No, thanks! Dalit students on warpath after Vemula suicide, reject HCU decision on revoking suspension

After the highest decision making body of the Hyderabad Central University decided to revoke the suspension of five research scholars with "immediate effect", four of the students - one committed suicide last Sunday, rejected the decision and also the University's appeal to return to regular classes.

Instead, the protesting students have drawn the battle lines, they now want to see nothing less than the resignation of Vice Chancellor Appa Rao Podile.

Members of the Joint Action Committee (JAC) for Social Justice, representing the protesters, chased away two professors Podile had sent to speak with the students.

“We have rejected the vice chancellor’s appeal and the circular on termination of punishment of the four students. We do not want to negotiate or hold a dialogue with any of the representatives sent by P Appa Rao. We do not consider him vice chancellor anymore. He should quit first and all our demands regarding reinstatement of the four suspended students, compensation to Rohith’s family should be met,” JAC coordinator Venkatesh Chauhan said.

The two-member fact-finding committee sent by the government to the university reported to the HRD Ministry on Thursday morning and is likely to submit its report to HRD Minister Smriti Irani on Friday.

The financial strain on Vemula broke his defences and that issue is certain to occupy centrestage in the report. Vemula's JRF fellowship money dried up for seven months and the University is said to have defended itself with the line that the money was delayed because Vemula changed his area of PhD research midway which reportedly led to delays from the University Grants Commission.

Rohith Vemula. Twitter @akslal_380

Rohith Vemula. Twitter @akslal_380

When senior faculty members Prof T V Rao and Prof Vinod Pavarala tried approaching the students, they were greeted with loud booing. “We do not want to negotiate with VC’s chamchas,’’ students yelled, shooing the peacemakers away.

"Smriti Irani is lying"

Escalating its attack on the Centre over Rohith Vemula's alleged suicide in Hyderabad University, Congress on Thursday demanded immediate sacking of HRD Minister Smriti Irani and Labour Minister Bandaru Dattatreya.

"...Irani is lying through her teeth in a bid to protect the ABVP leader. She is misleading the nation by giving false information," Congress chief spokesman Randeep Surjewala said, seeking to dismiss the claims of Irani on the issue.

Irani had on Wednesday said that the ABVP leader, who was attacked in student rivalry earlier, also belonged to the OBC community as was Dattatreya, who had written a letter to her about the attack.

Insisting that the HRD Minister "justified the unfairness" meted out to Rohith Vemula, who committed suicide, and four other suspended Dalit students, Surjewala said, "She is the custodian of all universities. She committed the unpardonable sin of lying to the nation. She spoke a number of lies to cover up a lie."

"VC is criminal on the run"

The Joint Action Committee for Social Justice and the University of Hyderabad Teachers' Association today rejected an appeal made by the varsity vice-chancellor Appa Rao Podile to restart classes and restore normalcy on campus.

"At a time when the legitimacy of Prof Appa Rao to continue as a VC is in question, without attending to the protesting students, who are on indefinite hunger strike, the absconding VC and Executive Committee met today (not inside the campus) and issued a circular.

"We outrightly reject this illegitimate circular since it came through a Committee headed by the VC, who in our opinion is not the legitimate VC anymore, but in fact a criminal on the run," the Joint Action Committee for Social Justice alleged in a statement.

Dalit teachers 'scared and worried'

The Hyderabad Central University (HCU) teachers and officials, predominantly Dalits, who are agitating against the varsity authorities after Rohith Vemula’s suicide believe they are "being watched" and have been given enough veiled messages that the names of 50 of those protesting have been sent to New Delhi, reports The Indian Express.

The newspaper reports that the senior-most medical officer Captain Dr Ravindra Kumar was huddled with some university officials at the health centre - all Dalits who are "scared and worried."

Of the 60 Dalit teachers at the university, no one was present at the protest meeting Thursday morning fearing action. Some senior Dalit students also kept to themselves on the fringes.

“The University administration has sent us feelers: that names of 50 prominent Dalit teachers, officials and students have been sent to New Delhi, and we are all under watch. So we are basically hiding here instead of standing out there in solidarity with others for Rohith Vemula."We are afraid we might be dubbed anti-national too,” Kumar told The Indian Express.

Some senior faculty members willing to speak off the record have alleged that the vice-chancellor and top officials have systematically isolated the Dalit staff. “The message is: do not threaten us with resignations and protests.”

