Two days after the government dismissed the caste angle to the Dalit student’s suicide at Hyderabad Central University, the HRD Ministry went into damage-control mode and announced a judicial commission to look into circumstances that led to Rohith Vemula’s death.
The commission will also consider a host of measures to reach out to “socially, economically and educationally disadvantaged students”, including a sensitisation programme on campus discrimination for staff and heads of all centrally funded educational institutions.
This development came against the backdrop of the report submitted by the fact-finding committee to HRD Minister Smriti Irani on Friday on Vemula’s suicide. The minister also spoke to Vemula’s mother and brother in the morning to offer her condolences.
Although the contents of the report were not made public, it is learnt that the committee, apart from listing facts and sequence of events, has observed that the university could have handled the matter more sensitively. The panel, however, has refrained from finding fault with the university’s vice-chancellor Prof Appa Rao Podile.
The committee is said to have also pointed out that the student’s suicide was not an isolated incident and that the university has had problems before and needs systemic reforms to build a conducive environment for all students. The fact-finding panel recorded the deposition of 71 people.
Although the report doesn’t fix responsibility for Vemula’s death, the government is reportedly unhappy with Rao for “mishandling the situation on campus” and moving out of the university to an undisclosed location instead of reaching out to the students after the news of Vemula’s suicide surfaced on Sunday evening.
“Even the report shows that the situation could have been brought under control by the administration. The Centre has been forced to fire fight on his behalf,” said a government source.
Sources indicate that Rao could be informally asked to tender his resignation on moral grounds if the campus unrest continues.
The HRD Ministry will write to the Registrar of the Telangana High Court this week for a panel of three names to constitute the judicial commission announced on Friday. It will be headed by either a retired judge or chief justice of a High Court, sources said. The report will be submitted in three months.
To address the issue of discrimination on campus, the government will issue a special charter to all centrally funded institutions. These universities and institutions will also have to run a mandatory orientation programme to sensitise all “academic administrators about understanding and handling problems faced by socially, educationally and economically disadvantaged students.” A module will be prepared for this orientation.
That apart, the ministry also promised to set up a cell in its office to receive complaints from such students and take quick action on their grievances.
“All VCs and senior administrators would be sensitised to reach out to socially, economically and educationally disadvantaged students. There should be zero tolerance for any acts of discrimination on campus,” the ministry’s press release states.
“The Peer-group Assisted Learning (PAL) of IIT Gandhinagar would be extended to all the HEIs, under which mentors would be arranged for the socially, economically and educationally disadvantaged students not only to assist them in education, but to support them with regards to challenges being faced by them within their institutions,” the press statement added.