TELANGANA: Repression in University of Hyderabad as ‘Accused’ VC Resumes Duty
M Venugopala Rao
WHAT is widely perceived as a pre-planned attempt to create unrest and let loose repression on the students in the University of Hyderabad, with the return of its vice chancellor P Appa Rao, one of the accused in the case of death of dalit research scholar Rohith Vemula, from leave to take charge, the police resorted to indiscriminate lathicharge and assault on the agitating students and even on some of the faculty members, and the varsity administration imposed unwarranted restrictions on the campus and even supply of water and electricity to the mess was stopped. Nearly 40 students were injured in the lathicharge, the police arrested 36 students and filed cases against them. Like a bolt from the blue, Appa Rao returned to take charge as VC on March 22, just one day before the scheduled visit of JNU students’ union president Kanhaiya Kumar to the University of Hyderabad and to console the mother of Rohith. The “task sheets”, which have been in circulation, detailing meticulously what was to be done in connection with return of the VC, his holding a meeting with ‘like-minded’ members of the faculty and mobolising students of ABVP, have provided clinching evidence and added credence to the widely expressed view that all this was a pre-planned strategy to provoke the students, create unrest and obstruct visit of Kanhaiya. In the “task sheets”, it was detailed to mobilise students from Life Sciences department, because Appa Rao belongs to that faculty, in his support, obviously, expecting unrest from the students against his return to resume functions as vice-chancellor. Joint Action Committee of students of the University of Hyderabad maintained that the students of ABVP were responsible for the vandalism that had taken place at the administrative building where the vice-chancellor was holding a meeting with a select group of ‘like-minded’ members of faculty, with students from “life sciences” gathered there in his support.
Protesting against Appa Rao resuming charge, the students started agitating on March 22 at the university, going in a procession to the administrative building, and conducted a dharna there. With ABVP activists attacking the students on the dharna, in the skirmishes some furniture were damaged. The police dispersed both the groups of students. When the agitating students were going in a procession raising slogans against the VC resuming charge, police resorted to lathicharge and the students retaliated. Additional police forces were deployed and they resorted to indiscriminate lathicharge on the agitating students.
The Telangana state committee of CPI(M) demanded immediate arrest of Appa Rao and his removal from the post of VC. It demanded immediate release of the arrested students, withdrawal of false cases foisted against them and maintaining the prestige of the university. In a statement, CPI(M) state secretary Thammineni Veerabhadram made it clear that continuation of Appa Rao, who is responsible for the death of Rohith and who has been suppressing students of various social communities, is not acceptable. He strongly condemned the supporters of the VC for pelting stones on the students agitating peacefully and in a democratic manner and the police resorting to brutal lathicharge injuring several students. Veerabhadram pointed out that taking advantage of the indifference of the Government of Telangana, Appa Rao provoked the police against the students. He demanded that the government intervene and restore peace in the university and take action against the policemen responsible for the lathicharge. The state police acting in support of the central government is not good for the Telangana community, Veerabhadram said. Strongly condemning the lathicharge on students, Ch Venkata Reddy, secretary of the state council of the CPI, criticised the central government for continuing this brutality in a planned manner. To restore peace in the university, Appa Rao should be removed from his post and police withdrawn from the campus, he demanded. SFI, CITU, AIDWA, various students’ unions, and mass organisations made similar demands.
With the authorities of the university imposing severe restrictions not to allow outsiders to enter the campus and deploying police forces, Kanhaiya Kumar and leaders of political parties and mass organisations were not allowed to enter the premises on March 23. Only leaders of AIDWA and some other women leaders were allowed. The atmosphere in the university resembled that of a jail and what was happening inside was not known to the outside world. With closure of the mess, when students tried to cook their food, the police resorted to lathicharge, injuring eight students, and threw away the utensils. Addressing the media, Kanhaiya made it clear that a movement was started in JNU with a view to see that the kind of injustice done to Rohith should not be meted out to any other student. The Modi government is letting loose attacks on the students with the aim of suppressing their inquisitive tendency and putting the stamp of sedition on those who are questioning the Sangh Parivar brand of nationalism and patriotism. He said that there was no safety of students in the universities which have been turned into war zones. Demanding enactment of Rohith Act, he explained that as a part and parcel of the movement at JNU he had come to the University of Hyderabad treating the movement there part of the JNU movement. Kanhaiya demanded action against Union Ministers Bandaru Dattatreya and Smriti Irani holding them responsible for the suicide of Rohith. He also delivered the keynote address at a meeting organised at Sundarayy Vignana Kendram by the Forum for Protection of Constitutional Rights. He asserted that the struggle would not stop till caste discrimination is put an end to in the university and gave a call to the student community to fight with unity against communal forces like the RSS and the BJP. When two persons, posing as leaders of Gosamrakshan Samiti, threw a shoe at Kanhaiya, the audience caught and handed them over to the police. Veerabhadram said that the RSS and BJP had sent those two people to disrupt the meeting, unable to digest the way in which Kanhaiya has been blasting the anarchic activities the Sangh Parivar and the Modi government have been indulging in under the garb of patriotism.
