On Tuesday, Hyderabad Central University vice-chancellor P Appa Rao — currently under judicial probe in the Rohith Vemula case — returned to campus after his two-month-long leave. Students of the university protested outside Rao's lodge in campus. Some students were dragged outside the premises and a few among the group then threw stones at the police bandobast.
Students ransacked and vandalised the office of the vice-chancellor and there was a lot of damage caused to the Rao’s campus residence, according to this earlier report on Firstpost. A section of students barged into his residence, broke window panes, smashed doors, television and other items while shouting slogans against Rao resuming his duties as vice-chancellor.
On the allegations from a few student groups that AVBP members were part of the meeting with VC Appa Rao which triggered the protests, G. Gurajada, state executive member of the Telangana ABVP told Firstpost that none of the ABVP members were inside the meeting. "We don't have a problem with VC Appa Rao. Inside the meeting a few life sciences students were there and lab partners," he said.
The university has been under complete lockdown and there has been a deliberate media blackout. On Wednesday, JNUSU leader, Kanhaiya Kumar arrived in Hyderabad and met with Vemula’s mother. University authorities prevented Kumar from entering the campus as well. He addressed the students at the gate, "I came from JNU to HCU to support Rohith Vemula's cause...we have to fulfil Rohith Vemula's dreams. And social justice has to be brought to the country. The government is not listening to the voice of the students."
To recap, Rao is accused of abetting Vemula’s suicide by suspending him and four other students from the university hostel for allegedly beating a student from ABVP. Vemula and the others were socially boycotted from the university and their source of income (stipend) was allegedly also cut off. The suicide went on to become a huge student movement seeking justice for Dalits and highlighting the alleged caste discrimination prevalent in higher education. The Joint Action Committee (JAC) along with the students of University of Hyderabad took a “Chalo Dilli” yatra and held protests at Jantar Mantar, New Delhi in the wake of the JNU controversy.
Random arrests, police brutality and cold treatment from university
After the vandalism occurred on Tuesday, Aishwarya Suresh, a 4th year IMA student said that students gathered outside Rao’s residence seeking to speak to him. She told Firstpost, “How could he come back? It was on all our minds, but we only wanted to speak to him. He was not given a clean chit by the judicial probe, we wanted to know how he could come back. JAC wanted to open a dialogue with him, that’s all.”
According to Aishwarya, a few students pelted stones and the situation took a bad turn as the police started chasing everyone down and rounded up people who were walking by. “Political science professor KY Ratnam was arrested, students under 18 years of age and in their first years were also arrested. Shobha, a professor in the Physics department of the university was also roughed up,” said Akshita, another student in the university who witnessed the protests. “They chased all of us down, my batchmate — a history student who was walking by — was thrown into the van and arrested without cause,” added Aishwarya.
Professor Shobha said that students were being brought physically — "two-three people were pulling them, I was protesting and asked as to how could they beat students up and what gave them the right, but the police said that they are troublemakers. Professor Ratnam was imploring with the police to not beat and ask them questions instead, but not beat them. After sometime, I saw someone come running and point to Professor Ratnam and say, 'catch this person, he was trying to enter the office.'" Shobha, insisted that he was a colleague and he taught at the university. "Professor Ratnam interjected and said, 'I wanted to meet the vice-chancellor and I was not being allowed to'. They started pulling him and hauled him into the bus. When I repeated that he was a colleague, thats when they pushed me and said, 'You keep quiet, we will do the same with you...we will push you and take you also to the police station. You just keep quiet.'
At the 'sit-in', Central forces were called in. Electricity, water and internet facilities for the students were completely cut off. According to a post on Kafila, debit cards used by students linked to State Bank of India branch on the campus were also blocked. Classes were also suspended for the past four days.
Campus students told Firstpost that Uday Bhanu, a PhD scholar was also beaten up by the police for cooking for university students. Aishwarya also reported that two female students were also slapped by the police. Anupama Potluri, a professor from the university in the computer science and information department was allegedly called a "deshdrohi" by the policemen who surrounded her car as she was taking an injured student to the health centre on campus.
Some video testimonies of students who faced brutality from the police were uploaded by the Justice for Rohith channel on YouTube. A student claimed that after leaving the protesting students outside the gate, the police had asked him, "Why are you not running away?" and hit him. Another economics student said that he was beaten up for waiting for his friends, the police asked him to leave and run away, but he said, "Why should I run away? I am waiting for my friends." The university administration and university professors did nothing to intervene or help the students, claims another student — "it was as though my professor was watching an international cricket match," she said in the video.
According to students who were part of the protests, 36 students have been arrested so far.
However, the Cyberabad Police statement reveals 32 names, including KY Ratnam, assistant professor of Political Science in the university. "All the students at Hyderabad University formed into an unlawful assembly, trespassed into the VC lodge, damaged the furniture, computers, laptop, doors, windows and also obstructed the official duties of the VC and other officials upon which more police force was deployed," said the police in a press statement.
The statement also said that the students "raised slogans against VC and police", "abused the police" and "tried to commit cognizable offence". The students and the professor have been booked under IPC 149, section 3 (unlawful assembly under Prevention of Damage to Public Property Act).
Firstpost contacted the Gachibowli police inspector Ramesh Kumar, but he refused to comment on the issue.
Appeal to HRD Ministry
According to an earlier Firstpost report, a five-member delegation led by JNUSU vice-president Shehla Rashid met with the Ministry of Human Resources Department secretary VS Oberoi and submitted their demands for the removal of police presence from the campus, the dropping of false charges against students and the removal of Appa Rao from the post of vice-chancellor of the university. "The top official told us that ministry cannot do anything about removal of the V-C as it comes under the purview of the Visitor. He also said that they can't intervene on the issue of police presence as interventions are not being taken in a good manner," she said.
Reactions from politicians
Sitaram Yechury, general secretary, CPM and Asaduddin Owaisi, President of the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen reacted strongly on social media about the goings-on at the university. Owaisi claimed that what was happening was not good for the democracy.
Instead of proceeding against the HCU VC in the Rohith suicide case,police attacks students. Letter to CM,Telangana https://t.co/9MA2PHB7iM
— Sitaram Yechury (@SitaramYechury) March 23, 2016
— Asaduddin Owaisi (@asadowaisi) March 23, 2016
You can read the police statements here:
with inputs from agencies