Rohith Vemula Suicide: Agitating Students Reject University's Decision To Revoke Suspension

22/01/2016 8:43 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST
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Activist of a Dalit organization participate in a candle light vigil holding photographs of Indian student Rohith Vemula in Hyderabad, India, Wednesday, Jan 20, 2016. The activists were protesting the death of Vemula who, along with four others, was barred from using some facilities at his university in the southern tech-hub of Hyderabad. The protesters accused Hyderabad University's vice chancellor and a federal minister of unfairly demanding punishment for the five lower-caste students after they clashed last year with a group of students supporting the governing Hindu nationalist party. (AP Photo/Mahesh Kumar A.)

The agitating students at Hyderabad University on Thursday rejected the decision by the Executive Council to revoke the suspension of the research scholars "with immediate effect". One of the five Dalit students, Rohith Vemula committed suicide on Sunday after spending days facing social boycott on the campus.

The members of the Joint Action Committee (JAC) for Social Justice who are representing the protesters allegedly chased away the professors Vice Chancellor Appa Rao Podile had sent to hold a dialogue with the students. The protestors are also seeking the resignation of Podile.

Rohith was deprived of his rights considering his political awareness. It's a clear case of helplessness

Meanwhile, a senior Dalit professor rubbished Education Minister Smriti Irani's statement that he had headed a committee that decided the expulsion of Vemula and four other Dalit students. Professor Prakash Babu, Dean of Student's Welfare, told NDTV that he was a last-minute addition to the committee and he in fact "protested and argued the suspension of students will hamper their growth."

Also Read: Rohith Vemula's Suicide: Smriti Irani Is Lying, Say SC/ST Professors At Hyderabad University

Also Read: Rohith Vemula Suicide: ABVP Leader Susheel Kumar Denies Lying About Being Assaulted

Babu said the revocation of suspension is the first step that is subject to proceedings in the High Court and appealed to the students to accept the decision saying more announcements will follow on issues like the compensation. "The VC will meet the students action committee and talk to them. The primary demand was revocation of the suspension and they should accept it," he said.

hyderabad university

Yesterday, friends of Vemula said he was well-liked and was definitely not depressed.

"Rohith was deprived of his rights considering his political awareness. It's a clear case of helplessness," Dayal Paleri, a Students Federation of India (SFI) member and a friend of Rohith told HuffPost India.

"Rohith was an excellent human being. A lot of people knew him well, and whenever he needed any help a lot of people would step forward to help him," Ramjee Chintagada, a friend Rohith mentioned in his suicide note, said.

The storm over the suicide of Vemula intensified as the Controller of Examinations and 12 other faulty members belonging to SC/ST communities gave up their administrative posts in solidarity.

The Controller of Examinations, Chief Medical Officer and Chief Warden were among the 13 faculty members belonging to SC-ST communities who gave up their administrative posts which they were holding as an additional responsibility.

dalit suicide

Vijaya Kumar, one of the students, whose suspension was revoked, said this was not enough.

"The VC must go. This (revocation) is a welcome decision. But we can't celebrate it because Rohith is not there. We are not able to accept your decision. We have other demands like appropriate compensation and a job for one of the members of Rohith's family."

Earlier, members of Dalit (SC/ST) faculty of Hyderabad University said in a statement that it is unfortunate that the HRD Minister Smriti Irani "misrepresented" the facts of the case by stating that the senior most dalit professor actually headed the executive council sub-committee which took the decision to suspend the students, while it was headed by an "upper caste" Professor Vipin Srivastava.

"Such a baseless and misleading statement coming from Honourable Minister of HRD amounts to bringing down the morale of the Dalits holding administrative positions in this university as well as other universities...In response to the Honourable Minister's fabricated statements, we the Dalit (SC/ST) faculty and officers will lay down our administrative positions," the statement said.

When contacted, a senior faculty member told PTI, "We (faculty and other officials) are going to give up our administrative posts if the minister doesn't correct her statement."

The faculty body further said that it is unfortunate that since its inception, no Dalit representation has been given in the Executive Council of University of Hyderabad.

They said it was just a coincidence that the chief warden was a Dalit and he only implemented the orders of the higher authorities that proclaimed of suspension of five students, including Rohith.

dalit suicide

Rahul Gandhi talks during a protest after Rohit Vemula was found dead at Hyderabad Central University.

"By deflecting this issue, the Honourable HRD Minister is absolving herself and the Honourable Minister Bandaru Dattatreya from being responsible for the death of Rohith Vemula," the teachers' body alleged.

