There are protests all over the country

Rohith Vemula Civil society groups students protest across India against Hyderabad UniversitySpecial Arrangement
news Rohit Vemula Monday, January 18, 2016 - 17:18

Protests have erupted all over the country both among students’ groups as well as civil society groups following Hyderabad University student Rohith Vemula’s suicide on Sunday.

Hyderabad University students are demanding that Vice Chancellor Appa Rao Pondile resign and have said that they would protest until he goes. Police have been deployed in the campus and are on high alert. They have also detained many students, including ASA leaders, protestors from outside such as students of Osmania University.

Rohith Vemula, a PhD scholar in sociology, committed suicide in NRS Hostel on Sunday, leaving behind a note stating that he felt “empty” as he wrote the note. He said: “Maybe I was wrong, all the while, in understanding world. In understanding love, pain, life, death. There was no urgency. But I always was rushing. Desperate to start a life. All the while, some people, for them, life itself is curse. My birth is my fatal accident. I can never recover from my childhood loneliness. The unappreciated child from my past.”

On Monday, statements of condemnation and support poured in from across the country. Students of Tata Institute of Social Sciences in Mumbai are organizing a protest march on Monday, and the JNU students’ union have expressed condemnation over the death.

On Twitter, people began using the hashtags #DalitLivesMatter and #BJPKilledDalitScholar on Monday as outrage over his death grew. In Benglauru, several civil society organizations including the SFI, DYFI, BGVS and JMS have planned a protest against the university authorities and BJP MP Bandaru Dattatreya on Tuesday.

Condemnation

State convenor of the Bahujan Vidhyarthi Sangha, a students’ association which has a unit in Bangalore University, Hariram told The News Minute that even ABVP students who were involved in Rohith Vemula’s death should be punished along with Dattatreya and the vice chancellor.

“Bandaru Dattatreya and the vice chancellor joined hands with ABVP and showed their casteist mindset. If there are such casteist faculty in learning centres, what sort of students are going to build? They should have encouraged a student who came from such a poor background. Instead of encouraging him, they indirectly abetted his suicide,” Hariram said.

He also castigated the media for its poor coverage of the suspension of the students for a while semester and the subsequent protests against it. “If something happens to a upper caste students, it becomes a national issue. Somebody has to die before the national media cover it. If the media had taken it (the whole issue) seriously (and covered it in a sustained manner), Rohith’s life might have been saved,” Hariram said.

He also said that it was “shameful” that neither the chief minister nor the prime minister had responded until now.

Member of the Students Federation of India in Hyderabad, Dayal Paleri told The News Minute that Rohith was involved with SFI until he quit two years ago because he had some disagreements with some of the SFI members.

“We have worked together. Academically, he was brilliant. He did MSc in Bioscience and later moved on to pursue an interdisciplinary PhdD in society and technology. That was around the time when he developed interest in sociology related subjects. He read a lot and practiced what he read. While he participated in many protests, he was in the forefront on Dalit issues,” Dayal said. 

“Right now nobody is being allowed near the administrative block. A massive protest is going on at HCU main shopcom. Everyone except the ABVP is demanding the arrest of murderers of Rohith Vemula. Even the University of Hyderabad teacher's association is also a part of the protest," Dayal said. 

Intellectual and Dalit rights activist Kancha Ilaiah told The News Minute, “Hyderabad University students have been asserting their rights on a regular basis. There were allegations that a couple of ABVP students had been manhandled by the ASA. The punishment given to the five Dalit students is not fair. They should have judicial enquiry in to the death of Rohith Vemula,” Kancha Ilaiah said.

Co-convenor of the Ambedkar Students Association Sannakki Munna told The News Minute that “It all happened because the VC and BJP MP (Bandaru Datatreya) backed Sushil Kumar (of the ABVP). We want justice.”

Lecturer at the Centre for Neural and Cognitive Science at Hyderabad University told The News Minute that the Joby Joseph said that the students had been protesting for some time and he did not know why the university had not responded to them.

“I don’t know what is going on behind the scenes, I don’t know why he can’t do that (address the issues raised by students). He (VC) is the one we are supposed to look up to in troubled times and I’m lost. I don’t know what to do next,” he told The News Minute.

Donta Prasad, a PhD scholar in economics told The News Minute that due process was not followed when punishing the five Dalit students. He also said that the suspension was revoked after the Protoctorial Board cleared them of any wrongdoing. However, a fresh inquiry was ordered and the students were punished.

“We had hoped that something would come of it when we challenged the (university order) in the High Court but Bandaru Dattatreya wrote to the VC and MLC Ramachandra Rao threatened that he would bring people from outside to take action if the university did not take action,” Prasad said.

He added that Rohith had also tried to reach out to the Vice Chancellor about the problems that Dalit students faced. Read our story here.

Government response

There were protests even outside the HRD ministry on Monday morning. Later in the day, HRD minister Smriti Irani told the media that a committee had been sent to the university and that she did not want to comment until the committee report was submitted, except to convey her condolences to the family. Asked about the law and order situation and the use of force against the university students and other students who had come to the university to protests, she said, “Law and Order is a state subject and I would not like to insult the Constitution by commenting on it until the report is submitted.”

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