HCU Fails Dalit Students’ Hopes, Two Years After Rohith Vemula

Two years after Rohith Vemula’s demise, family & friends believe the university is still caught in the web of caste.

4 min read
He said if you want to become a scientist or do PhD, do not do it in India. Because even if you do, you will just be a Dalit doctor, a Dalit millionaire. Nothing more. 
Raja Vemula, Rohith’s brother

Six security guards stood at the Hyderabad Central University gate and stopped every person and vehicle and double-checked them before granting entry into the institution. No special permissions or requests were entertained.

This has been the drill for the last two years now. Today two police vans also joined the security forces.

On 17 January 2016, PhD student Rohith Vemula killed himself at the University of Hyderabad after alleged caste-based discrimination, triggering protests across India.

Two years later, students and family members say not much has changed.


The Start of a Discourse

In his last letter before killing himself, Rohith said, “Let my funeral be silent and smooth. Behave like I just appeared and gone.”

Well, that letter was the start of many conversations about issues that have muted several students across fields, institutions, cities and states.

Dontha Prashanth, one of the four students who were suspended along with Rohith, said, “This 17th could be a culmination of various struggles happening across the country against Hindutva fascists reducing the value of a man to his immediate caste identity. Basically killing Dalits and Muslims.”

Even after two years of protests, the questions asked by them have still not been answered, says Prashanth.

“Be it the Bhima Koregaon incident which happened as an aftermath of the resistance by Prakash Ambedkar, be it the incident at Satavahana university where the ABVP attacked Sujatha Surepally who has been struggling against the Hindutva regime or case of K Laxminarayana who has been called bastard by one of his students. There have been more and more adverse incidents happening since Rohith and no remedy whatsoever,” he adds.


The administration says they have now been put under the spotlight and despite trying to apply medicine over the wounds, their efforts are not being understood by the students. A grievance redressal mechanism has been put in place but students say it is all just a gimmick.

They question why caste-based incidents continue to happen on the campus and why the press is barred from the event marking the second death anniversary of Rohith Vemula.


Jog Down Memory Lane

On 30 July 2015, students of the Ambedkar Students’ Union (ASA) held a rally in the University of Hyderabad following the hanging of Yakub Memon. A week later, ABVP leader Sushil alleged that a group of 30-40 ASA activists assaulted him in reaction to his comment calling them goons.

He was admitted to the hospital the next day and his parents filed a case against Rohith and others for allegedly beating up their son.

An inquiry committee was set up the University and state minister Bandaru Dattatreya wrote to the then HRD minister Smriti Irani urging action. In just 2 months, five ASA students were suspended and barred from entering academic wings.

Rohith and his friends set up a tent and started sleeping in the open and in a fortnight, he committed suicide.

The University and the Centre chose to keep aside the circumstances leading to his death. The search for an answer to the big question began: Was Rohith Vemula a Dalit, after all?

So Has this Discourse Changed Caste Politics On Campus?

Student union leader Sheeraj gives a smirk when asked that question.

We cannot even breathe. Public gatherings are banned, media entry is banned. Even outside food is banned! So we are basically in a jail.
Shreeraj, President, Hyderabad Central University Student Union

Karan Palsaniya, a PhD student of history and ABVP leader, abused a Dalit professor K Laxminarayana on Facebook for an exam paper he had set which had questions that were critical of the NDA government's policies.

“Ba****d Laxminarayana is now preaching what ‘saffronisation’ is. He doesn’t even know the basics of Economics and now he’s preaching about ‘saffronisation’. He has become a professor only because of his blackmailing tricks,’’ read the abusive post.

The student has been called for interrogation but none of the faculty members have raised any objections to the post. Student union members say it is no coincidence that the professor is a Dalit and also someone who was a loud voice during protests seeking justice for Rohith Vemula.


Action Plan for 2019 Elections Underway

The student union members are keen that they are not going to let the tears of a mother and the death of their dear brother go in vain.

Today, on account of Rohith’s second death anniversary, progressive leaders from across the country have come to Hyderabad University to show their solidarity on Rohith’s second death anniversary.

Rohith’s mother Radhika believes this is the third wave of Dalit progressive politics and there are many Rohiths in this country who will ensure caste is not a reality at least for the generations to come.

Sannaki Munna, Rohit’s colleague, says the scars cannot be forgotten or forgiven.

The Rohith issue reached 42 countries and had several protests across the world. Imagine how many Rohiths are sitting in houses in India. . . They will speak up and things will get better from 2019.
Sannaki Munna, President, ASA

Rohith Vemula said he gave up when he realised that "the value of a man was reduced to his immediate identity and nearest possibility. To a vote. To a number. To a thing.”

Two years later, we are still living that same reality.

Never was a man treated as a mind. As a glorious thing made up of star dust. In every field, in studies, in streets, in politics, and in dying and living.
Rohith Vemula

Video Editor: Vivek Gupta

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