New Delhi, Feb 23 (IANS) A solidarity march to condemn the “institutional killing” of Dalit research scholar Rohith Vemula on Tuesday drew support from thousands including students and faculty members of various universities, Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal and Left leaders.
Students, activists, party leaders and faculty members took out a march from Ambedkar Bhawan to Jantar Mantar in support of the 26-year-old Vemula, who committed suicide on January 17 after being suspended from the University of Hyderabad, and demanded action against central ministers Smriti Irani, Bandaru Dattatreya and others.
Five Dalit students, including Vemula, were suspended in September following a clash with a leader of the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP). Dattatreya, who is the MP from Secundrabad, had written to Irani, the human resource development minister, seeking action against the students, following which they were suspended.
Vemula’s family members, friends and teachers were also joined by senior Communist leaders including Sitaram Yechury, D. Raja, Kavita Krishnan and several Aam Aadmi Party leaders including Ashutosh.
Members of the Congress-affiliated National Students’ Union of India (NSUI), the Bahujan Samaj Party and the Aam Aadmi Party students’ wing Chhatra Yuva Sangharsh Samiti (CYSS) also participated in the solidarity march along with students of Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), Delhi University (DU) and University of Hyderabad.
Kejriwal, who addressed the rally at Jantar Mantar, accused the central ministers of “driving Vemula to suicide”.
“Till today, the two ministers have not been questioned. The ministers who drove Rohith Vemula to commit suicide are roaming freely and no action taken against them. The culprits should be immediately arrested and investigation initiated against them,” he demanded.
Accusing the Narendra Modi-led government of being at “war with the students of the country”, he warned the prime minister against such a course.
“Modiji, don’t mess with students. If they get together, they’ll shake your chair in such a way that you won’t forget ever,” he said.
Kejriwal also requested the government not to “interfere” in academic affairs. “Leave the educational institutes to the educationists. Do not interfere in it.”
As a man was seen raising ‘Aarakshan virodhi Kejriwal’ slogan when Kejriwal addressed the rally, the Delhi chief minister, instead of intervening, said that he should be allowed to protest.
“Let him protest. We believe in freedom of expression. When did I say I am against reservations? I have always supported them,” he said.
Hitting hard at the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), Gandhi said that it was robbing students and thinkers of their freedom of expression and dissent.
“RSS and BJP want to impose one language one ideology on everyone throughout the country. They don’t want other ideas and traditions to flourish but we don’t want our India to be like this. We want crores of ideas, crores of ideologies, an India where creativity flourishes,” he said.
Gandhi also demanded a law against discrimination in educational institutions across the country.
“What happened to Rohith has not happened to him exclusively…. many students across the educational institutes face discrimination. Our girls are suppressed, Dalits are discriminated against and tribals are repressed,” he said.