The other angle being reported from campus is that some “mediocre” Dalit officers are being used to threaten the other Dalit staff to fall in line. “They are scared of talented Dalits who made it on merit, who do not seek favour and are participating in the protest going on in the university against Rohith’s death,” one of the HCU officials told The Indian Express.

Vemula would have turned 27 on 30 January. Hours before he hanged himself, Vemula told his friends he did not have enough money to give them "even a small treat", reports The Indian Express.

Last August, Union Labour Minister Bandaru Dattatreya had written to the HRD ministry accusing the university of being “a mute spectator” after a group of Dalit students, including Rohith Vemula, clashed with an ABVP leader. Vemula's friends say the trouble began in the first week of August 2015, when five of them protested against the hanging of Mumbai-blasts accused Yakub Memon and condemned the ABVP attack on the screening of the documentary ‘Muzaffarnagar Baaqi Hai’ in Delhi University.

Over the last 6 months, Vemula's defenses broke, his stipend stopped, a series of curious flip-flops between the University, Labour ministry and local political groups (ABVP) led to Vemula's complete and crushing isolation from what he loved best - campus life. Why did the Labour minister interfere in the internal affairs of an educational institution is a question that is raging. Vemula made one last call to his mother but a lethal mix of anger and sadness inside finished the young man days before his 27th birthday.

Vemula requested for "euthanasia" facility

Vemula wrote a stinging letter to the Hyderabad Central University vice-chancellor last month seeking euthanasia facilities for students, reports The Indian Express.

“First, let me praise your dedicated take on the self-respecting movement of Dalits in campus. When an ABVP president got questioned about his derogatory remarks on Dalits, your kind personal interference into the issue is historic and exemplary,” Vemula wrote to V-C Prof P Appa Rao on 18 December, reports The Indian Express.

“I request your highness to make preparations for the facility ‘euthanasia’ for students,” Vemula wrote in the same letter.

Students said that Vemula, hailing from a poor family of agriculture labourers in Guntur district, was supporting his family, including mother and younger brother, with his stipend. He had been unable to send any money home for the past several months.

He called his mother and abruptly cut the line

Vemula's friend Krishna Kumar says that at 4 pm, Sunday, Vemula left the group and said he had to finish "some work." "When he did not return till 6 pm, we started searching for him. By then his mother had also called us, saying that Rohith had called her and sounded very depressed. She said he had abruptly cut the call, and had stopped answering her calls. Then, we found him hanging from the ceiling fan in a friend’s room (207), which was also the ASA activity room. He used a ASA banner to hang himself.’’

Vemula reached out to former UGC chief

On December 30, 2015 five research scholars of Hyderabad University, including Vemula, expelled for their political activism, reached out to former UGC chairperson Sukhdeo Thorat, reports The Hindu. The five students handed over a 10-page memorandum, detailing the events leading to their expulsion in mid December 2015.

Mr. Thorat, who handed over the memorandum to Social Justice Minister Thavar Chand Gehlot on Monday, said activism, integral to student life, should not have been held against them. The memorandum sought his immediate intervention with the National Commission for Scheduled Castes, Ministry of Social Justice and the Ministry of Human Resources and Development and mentioned how the five students, who also belong to the Ambedkar Students Association, were restrained from entering the administrative building and other common areas.

“When I met them, they talked about discrimination as a fact of life in campuses that governments find it difficult to admit. I did not for a moment think one of the students I had met would be forced to take his life,” Thorat told The Hindu.

Seven years ago, Thorat submitted a report on the circumstances leading to the death of a medical student in the prestigious All India Institute of Medical Sciences in New Delhi. The administration did not accept the findings.

"I feel a growing gap between my soul and my body"

This is the sequence of events that broke down Vemula.

From July 2015, the university stopped paying Rohith his monthly stipend of Rs 25,000. Friends said that he was targeted for raising issues under the banner of Ambedkar Students Association (ASA).

In August, the university set up an inquiry against Rohith and four other ASA members, two days after they allegedly assaulted ABVP leader N Susheel Kumar.

In August, Dattatreya wrote to HRD Minister urging action and claiming that the “Hyderabad University… has in the recent past, become a den of casteist, extremist and anti-national politics”.

The five students, Vemula included, were suspended in September.

On December 17, the decision was upheld.

On January 3, after the sanction was confirmed, the five moved out of their hostel rooms to a tent they set up inside the campus and began a “relay hunger protest”.

On Sunday, Rohith Vemula hanged himself. His suicide note read: “I feel a growing gap between my soul and my body. And I have become a monster.”


With Agencies

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Updated Date: Jan 22, 2016 13:45:53 IST

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