Ahead of Rohith Vemula’s third Shahadath Din (death anniversary), which falls on January 17, the University of Hyderabad authorities have removed ‘Velivada’ (Dalit Ghetto), a temporary structure in the campus, inviting strong opposition from Dalit students. The Velivada was erected after Rohith was suspended along with his four friends from their hostel in December, 2015. The temporary structure had portraits of anti-caste icons like Jyotirao Phule, Savitribai, Dr BR Ambedkar, Periyar, Ayyankali and others.
However, as these portraits had faded and withered owing to prolonged exposure to sunlight, the students of the Ambedkar Students’ Association had replaced them on Friday. On Sunday morning, students were shocked to see that the Velivada had disappeared. They allege that the university had removed the structure early in the morning when no one was around.
ASA said that the portraits were ‘desecrated’ and ‘demolished’ by the authorities surreptitiously as part of the Vice Chancellor Dr Appa Rao Podile’s larger agenda to silence Dalit voices.
Velivada on January 5
Speaking to TNM, Dontha Prashanth, who belongs to the ASA and was also one of the students suspended along with Rohith, said, “This is very emotional for me. Velivada stood as a testimony to the caste discrimination meted out to us. It was a testimony of our social boycott.”
“Erasing portraits and symbols of Dalit resistance is an attempt by the Brahminical Vice Chancellor Appa Rao, who is an accused, to silence the Dalit voices. He is dancing to the tunes of the BJP,” he alleged.
He further said that removing the Velivada amounted to SC/ST atrocity. “The desecration of these portraits of Dr Ambedkar, Jyotirao Phule and others revered by Dalit Bahujans amounts to caste discrimination.”
Before the removal of the Velivada, the authorities had notified members of the ASA on Saturday, asking them to remove the Velivada on grounds of vandalism. The notice, signed by the Vice Chancellor, read, “The University Administration has been issuing several circulars not to display any banners, posters, flexies etc on the campus without prior permission. However, it has come to the notice of the Administration about erected flexies and posters at the shopping complex (North) on the interim night of 4/5 January around 00.45 am, in spite of objection made by the Security personnel not to destroy the floor by digging the University property by erecting a temporary shed with banners, flexies etc.” (sic)
The notice was stuck on the hostel doors of four students, including that of Dontha Prashanth. Countering the notice, Prashanth said, “We never dug any hole nor did we damage the floor, we only used stones to support the structure.”
Rohith Vemula and four other Dalit students were evacuated from their hostel in 2016 and several other restrictions placed on them against interacting with students, which these students termed ‘social boycott’, for allegedly assaulting the then ABVP president Sushil Kumar. Shortly after the suspension, Rohith committed suicide in the campus triggering a massive outrage across the country against the BJP.