Hyderabad: The protest over the suicide of a Dalit research scholar in University of Hyderabad intensified with Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi joining the agiators at the campus on Saturday.
Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi ineracts with students agitating over Rohith Vemula's death at University of Hyderabad on Saturday. Pic/PTI
For more than 12 hours, Rahul Gandhi sat with students and the family members of Rohith Vemula who are on hunger strike, demanding justice.
He also participated in a candlelight vigil after midnight and spent the night on the campus. He remained seated along with the students at the protest venue near Shopping Complex to mark the birth anniversary of Rohith Vemula, who committed suicide two weeks ago.
He was seated with four Dalit students who were suspended along with Rohith and also Rohith's mother and brother.
Dozens of other students are also on a day-long hunger strike to press the demand for the resignation of Vice Chancellor Appa Rao and action against him and others responsible for the suicide.
"I am here today at the request of Rohith's friends and family, to stand with them in their fight for justice," tweeted Rahul Gandhi, who visited the campus for the second time in less than a week.
"A young life full of dreams and aspirations was cut short," he tweeted. While paying tributes to Mahatma Gandhi on his death anniversary, Gandhi commented 'we owe it to him, to the memory of Gandhiji and to every single Indian student who dreams of an India free from prejudice and injustice."
Former Lok Sabha speaker P. A. Sangma, workers of the Youth Congress, National Students Union of India (NSUI), students from Jawaharlal Nehru University, Film and Television Institute of India and various universities also joined the mass hunger strike.
President of Telangana unit of the Congress party, Uttam Kumar Reddy and party workers were arrested near the campus when they staged a protest against the BJP-led government's inaction in Rohith Vemula's case.
Police beefed up security on the campus in view of the call given by the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) to protest Rahul's visit. The student group has called for a shutdown of educational institutions across Telangana to protest what it calls the attempts of the Congress leader to play politics over the suicide.
About 50 ABVP workers were arrested shortly after midnight when they tried to stop Rahul's convoy at the university's main gate.
Rahul had visited the campus on January 19, two days after Rohith committed suicide.
The university remained shut since the student committed suicide with Joint Action Committee (JAC) for social justice continuing their protest.
The attempts by the administration to conduct classes over last two days met with stiff resistance from the JAC, which comprises 14 students' groups.
Interim Vice Chancellor Vipin Srivastava, who had claimed on Thursday that normalcy will be restored soon, proceeded on leave.
The university announced the next seniormost professor, A M. Periasamy, will perform the duties of the vice chancellor of the university till further orders.
Srivastava had taken over as incharge VC only a week ago after Vice Chancellor P. Appa Rao proceeded on indefinite leave in the wake of students' demand for his resignation.
However, the students refused to accept Srivastava as the interim vice chancellor as he had headed a sub-committee of the executive council which suspended five Dalit students following an alleged clash with a leader of ABVP. The JAC alleged that he was also involved in a case of suicide of Senthil Kumar, a Dalit research scholar, in 2008.
JAC has also given a call for 'chalo Delhi' on February 4. The students plan to march from Mandi House to ministry of human resources development.
The next day a protest meet will be organised at the Jantar Mantar and they will seek appointment to meet President Pranab Mukherjee.
The JAC also launched 'postcard to President' campaign. Students, faculty, workers and all concerned individuals on campus and across the country will send postcards to the president to demand justice to Rohith.
The students' groups are demanding arrest of vice chancellor, central minister Bandaru Dattatreya and two ABVP leaders booked on January 18.