PUDR strongly condemns the authorities of the Central University of Hyderabad for their caste based victimisation of Dalit students, which, on 17th January, 2016, resulted in Rohith Vemula , a Dalit Research Scholar in Science Technology and Society Studies in the University, committing suicide. Rohith was one of five Dalit research scholars, student leaders and activists of Ambedkar Students Association (ASA), who were expelled from the hostel, prohibited from entering the administrative building and common spaces on the University Campus as per orders issued by the VC on 16 Dec., 2015.
Following extensive protests today by Dalit and other rights groups, in Hyderabad and other cities, Gadchibowli police have been forced to accede to the protestors’ demands. The Union Minister of State for Labour, Bandaru Dattatreya has been booked under the SC-ST Prevention of Atrocities Act, and abetment to suicide, IPC . As per news reports, charges of abetment have also been filed against the VC, University of Hyderabad, and two ABVP, Hyderbad unit leaders, including Susheel Kumar, President, ABVP, Hyderabad University unit.
Bandaru Dattattreya had been instrumental in the actions taken by the University authorities. In the wake of allegations made by Susheel Kumar against ASA activists in August 2015, he had written to the MHRD drawing attention to growing “casteist, extremist and anti-national” activities on Campus, and ironically accusing the University of a partisan passivity. ASA was cited as an example of such politics, having not only protested against capital punishment to Yakub Memon, but according to the Minister, as also having beaten up Susheel Kumar of ABVP when he opposed them. In this regard, it needs to be remembered that the ASA is a very active Dalit students’ organisation with a growing reach and presence in HUC.
The VC’s orders, enforcing the boycott of the five student,s, were based on two inquiries, one by the Proctorial Committee, and a second Sub-Committee of the Executive Council, into a police complaint by Susheel Kumar accusing the five students, of having beaten and abused him. The blatantly biased nature of these two reports is evident from their contradicting the initial findings of the Proctorial Committee whereby the accused students had been given a clean chit. The VC’s actions were thus in absolute complicity with Dattatreya’s.
Let us not forget that such discrimination is an everyday reality. Statistically, 2 in 100 Dalits make it to institutes of higher education, and have to face discrimination in various forms, at every step. As the documentary ‘Death of Merit’ based on data generated by dalit students across universities revealed, between 2007 and 2012, 19 Dalit students in premier institutes of higher education in India committed suicide as a result of traumatic experiences of being victims of caste-based discrimination. Of these, 4 were from Hyderabad. Also as per TOI March 2013 report, there were 9 suicides from universities in Hyderabad of which 8 belonged to SC/ST/OBC community and 1 to minority community. In 2014, Aniket Ambhore, fourth year electrical engineering student at Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay, committed suicide by falling from the sixth floor of a hostel inside the campus. Caste-based discrimination causing tremendous stress was given as a reason. In a typical illustration of the administration’s casteist character, when, after Dalit research scholar Senthil Kumar’s suicide in HCU, the committee protesting against the University Administration demanded an enquiry and compensation, the Registrars response was that there was no such provision in university guidelines. The horrific callousness of the administration was once again visible in the forced and hurried cremation of Rohith’s body, with no consideration for his family and friends’ sentiments. How little has changed is apparent from the fact that in the year 2002, when 10 Dalit scholars were rusticated by the University of Hyderabad administration for questioning corruption, the Chief Warden responsible for the action, was none other than the current Vice-Chancellor!
It is a telling comment on the casteist nature of our society that it has taken the death of one student, ostracisation and harassment of four others, lathi charges, use of water cannons, and huge police deployment continued for criminal action to be initiated in what are out and out instances of caste based victimisation of Dalit students, and atrocities punishable under the law, and the Constitution.
Much still remains to be done if Rohith’s death is not to go waste. In the interests of justice, PUDR asks all democratic sections to join us in demanding:
- Immediate revocation of the VC’s orders expelling the 4 other scholars-Dontha Prashantha, Seshu Chemudugunta, Vijay Kumar, P.Sundar ,Sunkanna Velpula
- The VC and Susheel Kumar be booked under the Prevention of Atrocities Act for their malicious actions resulting in Rohith’s death.
- Probe by the SC- ST Commission into the workings of the two committees.
- Setting up of active mechanisms in Universities for redressal of caste-based grievances
Moushumi Basu and Deepika Tandon