“In Rohit Vemula’s case it was the administration and government responsible, while in Payal Tadvi’s, it was her own classmates. But in our case it will be both...”, one of the students, Shruthy Harilal, wrote.

Row in TISS Hyderabad Group of students allege they are being targeted institute deniesFile photo/ during protest in July
news Harassment Wednesday, October 02, 2019 - 14:56

On September 28, 23-year-old Shruthy Harilal, a Dalit student pursuing her Masters in Development Science in Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) wrote an extremely disturbing Facebook post, stating that she or her friends might end up killing themselves, like Dr Payal Tadvi and Rohit Vemula, alleging harassment by the administration and by some students. Shruthy said that false allegations were being levelled six students, including her.

“What do you want? What exactly do you want? You, yes all of YOU here are knowingly making a Rohit Vemula and Dr Payal Tadvi amongst us. I am not saying for the sake of it. But this is the mental state where all of YOU have pushed us to. And if at all it happens, YOU are responsible for it. This is the mental state that each one of us is going through for the past two months,” Shruthy said in her post.

Shruthy is one of the six students along with Joel Thomas Mathews, Prabakaran, Arvind Karthick, Anand Pillay, and Shaik Nafaaz, who were summoned by the TISS administration on September 25 for allegedly discriminating against two students – Vedant Kaul and Bitoo Kumar – on the basis of caste, religion and language. Bitoo Kumar is a Dalit, while Vedant Kaul is a Kashmiri Pandit. Of the six students accused of discrimination, two are Dalits, one belongs to OBC community, and two belong to religious minorities. The students have also been accused of physical assault, bullying, and defamation. “I myself am a Dalit woman, how will I discriminate others on the basis of caste?” Shruthy asked.

These six students were in the forefront of the agitation in July demanding the withdrawal of the fee hike for SC and ST students. They now allege that the administration is using these two complainants to make false allegations against them, and harass them mentally.

Speaking to TNM, Shruthy said that Dr Murali Krishna Mallepaku, convener of SC, ST and Equal Opportunity Cell, held a grudge against them during the protests. “No student could approach him, because of how intimidating he was. But during the protests we called him out, for which he has held a grudge against us.” Shruthy claimed.

Among the six students who were summoned, Shruthy and Prabakaran are Dalits. Shruthy alleged that the administration carefully picked them since they were not scholarship availing students.

“Knowing that if they would target other scholarship availing Dalit students, they would be under trouble, they have picked us,” she alleged.

Shruthy also said that CCTV footage and statements from other students who were present during the alleged incidents of discrimination would prove that the complaints were false. 

The conflict between these students

The conflict between the complainants and the six students arose during the protests in July. 

“I was part of the protest, but our differences cropped up when these students wanted to prolong the strike despite the principle demands being met,” said Vedant, one of the complainants. Vedant alleges that ever since he took a stand differing with the views of the protesting students, he was harassed constantly. “They twist my words, indulge in name-calling, call us puppets of institutions, defame us on social media,” he claimed.

Bitoo, who was the former students’ council chairperson,  alleged, “On July 11, at least 70 students barged into my hostel, and threatened me. They said, ‘You have to decide’. They wanted me to pressure into continuing with the protest, which I refused to.”

“Our primary demands--GoIPMS (Government of India Post Matric Scholarship), hostel facility and transportation--were met within two days of the protest and I didn’t want to be part of the protests anymore, since then they have maligned me as a puppet of the administration. They wanted to continue their protest with unreasonable demands,” Bitoo claimed.

Both Vedant and Bitoo alleged that they were physically assaulted by these six students on September 3 during the students’ elections, for which they approached the TISS Director and the SC, ST welfare cell.

“Before filing the complaint, I reached out to one of the students to apologize so that I can drop the complaint, but he said, ‘You can go ahead and file the complaint.’ Now they are holding us responsible if they kill themselves, how is this rational?” Vedant said. 

Step Motherly treatment by TISS

Joel, another student who was summoned said, “When the false complaint was filed against us, the administration promptly constituted a committee and summoned us for an inquiry, but when one of our students filed a complaint about discrimination, no such action was taken. This is the step motherly treatment which we are given.”

Prabhakaran, added, “When I gave a complaint with similar charges, the administration did not pay heed, but when others filed a similar complaint they have shown extreme enthusiasm.”

Joel claimed that the institution has used these two complainants to attack them, since they cannot directly take any action against them due to the High Court’s intervention. Earlier in August, the Telangana High Court had slammed the administration for attempting to take disciplinary action against them by issuing show-cause notices to at least 40 students against their protest.

These students claim that ever since the protest, the administration has been on a witch hunt. “Students are distancing themselves from us, fearing that the administration might crack the whip on them too, if they thought they were our friends. They are silently killing us,” alleged Shruthy. The report on the allegations is yet to be given to the students.

“In Rohit’s case it was the administration and government responsible, while in Payal’s, it was her own classmates. But in our case it will be both the administration and some of our students. You will be responsible for anything that happens to us and whatever is happening to each of us,” Shruthy said in her Facebook post.

Speaking about the allegations against the administration, Vindhya, Deputy Director TISS said, “We have acted in a fair manner and constituted a committee to probe whether the allegations against them were true. It was a standard procedure. One of the complainant is also a Dalit, how can we ignore the complaint.”

The Deputy Director said that the students who stand accused of physical assault are shutting down the voices of other students who disagree with their views.

Speaking about the rejection of complaint filed by Prabakaran, she said, “There is no evidence to the claims of sexual harassment which he is making. On the face of it, there is nothing to substantiate his claims. He also said that he was discriminated against based on his caste location, but he doesn’t have any evidence.”

“It is disturbing how these students are threatening with suicide. One of the students told the complainants that he would commit suicide and name them. What sort of student politics is this?” the Deputy Director asked. 

 

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