Try Smriti Irani and Dattatreya for Their Casteism: HCU Scholar

A research scholar apprises us of the systematic oppression meted out to Dalit students at HCU.

3 min read
Rohith Vemula was a member of the Ambedkar Students’ Association. (Photo: Altered by <b>The Quint</b>)

The suicide of Rohith Vemula, a research scholar at the Hyderabad Central University (HCU) has decidedly shown that our higher education system is anything but enabling. HRD Minister Smriti Irani held a press conference and stated that this is “not a dalit vs non-dalit issue”.

The Quint spoke with Shujaudeen, a PhD research scholar at the Hyderabad Central University and also a member of the Joint Action Committee (JAC) formed to carry forward the protest movement after Rohith’s death. According to Shujaudeen, there is a long history of systematic oppression of dalit students at the university.

In 2008, when I was a student at the English and Foreign Languages University, the other Central University in Hyderabad, a Dalit research scholar named Senthil Kumar committed suicide. Senthil was perhaps the first member from his family to gain access to higher education.

An endemic lack of proper refresher courses to aid students from underprivileged backgrounds characterises most of this country’s central and state universities.

Rohith Vemula committed suicide after being labelled anti-national. (Photo Courtesy: <a href=";type=3">Facebook/rohith352</a>)
Rohith Vemula committed suicide after being labelled anti-national. (Photo Courtesy: Facebook/rohith352)

Senthil was unable to clear one of his papers and was penalised by stopping his fellowship. His fellowship went not only towards sustaining his education and stay at the university but also towards partially aiding his family. Devastated, Senthil committed suicide.

Shujaudeen told us that till date, 15 Dalit students have committed suicide at HCU.

Till date, 15 Dalit students have committed suicide in this university. In 2013, a high court judge analysed data related to all these incidents and submitted a report. We refuse to just term this as a suicide. It is institutional murder. The conditions which led him to take such action were created.

According to Shujaudeen, it all started when the Ambedkar Students’ Association (ASA) organised a screening of the documentary Muzaffarnagar Baaqi Hai. Susheel Kumar, a member of the university branch of the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), posted some derogatory comments on Facebook concerning the screening and the ASA.

ASA members asked him to issue an apology, which he produced in the presence of security officials. But later, he posted again on Facebook, alleging that ASA members had assaulted him. Susheel’s mother then filed a police complaint, leading to the arrest of 5 students, including Rohith.

Bandaru Dattatreya (left) and deceased scholar Rohith Vemula. (Photo: <b>The Quint</b>)
Bandaru Dattatreya (left) and deceased scholar Rohith Vemula. (Photo: The Quint)

Minister of Labour and Employment Bandaru Dattatreya then wrote to Irani, following which she sent four correspondences to check the activities of “anti-national” students on the campus. ASA had also brought out a gayebi janaza to voice dissent against capital punishment after Yakub Memon was sentenced to death.

Till date, even after 17 days of protest, the Vice Chancellor has not taken up the matter. He has not even met Rohith’s family. You would know that Rohith wrote a letter before he took his life, urging the administration to act justifiably. But nothing has happened.

Shujaudeen added that caste is still a pervasive, calumnious reality in the university campus, resonant in the order issued by the administration, barring the students’ entry into libraries, hostel, administrative offices etc.

Rahul Gandhi with Rohith Vemula’s mother. (Photo: PTI)
Rahul Gandhi with Rohith Vemula’s mother. (Photo: PTI)

It is just like having Dalitwadas, demarcated spaces for Dalits out of which they can’t exist. Restricting Dalit students access in the university, which should be an inclusive and enabling space, is analogous to creating Dalitwadas within an educational institution,

The JAC has demanded that both Smriti Irani and Bandaru Dattatreya be tried for their casteist actions.

It seems that the students’ movement at HCU will only get stronger, with support from international student communities pouring in.

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