The University of Hyderabad may be heading for another showdown, with students opposing an order to remove tents from the campus shopping complex, the epicentre of the protests that followed the suicide of Dalit scholar Rohith Vemula.
Students have threatened an agitation against the university circular, signalling fresh trouble in the institute that has been on the boil after Vemula hanged himself on January 17 alleging caste discrimination.
University registrar M Sudhakar in a May 20 letter to students’ union president KP Zuhail ordered that the tents pitched by the students and the make-shift memorial for Vemula be removed immediately.
The students will also have to take away a tent put up by Vemula and four other students, who called it Velivada, or Dalit colony while protesting against their suspension. A few days later, Vemula committed suicide and the spot turned into a protest site where more tents were pitched and Vemula’s bust erected.
Several politicians, including Congress vice-president like Rahul Gandhi, CPM leader Sitaram Yechury and Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal, had visited the spot to express support for students. The Narendra Modi government was severely criticised for undermining caste-based discrimination and forcing its agenda on educational institutes.
The circular was issued on the instructions of vice-chancellor P Appa Rao, the registrar said. The authorities have already whitewashed pro-Vemula graffiti off campus walls.
Munna Sannaki, a member of the students’ joint action committee for social justice, alleged conspiracy, saying the circular was sent out when most of the students were away for summer vacations.
“The university authorities sent the circular through a security guard Mastan late Saturday evening... We refused to receive and acknowledge the circular, but the security guard gave us copies of it,” Munna told HT.
On Monday, the authorities reportedly handed the notice to student union general secretary Raj Kumar Sahu, who recently quit the Students Federation of India. He accused the JAC and Ambedkar Students Union leaders of politicising Vemula’s suicide.
The authorities were trying to fire at the JAC from the shoulders of Sahu. “Sahu called us last night and asked us to remove the tents. We refused and are prepared for any eventuality,” Munna said on Tuesday.
“We are waiting for the return of union leaders for further course of action.”
Speaking to HT from Kerala, Zuhail said he was told the university was planning to remove Vemula’s bust and also the portraits of Dalit icons Bhim Rao Ambedkar and Mahatma Jyotirao Phule. He warned of a fresh round of protests if the decision was imposed on students.