The University of Hyderabad (UoH) on Monday issued a statement over the removal of the Velivada on campus, which has triggered a row among a section of students in the varsity. Denying allegations that it was a casteist move, the administration now justified the removal of the Velivada – and has claimed that the structure itself was a symbol of untouchability and caste discrimination.
“A public university like the University of Hyderabad that is committed to upholding Constitutional principles, cannot be expected to condone or promote any permanent structure that, by name, seems to invoke a past symbol of caste discrimination," it said in a statement.
The Velivada (Dalit Ghetto) was a temporary structure in the campus, which was erected after research scholar Rohith Vemula was suspended along with his four friends from their hostel in 2015. The temporary structure under a tent had portraits of anti-caste icons like Jyotirao Phule, Savitribai, Dr BR Ambedkar, Periyar, Ayyankali and others. After Rohith’s suicide, which sparked a massive Dalit movement across the country, his bust was installed next to the tent. The Velivada has been a symbol of resistance for Dalit and other marginalised community students on campus.
However, the university has now claimed that the symbol of resistance was a ‘casteist’ symbol, angering several students. “There was a particular context in which a temporary structure that protesting students had erected at the North Shopping Complex of the University campus three years ago. The University could not become a party to perpetuating caste hatred and caste discrimination of any kind by allowing the continuation of a physical symbol that recalled untouchability and ghetto living at a common campus space,” the university’s statement said.
“However, until now, the University had never taken any steps to dismantle the structure. In fact, a bust of Rohith Vemula continues to stand at the site and has been the locus of commemorative meetings by different groups of students. The University has always permitted peaceful assembly and meetings at that location, with due respect to the sentiments of a section of our student community,” they added, claiming that the removal of the Velivada now was part of the administration’s larger plans to remove all banners, posters, and flexies on campus.
“An administrative circular to this effect was issued recently. It appears that the temporary structure at the North Shopping Complex had fallen apart under weather conditions over the last three years and a section of the students decided to defy the circular and attempted to resurrect it with fresh flexi material on Saturday. It is that new material, along with other banners hung at different locations by other sections of the University community, that were removed by the university security. It is unfair to link this measure to any policies of the University towards SC/ST students,” the statement added.
Stating that the university had an ‘anti-discrimination’ officer with a mandate to examine specific complaints, the administration said, “The University completely rejects allusions to or accusations of any systematic, institutional discrimination against our SC/ST students. We are proud of all our students from marginalised sections who brave unfavourable socio-economic conditions to make it to this top central university in the country and contribute to its success through their academic achievements.”
However, students and activists are not buying this claim.
Speaking to TNM, Raja Vemula, Rohith’s brother, said, “It is an atrocity on the students. Because Rohith’s death anniversary is coming on January 17, they have done this. It is a cowardly act by the administration fearing protests by students.”
“The term ‘Velivada’ itself means the place where the ostracised and those who are boycotted are staying. The Velivada was itself put up to fight caste discrimination on campus, then how can they call the structure itself casteist? We condemn the move,” he said.
Demanding that Vice Chancellor Appa Rao be sacked, Raja said, “UoH has become an atrocity prone area because of him. He is misusing his powers on students and making them suffer heavy mental agony.”
He also questioned the alleged deployment of several police personnel on campus in violation of campus guidelines and demanded an explanation regarding the same.
Dontha Prashanth from the Ambedkar Students’ Association (ASA), one of the five students who was also suspended with Rohith Vemula in 2015, told TNM, “The portraits that have been removed from the Velivada were of people who fought against caste discrimination and for social justice, all their life. The administration’s statement is no different from that of BJP MP Bandaru Dattatreya’s letter about the ASA.”
Secunderabad MP Bandaru Dattatreya had written to then HRD Minister Smriti Irani about ASA in 2015, claiming they were indulging in ‘casteist’ and ‘anti-national’ activities. A chain of events followed, which eventually led to Rohith Vemula taking his own life.
“The university administration is now dubbing all anti-caste students leaders as casteist, when in fact, it is a highly casteist statement by the university,” Prashanth added.
The ASA has now called for a protest on Tuesday and has also demanded that the Velivada will be reconstructed.