Protests intensified at the Hyderabad Central University (HCU) on Monday over the suicide of Dalit scholar Rohith Vemula that has snowballed into a major political row even as students rejected the interim vice-chancellor and called for a strike at college campuses across the country on January 27.
Students from various parts of the city and country gathered at the institution to show solidarity, responding to a “Chalo HCU (Let’s go to HCU)” call from the joint action committee spearheading the campaign.
Protesters are demanding the ouster of vice-chancellor P Appa Rao, who has gone on leave, and the enactment of a legislation called “Rohith Act” aimed at preventing suicides of students from scheduled castes, scheduled tribes, backward classes and minority communities in universities.
Vemula was among five students suspended by the institute following allegations of assault on a leader of the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), an RSS-affiliated students’ body.
The incident has sparked a nationwide outcry with critics alleging that the HRD ministry pushed for the Dalit students to be punished by sending five reminders to the university’s vice-chancellor after labour minister Bandaru Dattatreya complained to Smriti Irani’s department.
A march was held inside the university campus on Monday while outside students – some reportedly from Mumbai, Delhi, Allahabad and Kozhikode –were stopped at the gates by police.
The students and the university’s SC/ST faculty have objected to the choice of Prof Vipin Srivastava as the interim V-C, alleging that he headed a panel “which has been responsible for the death of Rohith” and was one of the “accused” in the suicide of another Dalit student, Senthil Kumar, in 2008.
“Following the rally meeting today on the campus we are planning to take a Chalo Delhi programme next week,” said a student.
Sudhakar Babu, convener of the SC/ST teachers’ forum, told HT that the number of members who resigned from their administrative roles in protest has reached 15.
The students are also demanding `50 lakh as compensation for Vemula’s family, which earlier rejected the `8 lakh ex gratia announced by the university.
Vemula’s mother Radhika who was admitted to hospital on Sunday following complaint of chest pain is reportedly stable, said sources.
The Hyderabad HC, which is hearing two petitions related to the incident – one seeking protection for ABVP leader Susheel Kumar on the campus and another filed by the suspended students – has posted the matter to February 12.