Opposition parties on Tuesday hit out at the NDA government for what it termed as injustice to the student community and alleged that it was the Union government that should be held responsible for the suicide of Dalit PhD scholar Rohith Vemula.
The ‘Chalo Delhi’ rally, organised by the Joint Action Committee for Social Justice (JACSJ), saw thousands of students – some travelling from Hyderabad – march from Ambedkar Bhawan in Jhandewalan to Jantar Mantar, where politicians took centre-stage, demanding that Prime Minister Narendra Modi sack his Cabinet colleagues for ‘their role’ in the ‘institutional murder’ of Rohith. Also present at the rally were Rohith’s mother Radhika, his brother Raja, and Prakash Ambedkar, the grandson of Dr BR Ambedkar.
Rohith was found hanging at the Hyderabad Central University on 17 January. He was among five research scholars who were suspended by Hyderabad Central University (HCU) in August 2015 and also one of the accused in a case of assault on a student leader. In his suicide note, he refused to hold anyone responsible for his death, saying “I feel a growing gap between my soul and my body. And I have become a monster.”
Among the politicians present at the rally were Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi, CPI(M) General Secretary Sitaram Yechury, CPI leader D Raja and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal.
“We need a law which doesn’t let students’ voices in colleges and universities be stifled. I spoke about this when I went to Hyderabad and we’re discussing this in the Congress party,” Rahul said, hitting out at the Modi government for attempting to force down one ideology among the masses.
CPI leader D Raja, whose daughter has been accused of participating in an ‘anti-national’ rally questioned the BJP’s talk of nationalism, saying they (the RSS and the ABVP) were nowhere when the Left and Congress fought for independence.
“They keep saying ‘Mother India’… who is this Mother India? How do they define this Mother India? The real Mother India is Rohith’s mother,” Raja said, adding that he was happy to be termed as ‘anti-national’ for fighting back against ‘Right-wing fundamentalism’.
CPI(M)’s Yechury hit out at the government for not including anything about the on-ongoing protests in President Pranab Mukherjee’s joint address to Parliament, saying he will raise the issue in Rajya Sabha and ask for an amendment.
Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal said it was important that the government pass the ‘Rohith Bill’ – that seeks to prevent suicides of ST, SC, OBCs and minority students in universities.
Accusing Prime Minister Narendra Modi of starting a war against students, Kejriwal said: “I had said earlier, ‘Modiji students se pange mat lena’ (don’t mess with students). Otherwise, they will rock your government and you won’t have a clue”.
Swaraj Abhiyan leader Yogendra Yadav and Narmada Bachao Andolan leader Medha Patkar also spoke at the rally.
What are the demands?
The students’ organisation has demanded the immediate passing of the ‘Rohith Bill’ that seeks to prevent student suicides, with a focus on those belonging to minority communities.
The JACSJ, which now has the backing of various student unions including the NSUI, SFI and CYSS, has also demanded that the cases against students be dropped and that the government initiate action against Union Ministers B Bandaru Dattatreya and Smriti Irani. They have also demanded that the Hyderabad Central University Vice Chancellor Appa Rao – currently on leave – be sacked.
Impact on Budget session
On Wednesday, day two of the Budget session of Parliament, Opposition MPs will press for a discussion on the suicide case as well as the alleged political highhandedness in the JNU controversy, where students have been charged with sedition.
Interestingly, BJP MP Meenakshi Lekhi on Monday gave notice in Lok Sabha to discuss the JNU controversy, perhaps indicating that the government was ready to discuss all issues to save the session from resulting in a whitewash.
In Rajya Sabha, where the government lacks a majority, Opposition MPs are set to take on the treasury benches and demand that a discussion on the JNU row and Rohith’s suicide be held before that on the President’s Monday address.