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Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Dalit PhD student Rohith Vemula commits suicide, Hyderabad Central University students protest - First Post

Dalit PhD student Rohith Vemula commits suicide, Hyderabad Central University students protest
by FP Staff  Jan 18, 2016 11:19 IST

In August last year, the Ambedkar Students Association (ASA), along with Ambedkar Reading Group, University of Delhi, Ambedkar Periyar Study Circle, IIT Madras, ASA (TISS) in Mumbai and concerned students from IIT Bombay issued a joint statement condemning an Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) attack on screening of Muzaffarnagar Baaqi Hain. Later, ASA's University of Hyderabad chapter organised a protest demonstration.

According to Counter Currents, five dalit students were asked to vacate their accommodation and find different quarters for themselves. Their living spaces were locked by the hostel administration. One of the reasons cited for this was that the students opposed the death sentences awarded to Yakub Memon.

Rohit Vemula. Twitter/@akslal

The screening of Muzaffarnagar Baaqi Hain was stalled by the ABVP and according to the report on Counter Currents, derogatory remarks against ASA students were made on the Facebook page. When an apology was demanded, local BJP and RSS supporters pressurised the vice-chancellor of the university to expel the ASA leaders based on "false allegations".

This did not stick because of student protests. According to another report on Counter Currents on this issue, the students (Dontha Prashanth, Rohith Vemula, Vijay Kumar, Seshu Chemudugunta and Sunkanna) were also denied permission to participate in the student union elections.

After the then VC's retirement, new chancellor — Apparao — was appointed. Apparao promptly dismissed the students after receiving a letter from the HRD ministry. The move was recommended by Bandaru Dattatreya, Secunderabad MP and Minister of Labour and Employment, who called the ASA group "casteist, extremist and anti-national". Read the letter here.

One of the students who was denied admission, 26-year-old Rohith Vemula, committed suicide on Sunday evening. Vemula was a second year PhD student. According to The New Indian Express report, Vemula was active in student politics, but had grown increasingly silent after the disciplinary action was initiated against him by the university. The Joint Action Committee (JAC) of various student groups said Rohith was highly depressed due to suspension and expulsion from the hostel. JAC said the student was hurt due to the social boycott. The research scholars were expelled from their hostel in December. They were denied access to hostels and other buildings on the campus except their classroom, library and conferences and workshops related to their subject of study. They were evicted from their rooms on January and since then they were forced to sleep in a makeshift tent on the campus.

Vemula, the UoH student who committed suicide by hanging himself on the university campus on Sunday;
he used the blue banner of ASA for hanging. Vemula was known for his active participation in student politics. However, post the disciplinary action initiated against him by the varsity administration, he had grown extraordinarily silent. He along with four other suspended students had been staging protest on the campus for last 15 days. They were sleeping in open to protest expulsion from the hostel. On Sunday, Rohith left the camp to spend the day in NRS hostel room.

Pranay Rupani, a fellow PhD student who met with Vemula during the protests told Firstpost, "The University Administration could have handled this so much better and in the process saved the life of a young research scholar. The University is nothing like that, and the minister of labour and employment should be busy creating jobs not getting involved in a campus scuffles."

Criticising the way the university administration is trying to stifle dissent among students, Rupani added, "If we cannot have a free opinion in an informed deliberative space like a University then what is the use of a democracy, what is the use of my vote."

Shortly after the news of his suicide broke, various student activist groups have expressed their solidarity and support

According to this NDTV report, a group of students sat with Vemula's body all night and refused to allow a funeral unless the university authorities gave them a listen. A police team arrived later and took the body and eight students were arrested.

Speaking to Firstpost, Rupani felt that the university was being heartless the way they even announced Vemula's passing away to the students.