The tragic suicide on January 17, 2016 by Rohith Vemula, a research scholar of Hyderabad Central University, has sparked off widespread protest actions by agitated students in that university as well as in many other campuses across the country. Rohith Vemula was participating in an indefinite day and night dharna along with four other fellow students protesting against their savage persecution by the University authorities.
The tragic suicide was the result of the continued persecution of dalit students, contrary to the justifications being given by the government. These students were active members of the Ambedkar Students Association (ASA). They boldly propagated their views on various political and social issues, and organized students around these issues. In the first week of August 2015, the ASA had organised a protest demonstration against the hanging of Yakub Memon, convicted in the 1993 Bombay blasts case. The ASA had also condemned the attack on the screening of the documentary ‘Muzaffarnagar Baaqi Hai’ (which brings out the role of the ruling establishment in organising the communal massacres in Muzaffarnagar, Uttar Pradesh, in 2013) in Delhi University. The ASA also exposed and opposed the systematic discrimination and humiliation faced by dalits students in the campus at the hand of the authorities. In September 2015, the University authorities suspended Rohith and his fellow activists on trumped up charges. When the students exposed the trumped up nature of the charges and defended themselves, the university authorities had to revoke the suspension. However this did not end the persecution of these students.
Following the intervention of two ministers in the Central government, and the repeated demand by one of them for action against the students for allegedly participating in “anti-national” activities, the university authorities once again suspended the five students, including Rohith, on January 13 and asked them to vacate their hostel. The students then began their indefinite protest highlighting the persecution by the authorities for their views.
The agitating students of Hyderabad Central University and other campuses across the country have charged the university authorities and the Central ministers with persecuting the students for their views, as well as creating the circumstances that drove Rohith to commit suicide. It has come to light amongst other things that Rohith’s monthly fellowship stipend of Rs. 25,000 had not been paid to him since July 2015, causing his family serious financial hardship.
The ruling elite, never tire of declaring that India is the “largest democracy” in the world. How democratic this “largest democracy” actually is can be seen from the fact that a student organization in a university campus that dares to propagate views that are contrary to those of the government is viciously targeted and suppressed and its activists maligned and persecuted. All forms of dissent are attacked and banned. The right to conscience is regularly and systematically violated.
Students and youth all over the country are extremely agitated at the victimization of students by the authorities, for expressing views which may be different from those of the ruling establishment, views which raise questions about the prevailing political and social system, and trying to organise around those views. What has happened in Hyderabad Central University with such terrible consequences, has been happening in many of the universities of the country. IIT Madras last year banned a Dalit students’ group for criticizing the Central Government’s economic policies. It was only after mass agitation by students and people all over the country that that ban was revoked. Two students, who had raised slogans against Prime Minister Narendra Modi when he went to address the convocation of Babasaheb Bhimrao Ambedkar University in Lucknow on January 22, were ejected from the institutes’ hostel by the authorities.
All those who have a view of the problems of the society today and their solution, which is contrary to the view of the ruling establishment, are branded as “anti-national”, accused of “spreading enmity and hatred” and of “waging war against the state”. The deliberate targeting of the students of Hyderabad Central University as “casteist”, “anti national” and “extremist”, by a Central Minister, for exposing and opposing the state organized communal and fascist terror confirms this truth. In reality, it is the Indian ruling establishment which keeps people divided on the basis of caste, religion, region, language, etc.
The notes Rohith Vemula wrote to the authorities of Hyderabad Central University before his death, as well as the life experience of his fellow dalit students in the university have brought into sharp focus the deep seated discrimination, the daily humiliation and persecution, faced by dalit students in what are supposed to be “centres of enlightenment”. While every government that comes to power swears to end caste oppression and discrimination, in fact caste oppression and discrimination is all pervasive and institutionalised. Oppressed and marginalized sections of our people, like Dalits, are systematically victimized on university campuses across the country.
The right to dissent, the right to conscience, must not be allowed to be violated by the powers that be. Lok Raj Sangathan supports the struggle of the students and youth of Hyderabad University and all over the country, in defence of the right to conscience, as an important part of the struggle to build a new society where people are empowered.
By an LRS correspondent