Nacdor complied — 6,74,619 in the past 25 years.

The activists also called for the government to form judicial commissions to look into the many problems faced by Dalit students across campuses in the country, most crucially that of scholarships, and ensure that SC/ST positions in faculties are filled. Vemula himself had not received his scholarship money since July 2015, Rs 25,000 per month, something he mentioned in his suicide note, asking people to ensure his family got the “one lakh, seventy five thousand rupees” owed to him. This was apparently due to bureaucratic red-tapism, when Vemula switched streams from Life Sciences to Science and Technology, and the university neglected to sort it out.

The activists asked for the suspension of the remaining four Dalit students to be lifted and they be allowed access to the university hostel and other facilities, ending the social boycott against them, in place for allegedly manhandling the ABVP president.

As Bharti told dna, authorities needed to support and understand the struggles of these students, many like Vemula first generation college students. “They deserve to be treated as scholars, who will play an important role in India’s development and future. We’re not asking for special treatment only for dignity,”said Bharti after the press conference.

The activists said they asked for this level of government intervention as Vemula’s suicide was anything but a one off incident, similar to the suicides of Dalit students at All India Institute of Medical Sciences in 2008 and in 2010, at IIT Roorkee in 2011. The entire system needs to be probed, they said, and sporadic reactions after each incident wouldn’t solve anything.

Describing how Dalit students are discriminated against on campus, Bharti said that higher studies scholars don’t even get proper guides. When they do, these guides are not interested in teaching them or supporting their scholarship. Instead, they further suppress the students.