Judicial panel to probe student suicide, PM breaks silence (Roundup)

New Delhi/Hyderabad/Lucknow, Jan 22 (IANS) The central government on Friday decided to set up a judicial commission to probe the suicide of a Dalit student in Hyderabad as Prime Minister Narendra Modi, breaking his silence, said he was saddened by the tragedy.

Hyderabad University, where Rohith Vemula committed suicide on January 17 and which remained shut for the fifth straight day on Friday, announced Rs. 8 lakh as ex gratia assistance to the bereaved family.

At the campus, students continued their indefinite protest seeking the resignation of Vice Chancellor Appa Rao over the suicide which has sparked widespread anger.

The students say Rao drove Vemula to suicide by suspending him from the university and stopping his stipend after a leader of the ABVP, the RSS student wing, alleged assault by Vemula and his Dalit friends.

The union human resource development ministry meanwhile decided to set up a judicial commission to probe the incident. It will submit its report in three months.

The ministry took the decision after a fact-finding committee which went to the university submitted its report.

The judicial commission will “review the entire sequence of events and the circumstances and establish the facts and correctives in the context of the university”, said an official statement.

Human Resource Development Minister Smriti Irani on Friday also spoke to the mother of Vemula over telephone and extended her condolences.

The ministry also took a decision to address the issues faced by the students from disadvantaged social, economic and educational backgrounds in higher educational institutions.

The university announced Rs.8 lakh as ex gratia assistance to Vemula’s family. The protesting students had demanded a compensation of Rs.5 crore.

The decision came a day after the university revoked the suspension of four Dalit students who along with Vemula were suspended last year.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Friday broke his silence on Vemula’s suicide, saying he was deeply saddened by the tragedy.

In a speech at the 6th convocation of the Babasaheb Bhimrao Ambedkar University in Lucknow, he choked while referring to the scholar’s death.

“I am not going into the reasons, the politics of the issue, but I empathize with the family which has lost so much,” he said as tears welled up in his eyes.

At the event, two students raised slogans against the prime minister as Home Minister Rajnath Singh concluded his speech and Modi rose to speak.

The students, who shouted “Go back Modi”, were whisked away by police.

In Hyderabad University, there was no let up in the protests by students. An indefinite strike by seven students continued for a third day on Friday.

The students have ignored an appeal by the vice chancellor to return to classes.

Leaders of various political parties continued to visit the campus to express solidarity with the students and to demand action against central ministers Bandaru Dattatreya and Irani for meddling in the affairs of the university leading to the suicide.

CPI-M MP T.N. Seema alleged that the Modi government was trying to keep Dalits away from institutions of higher education.

Janata Dal-United leader K.C. Tyagi said a free and fair investigation into the suicide would not be possible as long as Irani and Dattatreya remained in their posts.

(Mohammed Shafeeq can be contacted at m.shafeeq@ians.in)

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