Two months after the suicide of the Dalit research scholar Rohith Vemula, Hyderabad Central University is smouldering again. The return of Vice Chancellor Appa Rao Podile after a two-month hiatus has sparked demonstrations, students say the campus mess has been shut down, and the authorities have banned entry of outsiders.
On Wednesday, Kanhaiya Kumar, president of the Jawaharlal Nehru University Students’ Union, was barred from addressing a scheduled meet on campus at the invitation of a group that is spearheading the agitation demanding “justice for Rohith Vemula”.
Defending the denial of permission, Vice Chancellor Podile told PTI: “Nobody has approached for permission. Definitely, there is no permission.”
Podile had gone on “indefinite leave” on January 24, as protests erupted after Vemula’s suicide, with a number of students blaming the administrator for the death. Podile was named in the First Information Report as an accused in the suicide case.
His return to Hyderabad Central University on Tuesday inflamed anger on campus. Some students ransacked the vice chancellor’s office to protest against what they claim was an “institutional murder”. The agitating students, while criticising the Human Resource Development Ministry for “reinstating” the vice-chancellor, have demanded his resignation. According to news reports, 25 students were arrested for the vandalism.
The protesting students say the authorities are hitting back at them in insidious ways. On Wednesday, social media was abuzz with reports that the campus mess had been shut down, and students didn’t have access to electricity, water and internet.
Students say even food deliveries were not being allowed into the campus. “We are cooking our own food inside the hostel mess and near the shopping complex, where the police is trying to shut down the operation by saying that it’s not allowed,” said a PhD student, requesting anonymity.
The student added: “This is an orchestrated attempt by the Bharatiya Janata Party and their student wing Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad to implicate protesters who were not even indulging in vandalism.”
In the midst of this, help has poured in from outside the campus. Some eateries in Hyderabad are providing free food to the university’s students, while a crowd-sourced survey is collecting details of those ready to offer accommodation, food and water.
Rohith Vemula had committed suicide in January after being suspended from the university along with a few others for allegedly getting into a scuffle with members of the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad on campus.
On Wednesday, the Joint Action Committee for Social Justice at the varsity, which is seeking Justice for Vemula, had invited JNU student leader Kanhaiya Kumar to address the protesting students. Kumar arrived at the university early Wednesday but he wasn’t allowed to enter. He took to Twitter to express his disappointment.
Kumar later spoke to the media gathered outside the campus gates and alleged that the Central government had raked up the JNU issue to divert attention from Vemula’s suicide.
“To suppress HCU [Hyderabad Central University] issue, the government raised JNU issue,” he said. “Students want to study and government should ensure that such an environment is provided. But the MP, MLA, Smriti Irani polarised the atmosphere in University.”
Kanhaiya reiterated the Hyderabad University students’ demand to pass a Rohith Act, which aims to prevent caste-based prejudice in educational institutions. He condemned the vandalism at the vice chancellor’s office, without naming the perpetrators. “The Dronacharya system should end at universities," he said. "[The] Rohith Act should be created to ensure no other Eklavya dies.”
ABVP members claim the time “isn’t right” for anyone to come to the university and escalate protests since exams and placements are coming up.
“We respect democracy, but at this time and at this juncture, it is not the right time to enter the university,” said Gurajada G, member of ABVP’s state executive and a scholar at the Telugu Department of the university. “Kanhaiya may give lectures anywhere else he wants. Already enough violence has taken place at the campus. We have lot of issues going on. We are not in the mood of encouraging terrorist like-minded people.”
In addition to Kumar, many student organisations and political outfits that came to the campus to lend their support to the agitating students were prevented from entering. Among them was Roji M John, National President of the National Students Union of India. “It is undemocratic to restrict media, politicians and students," he said. "Our fight will continue till all demands are met.”
Meanwhile, several students alleged on Facebook that many of those reportedly arrested by the police for vandalising the vice chancellor’s office were now untraceable.
A student named Vaikhari Aryat, wrote: “Undeclared emergency is prevailing in UoH now. No food, no water, no electricity and no internet. Sangh administration, police and ABVP nexus do whatever they can to suppress all kinds of resistance.”
She added in another update that the internet was cut off and the students were “alienated”. “University cut off our internet facility since forenoon," she said. "There’s no drinking water available in mess, no dining hall opened anymore and internet blackout too. This is going really well VC. You have got us starved, thirsty and alienated from reaching out to outside world!”
On Tuesday, the university authorities had asked the local police for help when the vice chancellor was stuck in his residence as students protested outside. The Rapid Action Force and Central Police Reserve Force cleared up the office and took students into custody. Students allege that their phones were confiscated when they tried to film this action as well as the police search for specific students.