In yet another indictment of Hyderabad Central University Vice Chancellor Professor Appa Rao for his inaction in ensuring the rights of students on campus, an independent fact finding committee, formed by human rights activists and Dalit organisations from across the country, has recommended that he should be suspended until the investigation against him concludes.
The interim report, released on Saturday at Hyderabad Press Club, questioned Appa Rao’s decision to return to the campus and claimed that his move resulted in “disruption” of peace on the campus which was slowly limping back to normalcy after two months of protests.
The agitation that started after the suicide of Dalit scholar Rohith Vemula in the university on January 19 has gained pace again with Appa Rao's return from his two months long leave last week as the protests led to the university being turned into a fortress, with no outsiders allowed to enter the campus.
On Tuesday, a section of students protested against Appa Rao's return and marched to his office where vandalism was reported and the police arrested 27 people, including at least two professors, from the campus. Those arrested are accused of 11 charges, ranging from trespassing to damage to public property.
Later on, the police filed a remand order in which 26 more students were named as co-accused after which a fact finding committee was formed by representatives from organisations such as Amnesty International, Round Table India, National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights among others.
Their interim report was filed after two days of investigation and interviews with students, police and the Telangana home minister even as they weren’t allowed to enter the university or speak with Appa Rao who denied their request for an interview.
Asha Kowtal from the All India Dalit Mahila Adhikar Manch, which participated in the fact finding probe, questioned if this is how a “shining” country treats its students.
“What kind of a country treats its students in this manner?” Kotwal asked. “ A person accused of a crime under the SC/ST PoA [the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989] assumes public office and the students are deprived of food, water, and basic facilities and live under siege with constant threats. Is this the real face of shining India?”
The report highlights how a sense of fear prevailed on campus after the registrar M Sudhakar passed an order on March 23 banning entry of outsiders in the university.
“We are of the strong opinion that this was only an effort to try to keep the university as a closed ‘fortress’ with no external visitor allowed to meet the faculty or students on campus and see for themselves the place of occurrence of the campus violence let loose on the 22nd March, 2016”.
The committee also questioned the denial of requests for interviews by the vice chancellor, interim vice chancellor Vipin Srivastava and the registrar, along with denial of entry to campus for the probe panel. It said that the university officials had “more to hide than reveal” in the violence of March 22.
Disruption of order
The committee took note of the renewed protests which started after Appa Rao's return and said that the “inaction of state, central governments” contributed to the situation.
“The return of the Vice Chancellor, Appa Rao, who had proceeded on indefinite leave triggered the disruption of peace on campus,” the report states adding that he was advised against returning to the campus by the Police Commissioner and the state’s Home Minister. “In spite of the Home Ministry’s advice he chose to return to the university.”
Following this, the committee has recommended that the vice chancellor must be “suspended pending the outcome of the investigation” and appealed to the central government to “swiftly and efficiently” ensure that the VC is replaced in “close consultation” with university students and faculty.
Not just the VC, the report questions the action of the police on campus on Tuesday after which many students reported being beaten up so badly that they had to be lodged in hospitals, while many women students on campus alleged that they were manhandled and harassed by the police personnel who cracked down on protesting students after vandalism inside the VC’s office was reported.
“Police need to step up their response in dealing with the cases filed (VC, and student arrests) with efficiency and due legal process both in the case of the VC and the arrested students,” the report states.
“Criminal investigation should be immediately conducted and action should be taken against the police who have wilfully neglected their duty under Section 4 of the SC ST Prevention of Atrocities Amendment Act 2016.”