Lucknow/Varanasi, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Friday said he was deeply saddened by the suicide of Dalit student Rohith Vemula and added that corruption had fallen since he took office in May 2014.
In a speech at the Babasaheb Bhimrao Ambedkar University in Lucknow, Modi choked while referring to Vemula’s death on January 17 in Hyderabad University after being suspended for allegedly assaulting an ABVP leader.
After a pause, Modi said, tears welling up in his eyes: “I am not going into the reasons, the politics of the issue. But I empathise with the family which has lost so much.”
Youngsters should not take such drastic steps, he said.
Just before the prime minister began his speech, two students shouted slogans such as “Go back Modi”. Police officers quickly whisked them away.
This is the first time Modi has publicly spoken about Vemula’s suicide, which has triggered widespread anger. The research scholar – son of a farm worker – was one of five Dalit students suspended by the university for the alleged assault on an ABVP leader.
The suicide has led to a police complaint against Modi’s ministerial colleague Bandaru Dattatreya and the university’s vice chancellor, P. Appa Rao, among others.
Speaking earlier in Varanasi, his Lok Sabha constituency, the prime minister said corruption had come down considerably since he took office in May 2014 as his government had “tightened nuts and bolts”.
He said he had also eliminated middlemen from government work, and that welfare schemes were being implemented faster and other projects too were being fast-tracked.
Modi’s comments came after he gave away 15,746 special aid equipment to 9,296 differently abled people at the DLW grounds. These included tri-cycles, crutches, wheelchairs, digital hearing kits and artificial limbs, an official told IANS.
Modi called for a new mindset towards the differently abled, saying the Hindi word ‘viklang’ (disabled) should be replaced with ‘divyang’ (endowed with special faculties).
He added that his government had been working for the betterment of the poor.
“We are constantly thinking about how development will reach the poor and how the lives of the poor will be transformed.”
Ahead of the meeting, the prime minister flagged off the Mahamana Superfast Express train which will link Varanasi and New Delhi thrice a week. The train will start plying from January 25.
Modi also paid glowing tributes to Babasaheb Ambedkar, a Dalit icon who is widely seen as a key architect of the Indian constitution.
In his Lucknow address, the prime minister said that Ambedkar’s life was a lesson in how education could be a tool for empowerment.
Ambedkar, Modi said, suffered a lot of humiliation in his formative years but used that experience to overcome the many hurdles he faced.
“While he was the first Indian to do a doctorate in economics abroad, he chose the country, the welfare of its people over his self-promotion and gave India so much,” he said to applause.
Modi said the key to Ambedkar’s success was that he did not waste time complaining but rather used the challenges he faced to strengthen his will to succeed.