#RohithVemula family, friends call Smriti Irani out on her 'lies'
One of the key objectives behind the NDA regime's crackdown on JNU's "anti-national" students, a rather compelling argument goes, was to deflect public attention from Rohith Vemula's suicide and the troubling questions raised by it.
On 26 February, Rohith's family and friends sought to push back against this attempt -- of late led by HRD Minister Smriti Irani -- to fog the memory of the Hyderabad Central University scholar, and of the cause he lived and died for.
Rohith's mother Radhika Vemula, brother Raja as well as friends Dontha Prashant and Vijay Kumar held a press conference in Delhi to refute Irani's claims, made in the parliament on 24-25 February, about Rohith's suicide.
They said the Narendra Modi regime was hell bent on diverting attention from the issues surrounding Rohith's suicide by levelling false allegations and maligning Rohith's friends and colleagues.
Here's their point-by-point rebuttal of the HRD minister's claims:
Irani's claim: "No one allowed a doctor near this child, to revive this child. Instead, his body was used as a political tool. No police was allowed till 6:30 am the following morning. Who tried to help this child?"
Rebuttal: The university's medical officer Dr M Rajshree, who was on duty that day, rushed to NRS hostel within four minutes of the Dalit scholar's body being found, and declared him dead.
The police, including the circle inspector and the assistant commissioner, were allowed immediate access to the hostel room where Rohith had hung himself.
Irani's claim: It was an SC/ST member of the university's executive committee, presumably the chief warden, who took the decision to suspend Rohith and four other Dailt scholars and ban them from the hostel.
Rebuttal: This is a lie. The executive committee didn't have a single SC/ST member. The chief warden was indeed a Dalit but he wasn't part of the committee.
Irani's claim: The central government did not interfere with the university's investigation against the scholars or the committee decision to suspend them. "The people on the committee which suspended Rohith Vemula was not appointed by our government, but by the UPA regime," Irani told the parliament.
Rebuttal: This is false. The executive committee which suspended the five Dalit scholars, forcing them to live in tents on the campus, was headed by the vice-chancellor Prof Appa Rao Podile. He had been recently appointed by the BJP regime.
Irani's claim: Caste had nothing to do with Rohith's suicide.
Rebuttal: He was persecuted because he was a Dalit and was engaged in the struggle against caste oppression. As for the claim that he wasn't really a Dalit, it's a blatant lie.
If Rohith's caste wasn't an issue, why did the ACP who first investigated the case ask for his caste certificate? And why is Irani insisting that the five scholars were suspended by an SC/ST member of the executive committee?
"We are absolutely certain that the Telangana police, in connivance with the central government, issued false statements to the high court, statements that Smriti Irani later read out in the parliament," Rohith's brother said.
Prashant alleged that the facts of the case had been deliberately distorted and fabricated by the central government to underplay Rohith's Dalit identity.
Rohith's family and friends called the government out on many other claims as well. Such as:
There was "outright political intervention" from the ABVP, the BJYM and the BJP in the case.
A BJP Member of Telangana's Legislative Council, Ramachandra Rao, "misused his position to threaten" the university's administration to take action against the Dalit scholars or else get ready to be "taught a lesson by outsiders".
The union minister Bandaru Dattatreya's letter to Irani levelled "atrocious, baseless and utterly false allegations" against members of the Ambedkar Students Association. In it, he branded the Hyderabad Central University as a "den of casteists, extremists and anti-nationals".
Rohith and his four friends was forced out of even the university's common space by the administration. "We were not allowed to use hostels, administrative buildings, we were not allowed to participate in student body elections," Prashant said. "What we dealt with was gross injustice."
"When I went to the university, no one, not even the vice-chancellor met me," added Rohith's mother.
She ended the press conference by appealing to the prime minister to "take appropriate action against Smriti Irani".