Hundreds of students protested in front of the University of Hyderabad on Monday to demand the immediate removal and arrest of vice-chancellor P Appa Rao for his alleged role in the suicide of Dalit scholar Rohith Vemula.
The protestors, who marched from North Shopcom to the main gate, shouted slogans against the central government, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and the vice-chancellor. They then held a dharna in front of the main gate to condemn the March 22 police crackdown as well as the arrest of students and faculty members.
Slogans like ‘Sanghi police down down’, ‘ABVP leave campus’ and ‘Smriti Irani sharam karo’ rent the air as the agitators demanded that the arrested people be released immediately. The protest was held as part of a nationwide protest called by the Joint Action Committee for Social Justice, an umbrella group of 14 student bodies.
Meanwhile, the protesters’ call to boycott classes at the university evoked a mixed response from students. While students of some faculties observed a complete boycott to push for action against Rao, departments like the school of life sciences – where the ABVP enjoys considerable presence – witnessed regular classes.
Students from the school of social sciences came out their classes and shouted slogans against the government and the university administration, even as security personnel kept a strict vigil.
Laboratories on the campus functioned as usual.
“The faculty members and students who want Appa Rao to remain here attended classes,” said Vijay Kumar, who was suspended along with Vemula and three other Dalit students.
Though the police had earlier objected to the students taking out the march, they later backed down. The campus, however, remained closed to outsiders in keeping with an order from university authorities. Barricades were erected on the road leading to VC Lodge, where police had clashed with students on March 22.
Meanwhile, Rao inaugurated an international conference on physics amid heavy security despite the ongoing protest against him. The university’s school of physics organised the conference, sponsored by the University Grants Commission and the Centre for Advanced Studies.
“As this is an international conference, we did not want to disrupt it. It would have only dented the institution’s reputation,” a student said.
Rao had returned to the university on March 22 after a two-month leave, triggering strong protests from the students. Police cracked down on the protesters the same day, arresting 25 students and two faculty members.
Vemula was among five Dalit students suspended by the institute following allegations of assault on a leader of the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), a right-wing students’ body. His death on January 17 sparked a nationwide outcry, with critics alleging that the HRD ministry had pushed Rao to act against the students.