Hyderabad Central University (HCU), which is known not only for its world-class education, but even for allowing the free flow of a liberal thought process across its sprawling campus, is now in the dock for ‘imperialist views and pursuing religious fundamentalism on the sly’.
The university is specially veering towards the ‘brahminical thought process’, as alleged by Dalit Stree Shakti fact-finding committee, which came up with its report on the suicide of Rohit Vemula, especially after the current vice-chancellor Podile Appa Rao assumed charge in September 2015. Most students other than those owing allegiance to the ABVP at least, strongly feel so, at least.
In light of the suicide of research scholar Rohith Vemula and his eclectic treatise-like final letter, several angles into the circumstance leading to the suicide have emerged, along with the allied aspects of social engineering and rights of students belonging to oppressed classes by different stakeholders in the system of education.
There is a strong undercurrent of a vertical divide on the lines of class/religion, on the campus. Although it is not very conspicuous as of now, Abu Saleh, an English research-scholar, said that the split isn’t unrecognisable either.
Prof Lakshminarayana, head of the professors’ association, said there have been instances when such a divide was felt on the campus, but these were always around causes and issues.
But after Appa Rao took over the reins, Lakshminarayana has observed that politics have crept into the university. Rao has succumbed to the influence of the BJP, which pursues a “peculiar concept of nationalism” through which it sieves Muslims, Christians, Dalits and other sections out of the mainstream. This pernicious policy on the campus must be dealt with firmly.
Venkatesh Chowhan, vice-president of the Solidarity JAC for Social Justice, said Appa Rao has asked them why they are “unnecessarily provoking” ABVP activists. Chowhan also alleged that Rao is openly pursuing the ideals of the BJP and the RSS without caring for the fact that he is heading one of the most prestigious Indian educational institutions.
After the suspension of five Dalit students following a letter from Union minister Bandaru Dattatreya — who acted on a representation by ABVP leader Sushil, all they sought was an enquiry into the incident.
The rest is history.
Another instance of imposing the ‘political ideology’ is the scuttling of beef consumption. The annual university festival, Sukoon, had a beef stall for the first time in 2006. After some initial resistance, the university authorities allowed the beef stall become a regular feature at the festival. However, in the wake of a controversy over the beef festival on the Osmania University campus a couple of months ago, HCU authorities also instructed their students not to consume beef on the campus, and issued a letter to that effect.
This is seen as a clear indication of an authoritarian approach laced with a fundamentalist approach on the part of the vice-chancellor, said Chowhan.
The university strangely began celebrating the birth anniversary of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, an icon the BJP idolises, as ‘ekta diwas’. This was never the case earlier. Dalit students have aired their concerns about this, alleging that it is nothing but pursuing BJP ideals.
A two-day celebration of Vivekanand Jayanthi is yet another move in that direction, said Sunkanna, another Dalit student who was among the five expelled students.
Furthermore, new rules have come in place on the campus to restrict movement of students beyond 9 pm. The university is planning to end the academic semester by 10 April, so as to avoid the celebration of Ambedkar Jayanthi, says Chowhan. He points this out as an aberration, because semesters usually run until 10 May.
Chowhan recalled that Rao had rusticated 10 Dalit students when he was chief warden in 2002, and is now taking advantage of the political situation in the country and “vitiating the democratic atmosphere” on the campus.
Sunkanna recalled the suicides of two Dalit students a couple of years ago, the subsequent agitation and how the then V-C had convinced them and made sure the protest was called off. He narrated the sequence of events that led to the suspension of the five Dalit students, including Rohith after the Facebook posts by Sushil, the public interest litigation filed by his mother Vinaya in the Hyderabad High Court, and the eventual action taken against the students.
Abu Saleh has another interesting point to make: Rohith had not been receiving his JRF scholarship for five months and had raised a loan of Rs 40,000. He was grappling with major financial constraints.
The orders on the change of convocation robes — including the traditional dhoti and angavastram in the attire — have been cancelled after protests. But they too have created an inconvenient situation on the campus, says Saleh.
While social media activists have reacted sharply to the suicide of Rohith with numerous posts on Facebook and Twitter condemning the actions of the university authorities and the V-C, another section of students has strongly rallied behind Rao. They listed 14 points that precipitated matters on the campus and held the suspended students responsible for the turn of events.