Why Smriti Irani should stop saving her skin and work for students’ welfare

By: Maitreyee Boruah
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When on Wednesday (January 20), the Human Resource Development Minister Smriti Irani tried to wash her hands of in the suicide of the Dalit research scholar Rohith Vemula; she looked more like an angry school principal, who had failed to address the concerns of the student community.

Why so much anger, HRD Minister?

The Union Minister addressed the media in Delhi, all guns blazing, furious that the BJP-led NDA government and her Ministry had come under the scanner for the tragic and untimely death of Rohith in Hyderabad.

Smriti Irani

At a time when calls for her resignation are growing, the HRD Minister thought of dousing the revolt with a press conference.

The venue of her press conference--the capital city--is another anomaly. It is thousand miles away from Hyderabad, the epicenter of the controversy.

Personal image takes precedence over students' plight?

When journalists asked her when she would visit the Hyderabad Central University, Irani dismissed the idea.

"I'm concerned that my presence there will be interpreted as interference," she said.

Her answer clearly indicated that Irani was more worried about saving her job and the reputation of her government, than the welfare of the protesting students.

No mention about Dalit dilemma

Nowhere in her address, Irani expressed her concern over the allegation of rising intolerance and discrimination of Dalit students in higher educational institutions.

Forget about showing any sympathy towards the students fighting for justice for Rohith, rather she reprimanded the protesting youngsters.

The actress-turned-politician simply brushed-off all the allegations of subjugation of Dalit students as mere "misrepresentation".

Malicious intent to present Rohith Vemula suicide as a caste battle, the BJP leader told.

Students Protest

Breaking her silence for the first-time on the controversy, Irani said, "I am compelled to come out today because there has been a malicious attempt to present this as a Dalit versus non-Dalit issue to ignite passions. The student (ABVP leader Nandanam Susheel Kumar) who was attacked was himself an OBC student."

"I would also like to point out that the suicide note of the student does not mention any political organisation or MP except Ambedkar Student Association of which he was himself a member," she added.

Might is right?

In order to show her strength and support base in her own party, the minister was flanked by Social Justice Empowerment Minister Thaawar Chand Gehlot and Minister of State for Commerce Nirmala Sitharaman.

In the past few days, several students' protests have erupted across the country, demanding justice for Rohith, who took the drastic step after being expulsed by the Hyderabad Central University.

The agitating students are vehemently opposing the prejudicial suspension of five young Dalit men pursuing PhDs, which included Rohith also.

Passing the buck

Role of Irani, vice-chancellor Appa Rao and Minister of State Labour and Employment Bandaru Dattatreya, is under scrutiny, as they allegedly worked in tandem to rusticate the five Dalit students and ruin their careers.

Last year, Dattatreya wrote a letter to HRD ministry stating the Dalit students were "anti-nationals". The letter was written after one ABVP leader was allegedly beaten by a Dalit group in the University.

Irani told media that standard operating procedure was followed in dealing with the case. She refrained from answering questions on suspension of students, saying the matter was "sub-judice".

The BJP leader also refused to say anything about the protests in the university campus citing it was a law and order situation and "out of her jurisdiction".

If the country's HRD Minister is so cold and distant from the realities of students' issues, who would stand for the rights of the youths?

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