January 24, 2016

My University?

G Mamatha

WALKING through the main gate, we used to marvel at the expanse. Quiet, beautiful, stoic solitude of our university, with nearly 2,600 acres all for itself. University, the ideal place to think, contemplate, debate, innovate and research upon your ideas! Wow, passing through the main gate, we always felt how the physical presence of the university matches these ideas, providing the right atmosphere to materialise them.

A security barricade slows your march within a few steps of crossing the main gate. The first black spot on the beautiful campus – a stark reminder of the rape of a research scholar that had taken place in the campus on one Independence Day in the mid-90s. Cross the barricade and turn towards your left, there lies the ad-bloc, the administration building, as we used to call. It always had a feeling of being 'outside the main campus', though physically, it is just inside.

The campus comes alive after you take a few more steps inside, with the shop-com (the shopping complex) towards the left and just in front of it, you find the roads leading to the research scholars hostel, those days, it was the C hostel and the NRS. Here starts the buzz of the university, where you find students often discussing and moving around attending to their concerns. The road that passes by the shop-com takes you to the ladies hostels, via the health centre, if you turn to the left and if you take a right turn, you will be in the midst of the various lecture complexes – the social sciences bloc, the science complex, etc, etc, the heart of the university. In the midst of these buildings lies the Ambedkar auditorium. And of course the main entry road branches to various hostels, passes in front of this auditorium and takes you out of the university, through the other gate, the ladies hostel gate. In between you find the open dais, the 'Gops', teachers’ quarters, sports complex, etc. Deep inside the campus, you have the peacock lake and some paleolithic sites too.

A very beautiful trip, for one who just glances the externalities. If somebody wants to scratch the surface and pore into the innards, then comes out the hard reality. Herein was a professor who got a well dug in his residential quarters, so that he can maintain his 'purity', lest he be polluted by drinking the water that was touched by the dalits in the campus. Here was the campus that proudly and openly declared the caste of students, one star to the dalits, two to the tribals and three to the handicapped (or the category now termed as physically challenged or persons with special abilities). And this was the campus where those 'unstarred' freshers were eagerly touched over the shoulders (mostly without any sexual intentions, but with a cheap motive) only to see if the 'sacred thread' exists. If one is found, welcome, my brother, you are the majority in the campus, nothing to fear. This thread and your qualification to wear it, is enough for you to win the elections, top some of the courses and move around the campus as 'the gifted'.

No, never question these givens in the campus. Questioning is politics. Forget that science teaches you to question. Inside this premier science university in the country, science commands us to obey. Aren’t the present vice-chancellor, the ‘puritan’ professor who dug a well in his house, all coming from the science? They are brethren of those scientists who believe that in ancient India there were plastic surgeons, doctors adept at IVF techniques and pilots who flew aircrafts. They possess this 'elite' knowledge. Haven’t we been told that science is the subject of the elite, to be taught by the elite and studied by the elite? If you do not understand or follow these rules, these professors are there to 'teach' you.

Moreover, you are always told, this is a proud apolitical campus. Don't start questioning and try to politicise everything. Yes, no political organisations, no student organisations inside the campus. They malign the reputation of the university, they disturb its peace, its tranquility and its academic rigour. Just be silent. This is an elite university and there cannot be and will not be any problems. So, don't create a problem. This in short is the university – University of Hyderabad, or HCU, as it is fondly called.

Of my, my! Before proceeding, one important fact needs to be stated here. Yes, you can have a RSS shaka. Accept it. It is not a political organisation and is a cultural organisation. It meets at the non-teaching staff quarters. Students may go and attend. But it is not for students alone. That it is for the entire university – teachers, non-teaching staff and students, is another matter. But this cannot be used as an excuse to start a student organisation. No, don't politicise the university.

It is in this background that Rohith Vemula, entered the university. He might have only noticed the security barrier on his entry and failed to see the other invisible mighty barrier that exists in the university. He might have felt the weight of this invisible barrier within few days of his entry, the one which separates 'us' from 'them'. A question might have arisen in him, 'can I call this my campus'? To understand and overcome this sense of alienation, he might have joined a student organisation.

Ah, a student organisation, in an apolitical campus? Yes. The decade of 90s, saw a sprouting of student organisations in the campus, defying the unwritten code of remaining as an apolitical campus. There is a growing awareness to question discrimination. The cuts in budget in the liberalisation decade led to the reduction in the students' facilities in the campus. The rising costs of education had further increased the burdens on the students.

The active RSS shaka, started spreading communal venom and the upper-caste, elite sections in the campus found nothing political in it. When the concerned students’ who were until then discussing their problems in various forums, started questioning and organising, they were branded as politicising the campus! Nothing new here again, as long as the status quo catering to the upper-caste, elite was allowed to remain, it is apolitical. Once that hegemony is questioned, the status quo is challenged it becomes political and disturbing the serenity of the campus. The bottom line is we are tolerant as long as you sing paeans to us, the minute you start questioning, we will not allow anything of such kind. We do not tolerate. Period.

That was not to be. Question the discrimination, question the status quo, question the inequality, question the injustice. Suddenly university sprang to life with questions sprouting everywhere. The upper-caste hegemony was questioned. The elite character of the campus is questioned. Questions and the demand for answers increased the beauty of the university further. Debates led to thinking, which in turn led to activism. Rights are demanded. Laws were sought to be implemented. That became 'the problem' for the administration. The ‘outsider’ suddenly found reason to be alarmed at what is happening inside. The invisible barricade that till then remained as a barricade, now came out into the open as a vicious serpent. The serpent hiding in the campus forests, no longer preferred to stay there. It came out and started striking. 12 students, its count read. Hissss.

Committees and commissions were set up. Reports were submitted to eliminate caste discrimination. Nothing to avail. Every time, the serpent found a way out to escape – to find a new target to strike. Indeed it is not the serpent that found a way to escape, it is the masters, who had shown a way out for the serpent to escape. Rohith is its latest victim. He questioned discrimination. He questioned communal politics. He joined the debate on tolerance. As he did not win any award to return, he gave away his life in the struggle for a tolerant India.

The idea of those in power always is to intimidate us with both 'shock and awe'. They want to snub those who question. Snuff out resistance. Thus they want us to flee the campus, leaving it all for themselves. That should not be allowed at any cost. All such efforts should be overcome through our unity. Unity to resist, unity to regain what genuinely belongs to us. Indeed, this campus is ours, and ours it should remain.

HCU has now become a pilgrimage centre. The country was jolted out of stupor to take note of the university. All sorts of politicians are visiting the campus. A debate is raging across the country. These flames should be used to expose the serpent – the serpent of elitism, communalism, discrimination, inequality that is hiding in the campus. This serpent should not only be dragged out, but also should be de-fanged.

The country is now watching the beauty of my university. The beauty of resistance of its students. After all, a university, minus students is ZERO.