There is nothing more important in ‘student politics’ than the ongoing tension in FTII Pune, if one were to read national media.
Until you type ‘Dalit students’ on Google News. News of torture, ostracisation and harassment abound; but these incidents are another story in the newspapers.
One wonders what it will take for Dalit issues, and the condition of Dalit students in Indian universities, to get the attention it deserves. As we write this, five Dalit students have been socially boycotted and expelled from hostels and other public spaces, by the authorities of the University of Hyderabad after a series of dramatic incidents revolving around a brawl between two students groups in the campus. But unlike FTII, this has failed to get any media attention.
And all this allegedly started with the proposed screening of a documentary, which the BJP and thereby, its student wing, does not want anyone to see. “Muzaffarnagar Baqi Hai” is a documentary that probes into the unexplored questions about the Muzaffarnagar riots.
On August 2, 2015, Ambedkar Students Association (ASA), along with Ambedkar Reading Group, University of Delhi, Ambedkar Periyar Study Circle, IIT, Madras, ASA (TISS), Mumbai and concerned students from IIT Bombay issued a joint statement condemning ABVP attack on screening of ‘Muzaffarnagar Baaqi Hain’. Subsequently, ASA- UoH organised a protest demonstration the next day.
Following this ABVP-HCU Unit President and State committee member, termed the SC, ST. OBC, Minority and like-minded members of ASA as ‘GOONS’. When this act was invoked as atrocious, he tendered written apology in presence of the security officer of the UoH who gave a statement to the proctorial board that the ABVP student was not subjected to any form of violence whatsoever.
Later, he fabricated this issue as a case of man handling by ASA leaders before linking the ongoing strife with ASA’s stand against capital punishment following the hanging of Yakub Memon. Union Minister Bandaru Dattatreya and the ABVP in the campus together manipulated the facts and branded Dalits as casteist, extremist and anti-nationals.
On the falsified complaint of the ABVP leader, the university Proctorial Committee unanimously suspended Dontha Prashanth, Rohith Vemula, Seshu Chemudugunta, Vijay Kumar P Sundar and Sunkanna Velpula. After student organisations protested against this atrocity, the administration revoked the suspension and promised to constitute a new committee and conduct a fresh inquiry about the incidents.
However, due to the pressure of the external right-wing Hindutva forces, the promise was violated by the university authority because the current decision to expel these students from the hostels and other public spaces remains based on the previously-biased inquiry report.
Subsequently, all student organisations in the university, except of course, ABVP, united to form a Joined Action Committee for Social Justice. In a statement issued by ASA-HCU on Facebook, which can be read here the ASA have shown how systematically, the administration continued to protect the ABVP members.
The issue that is more disturbing is the fact that these students have not been able to get an impartial inquiry from within the university. Now they have to depend on the judiciary and outside organisations to ensure that their voices are heard. The proctorial committee that is supposed to look into the issue without any prejudices is now acting as the puppets of right-wing Brahmanical forces.
Take the issue of manhandling ABVP members. BJP MLC, Mr. Ramachandra Rao met the Vice-Chancellor along with some of his party cadre and insisted that the Vice-Chancellor should take action against the Dalit students, terming them as anti-national. Later, an Inquiry Committee was constituted by Professor R.P Sharma, former Vice-Chancellor, under the chairmanship of Professor Alok Pandey. To quote the findings: “The Board could not get any hard evidence of beating of Mr.Susheel Kumar either from Mr Krishna Chaitnya or from the reports submitted by Dr. Anupama. Dr. Anupama’s reports also could not link or suggest that the surgery of the Sushil Kumar is the direct result of the beating.”
However, the final decision of the Proctorial board contradicted diametrically with its own finding. “Based on the Medical officer report (explained by Dr. Anupama), main complainant Susheel Kumar’s deposition and pictures by him and the depositions of two eyewitnesses (names are kept confidential) of the incident, it was evidently cleared that Mr.Susheel Kumar was abused, manhandled, beaten, forced to write apology letter by a group of more than 30 students, lead by Prashant. The main and most active students involved and named by the complainant and mostly confirmed by eyewitnesses, in abusing and hitting are Prashant, Rohit, Seshu, Vijay and Sunkanna”, says the Proctorial Board. How did they arrive on this decision? No one knows.
It is clear that these are adverse conditions in which marginalised students are unable to get a fair inquiry. If this committee fails to set up a proper inquiry with the knowledge of the concerned students and obstruct the delivery of justice, then what hope will the student community have in their proper execution of justice?
For expelled students, solidarity and support
The Joint Action Committee for Social Justice (UoH) on January 6 burnt an effigy of the Union Cabinet Minister of State for Labour and Employment Bandaru Dattatreya protesting his alleged involvement in the ongoing tension in University of Hyderabad. In the public meeting conducted on the same day, several prominent figures came in support of the students and condemned the casteist decision of the university to expel five Dalit research scholars from the hostel and other public spaces.
Telangana SC/ST Employees Welfare Association President Rambabu and All India Mala Mahanadu President Karem Shivaji spoke in the meeting and said that they will intensify protests in the city against Bandaru Dattatreya for misleading MHRD and for being the direct reason for social boycott of Dalit Research Scholars. Dr.Tathagat Sengupta of ‘Democratic Teachers Network’ and Prof.K.Laxminarayana condemned the decision of University and severely criticised Bandaru Dattatreya and BJP’s attempt to thwart on Campus Democracy. Battula Karthik and Sathish Nainala, student representatives from EFLU, and representatives of different student organisation of UoH also spoke in the programme and supported the expelled.
The authors are currently pursuing Masters in Communication from the University of Hyderabad