We, the undersigned, are deeply shocked and dismayed by the processes that led to the suicide of Rohith Vemula at HCU in January and the ongoing attacks on students and faculty of JNU. At Hyderabad Central University, RohithVemula a Dalit research scholar was labelled as anti-national and driven to suicide in January through systematic persecution. At Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), New Delhi over the past few days, Kanhaiya Kumar, the President of the JNU Students Union is held in police custody on the trumped up charge of sedition. On February 15, 2016, the police stood by as mute spectators while a group of lawyers and hooligan elements attacked students and faculty of JNU who had gone to the Patiala House courts in Delhi in solidarity with Kanhaiya Kumar who was to be produced there.
There are parallels between the unfolding events in HCU and JNU and the continuing agitation of students in the Hyderabad Central University (HCU). In Hyderabad, it was the front organisations of the ruling party that initiated a complaint against the students of HCU launching a course of events that eventually took the life of RohithVemula. In JNU too, it is theorganisations of the ruling party that have moved the police into action that sent Kanhaiya Kumar to jail. Further, in both cases, the bogey of sedition has been raised by the government to threaten the dissenting students and suppress protests. The Supreme Court of the country has repeatedly upheld the right to such freedom, to criticise not merely the government of the day but the Indian state itself. It has underlined that mere speech, without explicit incitement to violence or the pernicious tendency to create public disorder does not attract the charge of sedition. We condemn all divisive forces and uphold constitutional values. The events at HCU and JNU are an unprecedented assault on academic freedom and autonomy that follows from the constitutional guarantee to freedom of expression. Institutions of higher education across the country are facing similar challenges in the wake of systematic efforts aimed at creating fear and polarisation on campuses. It is the role of universities to be inclusive spaces giving voice to the marginalized that must nurture the critical spirit to question, reason, and dissent, and act without fear. It is not merely the right, but the duty of all institutions of higher education, to safeguard and foster such freedoms.
We demand that the government immediately take action against those involved in abetting of RohithVemula’s suicide and meet the demands of Joint Action Committee at HCU. We also demand release of Kanhaiya Kumar, the President of the JNU Students Union, from custody and withdrawal of charges against the students. We demand a halt to the continuing targeting and harassment of the student body. We demand that all police personnel be withdrawn from within the JNU campus. We demand that strong action be taken against those responsible for the brutal assault on students, teachers and media persons at Patiala House Court.
We extend our solidarity and support to the students and faculty of HCU and JNU. We call upon students, faculty and staff of all higher education institutions to unite to fight intolerance against dissent and ensure that the right to freedom of expression, especially in academic institutions is not eroded or undermined.
Asha Banu Soletti
Sanjay (Xonzoi) Barbora