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Rohith Vemula suicide: JNU students begin indefinite hunger strike

A group of students of Jawaharlal Nehru University launched an indefinite hunger strike here demanding justice for Rohith Vemula, amid growing outrage over the alleged suicide by the Dalit research scholar at Hyderabad Central University. Three students of the varsity — Suchishree, Lenin Kumar and Shubhanshu — have decided to sit on the fast to express solidarity with students who were on an indefinite hunger strike at Hyderabad University.

Rohith Vemula

Seven students were forcibly hospitalised on Saturday on the fourth day of the stir at the Hyderbad University. A group of another seven students today sat on an indefinite hunger strike. Other students from JNU will join the trio for a relay hunger strike over the issue, said Lenin Kumar, former president of JNU’s students union. “The environment in which Rohith was forced to kill himself is faced by millions of Dalit students who manage to reach higher education with great difficulty in our country. His suicide note will remain a powerful testimony to how our higher education system has institutionalized discrimination and hardships for Dalits,” he said.

Suchishree, who has also written an open letter to the government, said, “The only political motive that I have as a political individual is that no more institutional murders should take place in this country. This indefinite hunger strike, I do not see as an appeal to the state, but as a mean to regain from the state the basic human dignity that is rightfully ours.” Various student groups have been protesting over the issue in the national capital since last week. 26-year-old Vemula Rohit, a Dalit PhD scholar, was found hanging at the Central University’s hostel room on January 17.

He was among the five research scholars who were suspended by Hyderabad Central University (HCU) in August last year and also one of the accused in the case of assault on an ABVP student leader. They were also kept out of the hostel. The suspension was revoked later. Union Labour Minister Bandaru Dattatreya and Hyderabad University Vice Chancellor were named in an FIR over the death of the scholar, which triggered massive protests and demands for their removal from their posts. The issue also took a political turn with allegations that the extreme action was a result of discrimination against Dalit students after Dattatreya had written a letter to Union HRD Minister Smriti Irani seeking action against their “anti-national acts”.

In a bid to defuse the raging controversy, the Centre had last week decided to set up a judicial commission to go into the Dalit student’s suicide in Hyderabad University, which announced an ex-gratia payment of Rs.8 lakh to his family but protests continued. Even as Prime Minister Narendra Modi broke his silence and expressed grief over the death of Vemula, the students are demanding the removal of Union Ministers Smriti Irani and Bandaru Dattatreya and the Vice Chancellor.

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