The suicide of 25-year-old Rohith Vemula in University of Hyderabad campus on Janavary 17, 2016, a sleepy Sunday evening, has led to great political commotion all over the country. It has given an opportunity to the `champions of social equity’, as the scholar was said to be a dalit youth. He belongs to Guntur district of Amravati in Andhra Pradesh, was doing his PhD in science technology and society studies for the past two years.
The whole media went wild and played the `dalit’ victim card. Congress Vice-President Rahul Gandhi who visited the University immediately after the incident on Jan 19, held the Vice-Chancellor of the University Appa Rao, Union Minister Bandaru Dattatreya and Union HRD minister Smriti Irani responsible. After Rahul Gandhi’s visit, many more political leaders, including Delhi CM Kejriwal, are said to be on their way to the university.
Various political parties and leaders have blamed Union Labour Minister Dattatreya’s letter of Aug 17 last year to Irani seeking action against the “anti-national activities” of student’s union and the alleged assault of an ABVP leader and a series of five communications from the HRD Ministry between Sept 3 and Nov 19 demanding follow up action for the suicide. The HRD ministry, however, has rejected allegations that it had put any pressure on the University relating to either suspension of Rohith or keeping him out of the hostel.
Any suicide is tragic, unfortunate. Even one is one too many. The suicide of a promising science research scholar is even more so. But to use Vemula’s death as a cynical tool to appease vote banks is the worst insult we can inflict on the deceased University of Hyderabad student. This also reflects the glaring politicisation of university campuses in the country.
Student clashes turned hype
Trouble has been brewing in University since last year with ABVP and Ambedkar Students Association (ASA) repeatedly clashing over different issues. The issue escalated when Susheel Kumar, ABVP leader, in his Facebook post last August called ASA students including Rohith Vemula ‘goons’ for organising a protest against Yakub Memon’s hanging.
Agitated students forced Susheel to apologise. The two sides then gave different accounts with Susheel alleging that he had been attacked, injured and forced to visit a hospital while ASA have claimed they had not resorted to any violence. It was apparently then that the ABVP wrote to BJP MP from Secunderabad and Union Labour Minister Bandaru Dattatreya, alleging that the ASA members were indulging in “casteist” and “anti-national” activities. For his part, Dattatreya shot off a letter to Union HRD minister Smriti Irani.
Repeating the charges levelled by ABVP, his letter reads: “This could be visualised from the fact that when Yakub Memon was hanged, a dominant students union, that is Ambedkar Students Union had held protests against the execution. When Shushil Kumar, president, ABVP, protested against this, he was manhandled and as a result he was admitted in hospital. What is more tragic is that the university administration has become a mute spectator to such events.”
What happened really?
On August 3, 2015, some persons under the banner of ASA had protested against hanging of Yakub Memon. They are entitled to. This meeting was held in University campus with many new unknown faces participating in it. It was claimed that from every house another Yakub will emerge. “Tum Kitne Yakub Maroge, Har Ghar se Yakub Nikalenge–ASA. UOH”.
The English translation reads as follows: “How many Yakubs you kill! From every house one Yakub Will be generated”.
ABVP University unit president Susheel Kumar, protesting this, put up his comment on Facebook commenting about the aggressive behaviour. Does he have right to comment on this protest? Or not?
On the same day, at mid night 30 persons barged into his hostel room and dragged him out of the room. The police came and left. He was beaten in the presence of two constables. The ASA volunteers allegedly beat him up badly and dragged him to the main security gate. He was forced to open the face book account at the Security room and forced to write a note of apology. The Security officer was
witness to all this and he counter signed on the note written by Susheel. He was rushed to Hospital, and he underwent treatment in hospital, operated upon etc.
BJP Gen. Sec. Muralidhar Rao on suicide of Rohith Vemula
The suicide of Hyderabad University student Rohith Vemula has now been made into a political issue by Congress, section of media and some other political and non-political groups. It is clearly evident from his suicide note. Rohith was in conflict with himself. Nowhere in the note has he made any reference to his friends or enemies as the reason for his decision to commit suicide. He writes: “I have no complaints on anyone. It was always with myself I had problems. I feel a growing gap between my soul and my body. 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.” His suicide note is self revealing. So connecting his suicide with incidents related to his ideological adversaries is baseless and a cruel political game played with his death by Congress and some groups with vested interests.
Row over disciplinary act
The Proctorial Board of the University has enquired into the matter and submitted a final report after talking to the victim. When the Executive Council (EC) approved the punishment to expel five students, including Rohit Vemula who committed suicide, ASA students did not allow the University administration to function for two days forcing the then in charge Vice Chancellor Prof. R.P. Sharma to withdraw the order with a condition that the matter will be looked into afresh. He constituted a committee, but the committee replied back, after Appa Rao took charge at the end of September, indicating that the recommendations of the statutory bodies like Proctorial Board and executive council cannot be reviewed by such committee.
Meanwhile Susheel’s mother filed a case in the High Court and the court was repeatedly asking the University legal counsel to inform the action taken on recommendations of the Proctorial Board. University has delayed submitting such action taken report with the hope that the court will decide things on its own.
However, in November middle when the court ordered the University legal counsel to submit the ATR with a few days deadline. The Vice Chancellor had appointed an EC sub- headed by senior most professor in EC, which upheld the recommendations of the Proctorial Board. EC adopted VC’s proposal to be a bit lenient because the recommended punishment will deprive the students of the scholarships to continue Ph.D. after the one semester expulsion recommended by the Proctorial Board.
But as a regular practice followed in the University for several years, it was indicated that these students will be permitted in the respective Department, Library and Academic meetings and not in the hostel, administration and other public places in the campus. The decision of the EC was submitted in writing to the high court by the University legal counsel. On behalf of the students, there were a group of students who met VC and demanded revocation of hostel suspension and started branding as “social boycott” order.
High Court refuse to give stay
The five students expelled from the hostel moved high court seeking stay on the hostel suspension. High court judge did not agree to stay the punishment immediately but asked their advocate to club this petition with the one which is already in front of the court on the same matter and posted it for January 19, 2016.
Among five suspended scholars, Sunkanna has even submitted thesis after August 2015. Although they were research students, they waited for the reopening of the University until January 4, 2016 for a protest. “Sleep in open” was the protest chosen by them from January 3, 2016 night. The students erected a small tent with all social leaders’ pictures on flexes and started sleeping at shopping complex in the University. Three of them were sleeping at shopping complex while one of them never joined for health reasons. Sunkanna, was also not part of the sleeping group.
Meanwhile, a student JAC including students union represented by SFI, with support of some faculty started mounting pressure on the University. On January 14, Students JAC members along with the President of Students’ union held 2 hours discussion with VC. VC appealed them to wait for the court decision. The expelled students were not part of this JAC. On the January 17, 2016 morning it was realised that the JAC erected a tent and was planning to announce some form of hunger strike. All of a sudden at 7.20 pm the sad news of suicide broke in the campus. The suicide note has not mention about this hostel expulsion incident or any other concrete point(s).
Meanwhile, now questions are being raised over the `dalit’ status of the suicide student Rohit Vemula. His grandmother says before the media telling that he was from Vaddera caste, (OBC). This effectively means that all along the Dalit discrimination angle was a ruse created by the student group, facilitated by ASA’s mentors and local politicians with an eye on local elections and media channels to get their TRP ratings. Rohit got university admission on his merit, but not on reservation. If at all he submitted a dalit caste certificate that bound to be a doctored one.
By Ch. Narendra from Hyderabad