Rohith Vemula (26), a second year PhD student at University of Hyderabad, committed suicide on Sunday evening. According to The New Indian Express report, Vemula was active in student politics, but had grown increasingly silent after the disciplinary action was initiated against him by the university. The Joint Action Committee (JAC) of various student groups said Rohith was highly depressed due to suspension and expulsion from the hostel.
According to the latest CNN IBN report, Union Minister Bandaru Dattatreya and University vice chancellor have been booked under SC/ST act. JNU students are protesting over this issue near the HRD ministry and have written a letter to Smriti Irani about the same, seeking resignation of the Hyderabad University's VC.
What led to the incident
This incident stems from an incident that occurred in August last year, the Ambedkar Students Association (ASA), along with Ambedkar Reading Group, University of Delhi, Ambedkar Periyar Study Circle, IIT Madras, ASA (TISS) in Mumbai and concerned students from IIT Bombay issued a joint statement condemning an Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) attack on screening of Muzaffarnagar Baaqi Hain. Later, ASA's University of Hyderabad chapter organised a protest demonstration.
According to Counter Currents, five dalit students were asked to vacate their accommodation in January 2016 and were asked to find different quarters for themselves. Their living spaces were locked by the hostel administration. One of the reasons cited for this was that the students opposed the death sentences awarded to Yakub Memon.
JAC said the student was hurt due to the social boycott. The research scholars were expelled from their hostel in December. They were denied access to hostels and other buildings on the campus except their classroom, library and conferences and workshops related to their subject of study. They were evicted from their rooms on January and since then they were forced to sleep in a makeshift tent on the campus.
he screening of Muzaffarnagar Baaqi Hain was stalled by the ABVP and according to the report on Counter Currents, derogatory remarks against ASA students were made on the Facebook page. When an apology was demanded, local BJP and RSS supporters pressurised the vice-chancellor of the university to expel the ASA leaders based on "false allegations".
This did not stick because of student protests. According to another report on Counter Currents on this issue, the students (Dontha Prashanth, Rohith Vemula, Vijay Kumar, Seshu Chemudugunta and Sunkanna) were also denied permission to participate in the student union elections.
After the then VC's retirement, new chancellor — Apparao — was appointed. Apparao promptly dismissed the students after receiving a letter from the HRD ministry. The move was recommended by Bandaru Dattatreya, Secunderabad MP and Minister of Labour and Employment, who called the ASA group "casteist, extremist and anti-national". Read the letter here.
The suicide and student politics
Vemula, the UoH student who committed suicide by hanging himself on the university campus on Sunday;
The used the blue banner of ASA for hanging. Vemula was known for his active participation in student politics. However, post the disciplinary action initiated against him by the varsity administration, he had grown extraordinarily silent. He along with four other suspended students had been staging protest on the campus for last 15 days. They were sleeping in open to protest expulsion from the hostel. On Sunday, Rohith left the camp to spend the day in NRS hostel room.
Pranay Rupani, a fellow PhD student who met with Vemula during the protests told Firstpost, "The University Administration could have handled this so much better and in the process saved the life of a young research scholar. The University is nothing like that, and the minister of labour and employment should be busy creating jobs not getting involved in a campus scuffles."
Criticising the way the university administration is trying to stifle dissent among students, Rupani added, "If we cannot have a free opinion in an informed deliberative space like a University then what is the use of a democracy, what is the use of my vote."
Shortly after the news of his suicide broke, various student activist groups have expressed their solidarity and support.
Ambedkar Periyar Circle tweeted:
— APSC (@ambedkarperiyar) January 17, 2016
According to this NDTV report, a group of students sat with Vemula's body all night and refused to allow a funeral unless the university authorities gave them a listen. A police team arrived later and took the body and eight students were arrested. Rupani mentioned that police lathi charged students, including the mother and sister who were present near the dead body. The police took the body away for post mortem after a scuffle.
Speaking to Firstpost, Rupani said that the university sent a letter stating the university will be closed without disclosing any information.
In his suicide letter, Vemula wrote that he "always wanted to be a writer. A writer of science, like Carl Sagan. At last, this is the only letter I am getting to write...Our feelings are second handed. Our love is constructed. Our beliefs colored. Our originality valid through artificial art. It has become truly difficult to love without getting hurt. The value of a man was reduced to his immediate identity and nearest possibility. To a vote. To a number. To a thing. Never was a man treated as a mind. As a glorious thing made up of star dust. In every field, in studies, in streets, in politics, and in dying and living."
Drawing attention to the fact that he had yet to receive a pending scholarship stipend — worth Rs 1,75,000, Vemula urged readers to ensure that the sum be disbursed to his family.
Read the entire letter:
With agency inputs