Though the recent death of research scholar Rohith Vemula has drawn the country’s attention to the University of Hyderabad, suicides among Dalit students here is not a new phenomenon.
Members of the Ambedkar Students Association (ASA) claim that as many as 12 students belonging to scheduled castes have ended their lives since the central university came into existence in the early 1970s, largely due to caste prejudices that many say are omnipresent.
This problem, however, has assumed alarming proportions in recent years. Rohith is the sixth victim since 2008, noted P Vijay Kumar, who along with Rohith and three other Dalit students was suspended from the university hostel and was allegedly being subjected to a ‘social boycott’ of sorts.
Senthil Kumar, who committed suicide in 2008, was the first. He was pursuing PhD in physics at the university and after being denied a supervisor to complete his research, had taken his own life by consuming poison in his hostel room.
Senthil Kumar hailed from Tamil Nadu and belonged to the small ‘Panniyandi’ sub-caste of the Dalits known for pig-rearing.
The Vinod Pavarala committee, which investigated the circumstances that led to his suicide, found that discrimination against students from marginalised sections of society was one of the main reasons for the drastic step.
The year 2013 saw two Dalit students committing suicide.
Madari Venkatesh, a third year PhD scholar at the Advance Centre for Research in High Energy Materials, took the extreme step on November 24 that year. Hailing from a Dalit family in Ibrahimpatnam, Andhra Pradesh, Venkatesh too fell victim to caste discrimination.
A seven member fact-finding committee headed by Prof V Krishna investigated the case. Earlier that year, the same committee had probed the circumstances that led to the suicide of Pulyala Raju, a student of MA in Applied Linguistics.
“He (Venkatesh) was not provided a guide and a lab, even after three years, even when other students started their researches, and published international papers,” an independent committee, which probed the suicides of both Venkatesh and Raju, said in its report.
The independent committee, called the ‘Raju Venkatesh solidarity committee’, comprised three Dalit students — Dontha Prashanth, Dickens Leonard and Ashok Kumar.
The Krishna committee’s report of December 2013 too pointed out that its earlier report as well as the Pavarala committee report highlighted glaring instances of insensitivity and lack of diligence, especially towards students from marginalised sections of society.
“The university needs to show greater alacrity in setting up and adequately monitoring the mechanisms for making the campus a more inclusive and rewarding experience for its students,” the report had said.
However, none of the recommendations were ever implemented, according to Dontha Prashant, one of the five suspended Dalit students and a member of the ‘Raju Venkatesh solidarity committee’.
“Had the authorities taken appropriate action on those recommendations and created conditions for fair treatment of all students, we would not have seen another suicide,” he said.