Rohith Vemula
Picture: Radhika, mother of Rohith Vemula - a Dalit research scholar of the University of Hyderabad who allegedly hanged himself to death after he was expelled from his hostel - during a press conference in New Delhi, on Feb 26, 2016.IANS

Minister for Human Resource Development (HRD) Smriti Irani has been criticised over her statements in Parliament about Rohith Vemula, the Dalit scholar from University of Hyderabad, by his mother. Vemula allegedly committed suicide Jan. 17 in a hostel in Hyderabad's central university.

While she faced the heat of the Opposition in Parliament Friday, Vemula's friends and family also lashed out against her, claiming she "lied" during the Budget session about his scholarship.

'False statements'

Vemula, a PhD student, was given Rs 3,19,029 as scholarship and the last stipend of Rs 54,000 was given to him Nov. 20, 2015,  Irani, in response to a question posed by Bahujan Samaj Party leader Mayawati, said Friday afternoon in the Rajya Sabha.

"There was some money pendency issue...that arose from some paperwork that the deceased was yet to file. That Rohith was devoid of any fellowship money is an incorrect impression," she added.

However, her statements were refuted by Vemula's friend and family members at a press conference Friday evening. "Smriti Irani is lying. He (Vemula) did not receive stipend for seven months," Daily News & Analysis quoted his mother Radhika Vemula as saying.

At the press conference, she also sought explanation from the HRD ministry for calling Vemula "anti-national" and "extremist". "Letters that were forwarded from the HRD ministry indicated that students were branded 'anti-national' and extremists. I demand an explanation as to how my son became 'anti-national' and 'extremist'," ANI quoted Radhika as saying.

A friend of Rohith present at the press conference sought action against Irani for making "false" statements. "We want to expose the false words being propagated by minister Smriti Irani in Parliament. Why is no action being taken against Smriti Irani, who is repeatedly giving false statements?" DNA quoted him as saying.

He claimed Vemula had written a letter to the University of Hyderabad (UoH) vice-chancellor (V-C), saying he was going to commit suicide.

"Rohith Vemula's letter to the UoH V-C that he would commit suicide stands testimony to the lies being spread," the Indian Express quoted Vemula's friend as saying.

According to last month's IE report, Rohith sought "euthanasia facilities" for students in a letter addressed to V-C P Appa Rao after the suspenion of five Dalit scholars, including him, was upheld.

"First, let me praise your dedicated take on the self-respecting movement of Dalits in campus. When an ABVP president got questioned about his derogatory remarks on Dalits, your kind personal interference into the issue is historic and exemplary, (sic)" Vemula had written. "I request your highness to make preparations for the facility 'euthanasia' for students."

Row over caste

Further commenting on the claims that Vemula was not a Dalit, the friend was quoted as saying by ANI: "On the caste status of Rohith Vemula, she (Irani) and Thawar Chand Gehlot were referring to reports submitted by the ACP (Assistant Commissioner of Police). He is not a competent authority to investigate the caste of a person.

"The mother of Rohith Vemula, who belongs to Scheduled Caste, grandmother of Rohith who adopted his mother, is also a Scheduled Caste. They both have deposed before the magistrate. Let inquiry take place. There is already a caste certificate which states that Rohith belonged to Scheduled Caste," he said.

He also lashed out at the Irani for saying there was an SC/ST members in the panel that expelled Vemula and four other Dalit scholars in connection with a clash with ABVP students on the campus.

"She said the committee that suspended us and expelled us from hostels, from entry into common places and from entering the administrative building, had an SC/ST representative. This was not true because the decision was taken in the executive council which does not have a single SC/ST representative. This was fake news that was spread by her," ANI quoted the friend as saying.

Earlier in the Rajya Sabha, Irani had responded to Mayawati's questions on the absence of Dalit members in the university's panels. 

"Proctoral board, August 10, 2015, when the decision (to expel five Dalit scholars) was taken, had SC/ST community and also a woman representative. Executive council Nov. 27, which made the decision of not allowing certain students to stay in the hostel also had an specially co-opted member of the SC community who additionally was also the dean of the students' welfare. Hence, the indication that nobody from the SC community was co-opted in any of the processes within the university system is also an incorrect charge, (sic)" Irani said in the Parliament Friday.

Mayawati, however, said she was unsatisfied with Irani's response. "She told me if I am not satisfied with her response she would chop her head off and place it on my feet. I am not satisfied with her response, so she should give me her head, but I am sure she will not do such a thing," ANI quoted Mayawati as saying.

Telangana Police report on doctor's examination

Irani Wednesday said in Parliament no one allowed a doctor near Rohith to "revive" him, and no policeman was allowed till 6:30 a.m. on Jan. 18. The minister's statement was refuted the next day by UoH's Chief Medical Officer M Rajshree, who claimed to have declared the student dead the evening of Jan. 17.

The HRD minister had said her statement was based on the Telangana Police's report. However, the Telangana Police report does not mention anything about doctors being prevented from examining Rohith's body after he was found hanging in a hostel room of UoH, IBN Live reports.

The report said some students prevented the police from taking the body for investigation.

 [1 lakh = 100,000 | 1 crore = 10 million | 100 crore = 1 billion]