An independent fact-finding committee of the Asia Dalit Rights Forum released its interim findings after meeting students, faculty members, police officials and the Telangana Home Minister. It disapproved the return of Appa Rao to the university terming it extreme provocation and as the cause for the subsequent incidents and police brutality. The members of the committee, including Paul Divakar of the Forum, explained to the media that “several women students told us about being kicked on their abdomen and private parts. Some of them were threatened with rape. Many of the students were rushed to a private hospital for treatment. Many of them reported vomiting throughout the night.” They said that “only after seeing the videos posted by students and others did we realise the enormity of human rights abuse on the campus. What kind of university we are going to have where PhD students have to run for their lives. No country should allow its students to live in such an atmosphere of fear.” The committee also revealed that home minister N Narsimha Reddy curtly told Appa Rao when he went to meet him that he need not come back now and that the commissioner of police also had given a similar advice to the VC but to no avail. The committee recommended suspension of Appa Rao pending the outcome of the investigation, bringing back normalcy to the university, stepping up of investigation in the cases filed against the VC, and conducting investigation immediately and taking action against the police who have wilfully neglected their duty.
The issue also figured in the legislative assembly of Telangana, with the opposition parties, barring the BJP, insisting on a discussion on the same. The opposition parties demanded recall of VC Appa Rao and his arrest under the SC, ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act for practicing discrimination and found fault with the powers-that-be for not taking those who are responsible for the suicide of Rohith into custody so far. Replying to the discussion, chief minister K Chandrasekhar Rao assured that he would personally take up the matter of VC’s recall with prime minister Narendra Modi. He said there is widespread opinion that the VC’s return has led to escalation in the situation and announced that he would order an inquiry by a senior officer into the police excesses on the students and faculty member of the university and into the problems being faced by the students due to closure of the mess, etc. The CPI(M) state secretary, in a statement, found fault with the CM for not announcing that Appa Rao would be arrested, though a case under the SC, ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act was lodged against him two months ago. Giving evasive replies, without the state government fulfilling its responsibilities, would not any purpose, Veerabhadram said. The home minister’s statement in the house that Appa Rao was hiding out of fear for his life is ridiculous, the CPI(M) leader said. That the chief minister did not make any statement for unconditional release of the students arrested is a cause for concern, Veerabhadram said.
Veerabhadram and several other leaders of the CPI(M) met the students of the university who were lodged in the Cherlapally central jail. Veerabhadram accused the BJP, RSS and the central ministers of instigating communal activities in a planned manner with a view to gaining political benefit. The students and faculty members were granted bail by a local court and were released on the evening of March 29. They were taken in a procession to the University of Hyderabad where the student community enthusiastically welcomed them.
Memo to President on HCU Incidents
Following is the text of the memorandum that the CPI(M) general secretary, Sitaram Yechury, has submitted to the president of India, Pranab Mukherjee on March 25.
I AM writing this letter to you with a deep sense of anguish regarding the ongoing developments in the Hyderabad Central University.
The president of India is the visitor of this central university. There is an ongoing dispute with the newly appointed vice chancellor. The students, faculty and the entire university community has been agitating for redressing the circumstances which led to the tragic suicide of a bright research scholar, Rohith Vemula. After this suicide, the vice chancellor proceeded on long leave and he suddenly surfaced and took charge on March 22. His resumption of charge was accompanied by a brutal police action against the students and the university community about which I am sure you are aware.
The demand for the removal of this particular vice chancellor by the university community is being met with such a police action which has continued on March 23 as well. The water connection to the hostels, access to wifi, food supplies to the hostel mess – all have been discontinued. When the students themselves organised the cooking of food for the inmates they were once again attacked by the police and all those facilities destroyed.
The reason I am writing to you is because on the issue of removal of the vice chancellor, the HRD ministry has officially stated to the media the following:
“Regarding the demand for the removal of the VC the ministry has conveyed the same to the visitor who is the appointing authority.” Regarding the police action the ministry says that this is an “issue of law and order (that) comes under the jurisdiction of the state government”.
