Troubling questions have been raised about the role played by the university administration, with instruction from the central government, in the circumstances leading to Rohith’s suicide on 17th January 2016. Rohith and four other scholars were expelled for screening the socially pertinent and timely documentary film ‘Muzzafarnagar Baaqi Hai’. Even prior to the expulsion,
Rohith and his comrades at the Ambedkar Student Association were being routinely harassed by the university administration, at the behest of the ABVP (the student wing of the ruling BJP), for raising social justice issues. The Vice-Chancellor (VC) P Appa Rao has since been charged with abetting Rohith’s suicide.
Given the serious nature of this allegation, we strongly protest P Appa Rao’s recent return as VC. The unprovoked coercive actions against the university community since his return confirms to us the untenability of his re-instation. We condemn wholeheartedly the way in which the University of Hyderabad was locked down following protests against the VC’s return. All independent reports from the university suggest that the police and the university administration made disproportionate use of force and violated the human rights of students and faculty in the face of extremely thin and questionable evidence of supposed vandalism in the VC’s office.
While we welcome the release on bail of arrested students and faculty, we believe the matter is far from over. Just in the past few days, Appa Rao convened a meeting of Academic Council with complete disregard to the official procedures and protests registered by several HCU faculty and prominent external members of the Council. Quite a few faculty members from HCU have submitted their resignation in protest as well. We are in solidarity with their demand to remove Appa Rao from the VC position and restore the democratic procedures in the University.
We take cognizance of the reports that during the lockdown, protesting students were verbally and physically attacked, women were threatened with sexual assault, and minorities were targeted. We demand action against all those involved in this unlawful violence, especially the police. Also, given that the campus was converted into a virtual prison, with access restricted and supplies cut, we demand action against all those involved in creating this environment of siege and terror. Further, we condemn the shameful silence of the mainstream media, and their failure to report on and ask questions about the grave situation at the University of Hyderabad.
The student struggle at HCU that started with expulsion of 5 Dalit scholars in January this year calls to attention two key issues – a deeply ingrained culture of caste based discrimination and wrongful use of power by predominantly upper caste administration of these academic institutions. Dalit-bahujan scholars are routinely harassed, discriminated against and judged on the basis of their caste. Rohith Vemula’s death is not the first one which can be termed as ‘institutional murder.’ The HCU campus itself has witnessed three such demises in the past.
All those stories have been buried. But it is our collective priority and obligation to bring them to light. The events at HCU also follow an unmistakeable pattern to few other recent events in India, wherein the ABVP foments trouble, and in the guise of taking action, the central government colludes with university administrations to silence dissenting voices. We have seen this unfold in JNU, FTII, University of Allahabad, and Jadavpur University, amongst others. The threat that this pernicious pattern poses to the autonomy of educational institutions and to the democratic right to dissent cannot be overstated. We demand an end to this abuse of state and administrative power. We underscore the need to preserve the vibrant and pluralist ethos of universities as spaces for all shades of dialogue and debate.
We salute the courage of the HCU students and stand in solidarity with them to put an end to the caste based discrimination, protect the rights of students and truly democratize the academic institutions.
● The immediate withdrawal of police forces from the campus of the University of Hyderabad
● The suspension of Vice Chancellor P Appa Rao
● Drop the false charges against University of Hyderabad students arrested during the
peaceful protest in front of VC lodge, and later in the shopping complex.
● The HCU Executive Council should not accept the resignation letters submitted by the faculty members and officers and appeal to them to take up their earlier responsibilities.
● The University of Hyderabad administration must give a public apology to the five Dalit research scholars for the blatant casteist discrimination, humiliation and agony inflicted on them that eventually led to the death of our friend Rohith Vemula.
● Implement Thorat Committee recommendations to make higher education campus discrimination free and socially inclusive. The Executive council must appeal to the Government of India to introduce and implement Rohith Act that provides legislative protection to the students from marginalized communities in higher education.
● Free and fair inquiry into the role of the HRD Ministry, the HRD Minister and Mr. Bandaru Dattatreya in inciting violence against Dalits on campus.
1. Nikola Rajic, PhD Candidate, Department of Asian Studies
2. Charlotte Giles, PhD Student, Department of Asian Studies
3. Ahmed Shamim, Faculty, Bangla, Department of Asian Studies
4. Daniel Dillon, PhD Student, Department of Asian Studies
5. Ramna Walia, PhD Student, Department of Radio-Television- Film
6. Kathleen Longwaters, PhD Candidate, Department of Asian Studies
7. Adolfo R Mora, PhD Candidate, Department of Radio-Television- Film
8. Amrita Mishra, PhD student, Department of English
9. Vrinda Marwah, Graduate Student, Department of Sociology
10. Snehal Shingavi, Associate Professor, Department of English
11. Beth Prosnitz, PhD Student, Department of Sociology
12. Isaac McQuistion, Masters Student, Department of Asian Studies
13. Gautami Shah, Senior Lecturer, Department of Asian Studies
14. Sharmila Rudrappa, Professor, Department of Sociology
15. Sucheta Arora, Graduate Student, Cellular and Molecular Biology
16. Harry Cleaver, Associate Professor of Economics, Emeritus
17. Andrea Gutiérrez, PhD Student, Department of Asian Studies
18. Jack Loveridge, PhD Candidate, Department of History
19. Shahnaz Hassan, Lecturer, Department of Asian Studies
20. Julia Dehm, Postdoctoral Fellow, School of Law
21. Abdul Haque Chang. Anthropology Department.
22. Kathleen Longwaters, PhD Candidate, Department of Asian Studies