Church leaders in India have provided support to the voices of the Dalit as they criticized the government's interference that eventually drove the Dalit research scholar Rohit Vermula to commit suicide on January 17. The student was enrolled at Hyderabad Central University in a Ph.D course. The 26-year-old's death led to protests by students across the country.
Blaming the tragedy on caste discrimination, The India Catholic bishop's Office for Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribes said in a statement release, "It is a shame for our democratic country that casteism took the life of a dalit scholar whose education could not save his dignity."
National Council of Churches in India Executive Secretary, Mr. Samuel Jayakumar termed the incident as another highlight of an intolerance in the country, made worse by "the government's policy of intolerance against minorities".
From the last seven months Vermula's scholarship money was withheld by the university after the government pressurized them over a case of attacking on a leader of the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), a BJP student's body. The leader alleged that four Dalit students including Vermula came into his room and attacked him. This led to the rustication of the students from the University. The matter did not end there as the HRD ministry led by Mrs Smriti Irani, a pro BJP Minister, put pressure on the university to withhold their scholarship.
Father Z. Devasagayaraj, Secretary of India bishops' Office for Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribes, said, that the oppression of the Dalit community is not new. He further explained that the term term "Scheduled Caste" and "Scheduled Tribes" are administrative concepts.
"If the dalits improve their status with education and good jobs, it will shake the caste hierarchy. This is unacceptable for higher caste people who do not want them to come up in life," he was quoted as saying.