This was conveyed to the entire media in the country by the HRD spokesperson Ghanshyam Goel (as reported in The Hindu web edition of March 24, 2016). Further, the news agency ANI has also put out on social media and the electronic media the same explanation.
The president of India, who is the visitor of the University has now been dragged into the controversy by the HRD ministry. Given this, I am approaching you to intervene in this situation to restore normalcy in this premier central university in our country. As of now some students are still in hospital with serious injuries. Twenty six students have been detained and are in judicial custody along with two members of the faculty. Thus a total of twenty eight persons are in jail.
Further, we are informed that the first decision taken by the vice chancellor upon his return was to defer the meeting of the academic council on Thursday (March 24), which was convened by the in-charge vice chancellor to discuss the setting up of an anti-discrimination committee on the campus, to ensure adequate representation of SCs and STs on various committees of the university and to consider the proposal to increase the non-NET fellowship from Rs 8,000 to Rs 25,000 per month on parity with the Junior Research Fellowship in the country. The in-charge vice chancellor has reportedly pleaded that he had no knowledge of the vice chancellor returning to assume charge of the university.
Following the tragic suicide of Rohith Vemula there was a case registered against the vice chancellor for aiding and abetting this suicide. Instead of proceeding on this case, this gruesome attack on the university community was mounted by the police.
Since the president of India as the visitor of the Hyderabad Central University has been dragged into this controversy by the HRD ministry, I am approaching you to please intervene and ensure that the HCU vice chancellor who took a blatantly anti-dalit stand violating all established norms of social inclusion in the university must be removed forthwith. The case registered against him with the police must be proceeded with and justice must be delivered to the university community and the country.
I would also urge upon you to please intervene to ensure that the Human Resources Development ministry is not allowed to be converted into the Hindu Rashtra Development ministry.
Letter to Telangana CM on HCU Attacks
Below are the excerpts of the letter addressed by CPI(M) general secretary, Sitaram Yechury addressed to the Telangana chief minister, K Chandrasekar Rao on the brutal attack on students and faculty members of Hyderabad Central University. The letter was sent on March 23, 2016.
I HAVE tried in vain to contact you over telephone the whole day today. Several messages have been left with your staff, but there has been no response. Having thus failed, I am writing this letter.
I am writing this letter with a sense of anguish and anger. I am particularly agonised at writing this letter to you on the martyrdom day of Shahid Bhagat Singh.
The brutal police attack against students and other sections of the academic community in the Hyderabad Central University yesterday has been followed up by another round of attack today. Continuing the manner with which the students were dealt with by the Telangana police yesterday, the police today have reportedly mounted yet another attack inside the campus. The manner in which the girl students were attacked by the male police with the liberal usage of foul language against them is reprehensible.
Following the stoppage of water connection, access to wifi, food supplies to the hostel messes, the students themselves organised the preparation of food for the hostel inmates. Today, all these facilities were attacked by the police and the vice chancellor has reportedly shut down the hostels.
Most of us in the country are aghast at the manner in which such brutal assault is mounted on the university community by the Telangana police in one of the premier central universities of our country.
The vice chancellor who proceeded on leave following the tragic suicide of Rohith Vemula was booked under charges of aiding and abetting this suicide by creating the circumstances leading to this tragedy. Instead of proceeding against the vice chancellor on this case, the Telangana police has resorted to such brutality against the students.
The students were protesting against the return of this vice chancellor and demanding that the case against him must be proceeded with. It is clear that the police action under the sanction of the state government was to facilitate the return of this vice chancellor.
The Telangana government, under your stewardship, has been vocal in announcing that it champions the interests of the overwhelming bulk of the state’s population that comes from SC/ST and various other backward classes and the marginalised sections. Surely, your government and administration cannot concur with these latest decisions of this vice chancellor. Yet, it is the Telangana police, under the remit of your government, that has spearheaded this brutal attack against the university and the students. This has happened as the university community continues to remain traumatised over the tragic suicide of Rohith Vemula and the circumstances created on the campus leading to such a tragedy.
Instead of proceeding, I repeat, against the vice chancellor on the basis of the case registered against him, your government has discharged this responsibility of mounting this attack against this university community. It is being reported in the media that 28 students, who are victims of this brutal lathicharge, have now been remanded into custody and lodged at the central Jail.
In the fitness of living up to your own proclamations and assurances, the arrested students must be released immediately and the cases against them must be dropped. The Telangana police must immediately proceed on the registered cases against the vice chancellor. As this is a central university, we are demanding of the central government that their appointed vice chancellor be removed forthwith.