Around 12 pm on Monday, the main gate of Hyderabad Central University was thrown open by hundreds of protesting students from inside to get out and speak to the press which wasn’t being allowed to enter the campus.
Even as the security personnel and police stationed at the gate resisted, students stormed outside – an act that signified their pent up anger against the authorities who had blocked all access to the university for the media.
The movement was now out in the open for all to witness and capture. Local and national press reporters huddled and hustled against each other to get the first visuals and reactions on their cameras after being denied entry to the campus for six days, which many claim has resulted in a virtual black-out of original reportage from the university.
The security squad had sealed all entrances to the campus on Monday except the main gate where at least 20 personnel were going through identification cards of every person who attempted to get inside the university. Many reporters also tried to get in but they were largely unsuccessful in their attempts. The university was virtually impenetrable.
Anyone standing outside the main gate would have faintly heard the slogans raised by protesters gathered at the shopping complex where students continued to pour in by boycotting their classes even as the controversy-tainted Vice Chancellor Professor Appa Rao Podile had called for resuming of classes starting Monday in the light of upcoming exams and placements.
Students came armed with hundreds of posters – and stationery to make some more – while they sat next to the memorial erected for Dalit Scholar Rohith Vemula who committed suicide in January after being expelled from the campus on the charges of harassing a leader from the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad.
"We are being threatened by the state's use of the police force," said Sai Kumar, a student who hails from Vijaywada. "It is shameful that the administration is filing complaints against their own students and that they are being used as a weapon to silence our voices which are just asking for justice for Vemula."
Vemula’s suicide triggered protests in January which calmed down a bit after Appa Rao, the vice chancellor, went on a two-month-leave. But his return last week led to protests, and reports of vandalism protesters at his office, after which police lathicharged the students and arrested 27 of them along with two professors. Another 26 students have been named as co-accused in a remand order.
The students on Monday were asking for Appa Rao's resignation and dropping of all charges. As the fresh copies of press releases arrived at the shopping complex, each student took some and began scribbling an extra point to their list of five demands. This related to the end of entry ban for outsiders on campus and a student, adding the sixth point, said that it was among the most important demands to help them achieve their objectives.
“There are no media persons inside and we have no way to connect to them and show them how this campus has turned into a prison,” he said. “We are being treated like birds in a cage but today we will have to storm out and tell the press people about our struggle and make sure that our voice is heard till Delhi where nobody seems to care too much about all this.”
Students from the university’s school of social sciences staged a rally where students raised slogans against the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, the state government and the college administration. This rally arrived at the shopping complex and then merged with students who had already gathered to go outside the gates and address the press. Many were sporting black ribbons tied on their wrists or pinned to their shirts as a mark of protest against what the students call an “undeclared emergency” on the campus.
The protesters raised the hallmark "azadi" slogans in unison right outside the university gates and demanded freedom from Brahmanism, RSS and their Vice Chancellor.
The Students Union President Zuhail KP who belongs to the Students Federation of India spoke to the students and called for an intensified agitation while taking a few digs at the Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
“We will throw out Appa Rao from this campus and nobody can stop the spring from arriving at HCU,” he said adding that more than 75% of the classes were voluntarily boycotted by students and teachers on Monday, proving that their movement was not just “about a small fraction of students.”
“We don’t take our orders from Nagpur headquarters,” he said, referring to the RSS which is the ideological fountain-head of the current Bharatiya Janata Party government. “Our students and faculty are not reserved for jail. You can take Appa Rao or you can take Bandaru Dattatreya. We don’t post selfies or wear coats with our names written on them. We stand for the lakhs of people who are oppressed and we have a lot of work to do outside and inside the campus – this can’t be done from jail.”