Expressing solidarity with the agitating students of the varsity, they demanded immediate revocation of suspension and withdrawal of all police cases filed against the students. The HCU had in September last year suspended the five students, including Rohith, for six months (entire semester) for allegedly assaulting ABVP leader Susheel Kumar in August.

But, the suspension was later revoked. However, in December, while allowing them to attend classes, the HCU had denied them access to the hostel. The five research scholars, under the umbrella of a Joint Action Committee, had termed their "expulsion" (except classrooms and workshops related to subject of their study) from hostel as "undemocratic" and a "social boycott" and were forced to sleep in a make-shift tent on the campus.

After the alleged suicide of Rohith, the issue sparked strong reactions on the campus.

In the statement, HCU Vice-Chancellor, who is under attack over the issue, appealed to the university community to maintain calm and harmony under the extraordinary circumstances prevailing on the campus and repose faith in the internal mechanisms to resolve the issue. He urged all in the university to contribute to resuming regular class work, research activities and administrative work without further delay.

Adding further political thrust to the agitation, which saw non-BJP party leaders making a beeline to the campus in the last few days, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal reached the campus today and called for removal of Union ministers Smriti Irani and Bandaru Dattatreya.

The research scholar's suicide following his suspension snowballed into a major row with BJP's rivals wading into it and demanding the removal of Irani and and Labour Minister Dattatreya, accusing them of being responsible for the death.

There are about 50 SC/ST faculty and officers working in the university, out of which 13 are holding administrative positions.

"We (13) have laid down our positions. We have sent letters to that extent. But the letters are yet to be accepted. This should not be called resignation", HCU s Chief Medical Officer Ravindra Kumar said.

Rejecting the order of termination of suspension of four research scholars from hostel, the agitators said they will continue their protests as they burnt a copy of this order.

The protesting students insisted that the termination of suspension appeared to be conditional and that action should be taken in the case, involving Union Minister of State for Labour and Employment Bandaru Dattatreya, Vice-Chancellor Prof. Appa Rao Podile and others named in the FIR, besides fulfilling the demands like Rs five crore compensation to Rohit's family.

They noted that this order seemed to be just a circular from the Dean of Student Welfare in the backdrop of "extraordinary situation" in the university and asked if the suspension would be invoked again if the "extraordinary situation came to an end".

The HCU had in September last year suspended the four students D Prashant, P Vijay Kumar, Sheshaiah Chemudugunta and V Sunkanna--and Vemula Rohit Chakravarthi, who committed suicide in a hostel room on the campus on 17 January, for six months (entire semester) for allegedly assaulting ABVP leader Susheel Kumar the previous month.

But the suspension was revoked later. However, last month while allowing them to attend classes, the HCU had denied them access to hostel.

The five students had termed the "punishment" against them barring entry into hostel (they were however permitted to attend classes and workshops related to the subject of their study) as "undemocratic" and a "social boycott" which forced them to sleep in a make-shift tent on the campus.

Lending further political weight to the agitating students, who are demanding the resignation of Union Minister of State for Labour and Employment Bandaru Dattatreya, removal of the Vice-Chancellor, Rs five crore compensation to Rohit s family and an employment to a member of his family, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal interacted with the agitating students and extended his support to their protests. Senior CPI leaders Suravaram Sudhakar Reddy and D Raja were among the politicians who visited the campus to support the protesting students.

Accusing Irani of trying to play "dirty caste politics", Kejriwal demanded her removal from the Cabinet, along with Dattatreya.

"Smriti Irani lied yesterday and tried to play dirty caste politics and try to play with emotions of students. We demand that she seek an apology from the entire country for that. We appeal to the Prime Minister to remove Irani and Dattatreya from his Cabinet", he said.

Kejriwal further demanded that Irani s name be included in the FIR booked in connection with the case, and all those who figure in it be arrested. He alleged that Irani tried to play caste politics to make the ongoing row in the University as a "dalit verses non-dalit" issue.

In the HCU statement on revocation of suspension, the VC also appealed to the University community to maintain calmness and harmony under the extraordinary circumstances prevailing on the campus and repose faith in the internal mechanisms to resolve the issue.

He urged everyone to contribute to resuming regular class work, research activities and administrative work without further delay. He also called upon all the teachers, students, officers and supporting staff to rise to the occasion.

When asked why it took so long to revoke the suspension of the research scholars from the hostel, HCU Dean (Students Welfare), Prakash Babu, said: "Since the matter is pending before the High Court, we sought legal opinion from our lawyer for revocation. However, due to holiday for Sankranthi, we could not get legal opinion so quickly. Meanwhile, this unfortunate incident (Rohit's suicide) happened".

(With PTI inputs)

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