On Friday, students protested a commission report blaming Rohith’s “own problems” for his suicide.

Months after Rohith Vemulas death dwindling movement pursues elusive justice at UoHAll Images: Facebook/JAC for SOCIAL JUSTICE -UOH
news Ground Report Saturday, October 08, 2016 - 15:24

An unspoken tension remained in the air at the entrance of University of Hyderabad (UoH) on Friday, October 7, as a dozen security personnel stood guard, stopping every vehicle that wanted access into the varsity.

"Only students with ID cards allowed. No outsiders. Take permission first," a guard is heard yelling at a student who tries to enter with his friend.

CCTV cameras have almost doubled from the last year and multiple boards that adorn the road leading to the main gate say the same thing - "Visitors access is restricted. Please cooperate with security."

Two guards are given a seat each at the entrance and exit gates respectively, with a notebook and a pen. Their job is to note down the number plate of every vehicle that goes in and comes out of the university.

"We cross check the list at the end of the day and if we find anything suspicious, we investigate and try to find the vehicle," a guard says as he glances around warily, to ensure that no vehicle slips by.

"Things have really changed since last year. These kids have made life hell for us. Do they come to study or do politics?" another guard chimes in.

There are two words that rattle the security personnel, “Rohith Vemula” and “Media” – more so when they come in the same sentence.

The media has had no access to the campus for many months now. There is also a strict ban on photography of the entrance area.

"We have a High Court order that says that media cannot be granted access into the campus. If you want to interview a staff member or do some other story, then there is a procedure to follow. However, especially today, forget about entering the campus," UoH Chief Security Officer TV Rao says.

Presently a UoH patrolling car comes to a halt in front of us.

"There are around 50 to 100 of them. They're going to start soon, but it doesn't seem like they will do much. Should we make the call?" one of them asks Rao.

Rao takes a second to contemplate and says "Call them. But say that just two cars are enough."

A curious glance at another security officer reveals more. "The police are on our speed dial now because of these students," he says.

Students at UoH on Friday staged a protest against the report of Justice Ashok Kumar Rupanwala Commission, which was first accessed by the media two days ago.

(Students gathering at the Velivada on campus)

Following a huge political storm, the Commission had been formed by the HRD Ministry to look into the circumstances leading to Rohith’s death.

Rohith had committed suicide by hanging himself from the ceiling of a hostel room in the university on January 17, 2016.

The report, which was first accessed by The Indian Express, reportedly blamed Rohith’s “own problems” and unhappiness with “worldly affairs” for his suicide, absolving union ministers Bandaru Dattatreya and Smriti Irani as only discharging their duties.

It also made several allegations, including that Rohith’s mother, Radhika, "branded" herself a Dalit to avail the benefits of reservation.

The students have since termed the report an attempt to shield two Union ministers and the Vice Chancellor in the suicide case.

Read - Rohith Vemula killed himself over ‘worldy affairs’, not discrimination: 8 points from enquiry report

At around 5 pm on Friday, the students gather outside the 'Velivada' in the campus and begin marching to the gates.

From the main gates, the distant beat of drums and drone of slogans are heard.

As the students approach closer, the sloganeering gets clearer.

"Roopanwaala ho barbaad! Ho barbaad, Ho barbaad!" 

"Tum kitne Rohith maroge? Har ghar se Rohith nikalega"

The students are carrying an effigy, which they proceed to carry to the main road in front of the university.

(The effigy. Image: Nitin B)

Within a minute, two police cars arrive to manage the crowd and ensure that traffic can still move.

(Dontha Prashanth, one of the five Dalit students expelled with Vemula, speaks at the protest)

The students, in a statement, have argued that the Roopanwaala Commission overstepped its mandate by going into the Rohith’s caste, noting that only the district magistrate is the appropriate authority to inquire into the caste. They pointed out that the magistrate had ruled that Rohith was Dalit and the National Commission for Scheduled Castes had affirmed his stand.

They have said that the Commission stooped to the level of personally attacking Rohith's mother Radhika. "The purpose is very clear. She had challenged the Brahminical dictum and instead of remaining oppressed choose the path of BR Ambedkar and embraced Buddhism," the statement said.

Read - Govt trying to divert the truth: Raja Vemula on findings in Rohith's enquiry report

There is one word that is repeated by every student attending the protest – “Justice”.

"Our voices are turning hoarse screaming for justice. How much more can we endure?" a student asks.

Dwindling numbers

What is evident to observers is that the protest movement has seen a huge decline in the number of students participating in marches and public events.

A convocation has passed since Rohith's death and many of the students who were part of the movement, have passed out of the university.

Another reason is that the Joint Action Committee, which fought for Rohith, had split wide open as the campus headed towards student elections, with the Ambedkar Student’s Association and the Student’s Federation of India falling on opposite sides of the division.

Read - Has Left betrayed Rohith movement by isolating Ambedkarites in Hyd Uni student elections?

"These numbers are nothing compared to the beginning of this year, but that doesn't change the facts and the systemic injustice that Rohith faced," a student says.

"We will not give up our fight," the student adds.

As the students head back into the university after sunset, with the same drone of the drumbeat and slogans slowly fading away, traffic resumes and all that remains of the protest is a small mark left by the burning effigy on the road, soon to be swept away.

"Soon, we won't even need the police. In another one or two years after they all pass out, we will still be here and his name will only be a passing mention," a guard, seemingly sympathetic to the student's cause, remarks.

 

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