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Dalit suicide row: The ideological battleground at Hyderabad University

Student politics at the University of Hyderabad has always been about three ideologies – Dalit, Left and the right-wing Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP)

india Updated: Jan 22, 2016 08:38 IST

Hyderabad: Students protesting after the suicide of dalit student Rohith Vemula at Hyderabad Central University in Hyderabad on Thursday. (PTI)

Student politics at the University of Hyderabad has always been about three ideologies – Dalit, Left and the right-wing Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP).

Any national or international issue invariably finds its echo at the central university and protests or show of support by one group on an issue invariably leads to face-offs with ideologically opposite groups.

It was one such protest by members of the Ambedkar Students’ Association (ASA) in August last year that led to a clash with activists of the RSS-affiliated AVBP. It resulted in suspension of five ASA members, one of whom Rohith Vemula committed suicide on Sunday.

Read more: BJP, RSS rake up ‘anti-national’ charge to hit back in Dalit suicide row

The ASA was protesting the alleged attack by ABVP members during the screening of ‘Muzaffarnagar baaqi hai’, a documentary on the Muzaffarnagar riots, at the Delhi University.

The Left and Dalit-Ambedkar groups always stage demonstrations on issues related to rights of Dalits, minorities and other weaker sections of society and also on protection of human rights and civil liberties.

Read more: Dalit scholar suicide casts long shadow over labour reforms bills

The Dalit-Ambedkar groups mostly go along with the Left-affiliated outfits. With about 1,200 supporters, ABVP is also a key player on the campus, which has nearly 5,000 students.

“There were protests over the Gujarat riots in 2000. The campus always remained active with student groups raising their voice against injustice and violation of rights,” said Bharat Naik, a post doctoral fellow.

However, till the late 1990s, the student groups had no political identity. The Students’ Federation of India (SFI), for instance, used to function as the university discussion forum while the ABVP was known as discovery.

With the increase in number of students from scheduled castes and scheduled tribes, associations were formed in the 90s to represent these sections.

Read more: Mumbai students angry about Rohith’s suicide

“ASA came into existence as many cases of injustices to Dalit students came to light. The need was felt for a group which can work for their rights,” pointed out Suguna Rao, a former student.

Similarly Tribal Students’ Forum (TSF) was formed to represent the voice of tribal students.

There are also other student groups like Bahujan Students’ Front, Dalit Students’ Union, National Students’ Union of India, Other Backward Classes Association and Telangana Vidyarthi Vedika, all representing various groups.

A faculty member pointed out that, unlike Jawaharlal Nehru University (JUN) where it is issue-based politics, it is all caste-based politics here.

It is alleged that since 2008, caste bias drove six students to commit suicide.

“Protests have always happened here but there was no violence. This time the interference of politicians has created this situation,” said KP Zuhail, president of the university students’ union.

Students say the ABVP has been trying to assert itself after the BJP came to power at the Centre. The right wing group, whose leaders are mostly local students, started organizing events like birth anniversaries of Swami Viveknanda, Sardar Patel and other personalities.

This did not go down well with the other groups, increasing friction over the past several months.