Turmoil rages in the University of Hyderabad again as 25 students and two professors who were protesting against the return of Vice-Chancellor P Appa Rao have been arrested and sent to Cherlapally Jail. While the bail plea of those arrested is to come up on Monday, simmering tensions have left faculty and students uneasy.
The Congress, CPM and the MIM have condemned the Narendra Modi government at the Centre and TRS government for the high-handed manner in which students were handled by the police.
Telangana Pradesh Congress Committee chief Uttam Kumar Reddy, who visited the students lodged at Cherlapally Jail, accuses the K Chandrasekhar Rao government of branding Dalit, ST, BC and minority students as “criminals”. He said the TRS, instead of sending Appa Rao, an accused in the SC/ST Atrocities case (the suicide of Rohith Vemula), to jail, was instead targeting innocent students who were brutally beaten up and lathi-charged.
Uttam Kumar Reddy said false cases would not deter students from taking up democratic struggles.
Akshita Chitla, a UoH student doing her Integrated MSc (Physics), and part of the protest on March 22, says that “girls were issued rape threats by the police”. “Many female students were slapped and dragged around roughly. One girl, Anaswara, was kicked in the stomach by a male policeman with his boots. The decision to reinstate P Appa Rao as V-C despite a majority of students opposing him proves that this was a pre-planned conspiracy,” says Akshita.
On March 22 as Appa Rao held an Executive Council meeting at his residence allegedly in the presence of students who were ABVP supporters, students of the JAC seeking justice for Rohith Vemula attacked the V-C’s residence. This led to a lathicharge and subsequent arrests.
“Where was the need for Appa Rao to hold an Executive Council meeting at his private residence? And also, instead of discussing increasing the number of fellowships and an Anti-discrimination Committee, the agenda of the meeting was promotions of certain faculty and recruitment,” fumes Akshita.
UoH spokesperson Vipin Srivastava says that contrary to media reports, the situation in the University is quite peaceful. “Only two weeks of teaching is left and students are anxious about their final exams. Classes were disrupted only for two days on March 22 and 23. The incident that took place on March 22 was unfortunate. An Executive Council meeting was going on. Alongside V-C Appa Rao, there were several Deans present. We never expected this kind of behavior from the students. Violence started around 10.30 am and continued for four hours,” says Srivastava.
With regard to the students’ demand that Appa Rao be removed as Vice-Chancellor, Srivastava says, “The University runs according to some rules and regulations in a statute. The V-C’s appointment is through a certain procedure and ultimately it is the President of India who gives the nod. Now if a set of students don’t like him, it does not mean he will be replaced.” Srivastava says that the immediate meeting of the Executive Council was necessitated after Appa Rao’s return because an in-charge V-C cannot take long-term policy decisions. Appa Rao had proceeded on leave on January 24 after the unrest over Rohith’s suicide.
Among those arrested are two Professors, Tathagata Sengupta (Mathematics) and K Yesu Ratnam (Political Science), a Dalit activist. Lawyers appearing for the students and teachers are J Bhim Rao, Vasudha Nagaraj, C Damodar Reddy and B Raghunath. According to the varsity registrar’s complaint, some 10 students attacked the V-C’s lodge, damaged the TV, furniture, computer and laptops. They were reportedly prevented from entering the main room by other students and faculty who saved the V-C from physical harm.
ABVP leader and UoH student Susheel Kumar, who has been named as an accused in Rohith’s suicide, says, a few students in the university are trying to take administration into their own hands by attacking teaching, non-teaching staff and the media. “Rohith certainly deserves justice. His suicide was an unfortunate incident and I am not running away from an inquiry. If I am found guilty, I am willing to be punished but in the meantime, the case is in High Court. How can a bunch of students bully others and not let them attend classes,” Susheel asks.
Referring to JNU student leader Kanhaiya Kumar’s visit to the UoH, Susheel says the ABVP has always welcomed debate and has no objection. Susheel says that he is being harassed all the time by the Ambedkar Students Union who have put up posters stating, “Susheel, there is blood on your hands” in the University.
Meanwhile, Raja Vemula, younger brother of Rohith Vemula says that his family is dejected by the arrests as these incidents are an indirect message that the police and state establishment were supporting Appa Rao. “Anyone who supports the “Justice for Rohith” cause is being arrested.”
Raja clarifies that his mother had sough a job for him from Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal. “That is the demand of the students’ body. As far as my mother and I are concerned, we demand that the V-C be removed and students be granted bail immediately,” insists Raja.