The situation at the University of Hyderabad soured yet again on Saturday after university authorities removed tents put up by students in memory of Rohith Vemula, the Dalit PhD scholar whose suicide in January sparked nationwide uproar.
According to the central university’s students, campus security personnel removed two tents erected as a part of Vemula’s memorial at the university shopping complex early on Saturday morning.
“The tents were there till midnight. There were four to five security men there at that time. At around 2 am, the tents were dismantled and taken away in a vehicle,” Y Bhaskar, a member of the Joint Action Committee (JAC) for Social Justice, said.
The tents contained Vemula’s pictures, posters and slogans put up at Velivada (Dalit colony), where he along with four others sat on a dharna before committing suicide, Bhaskar said.
Authorities however did not disrupt the Rohith Vemula bust and the memorial containing pictures of BR Ambedkar, Jyotirao Phule and Kanshi Ram.
About 40 students, who stayed back on campus during the ongoing vacations, staged a dharna protesting the action.
“This is nothing but insulting the Dalit scholar. We are contemplating filing a case against the university authoritises under SC/ST Atrocities (Prevention) Act,” JAC member said.
Earlier, on May 20, university registrar M Sudhakar had sent a circular to the university’s students’ union president, K P Zuhail, stating that those tents erected without permission would have to be cleared in 48 hours. Students refused to receive and acknowledge the circular, stating that union leaders were away on summer vacations.
The circular was apparently issued based on instructions from university vice chancellor, Podile Appa Rao.
“We have waited for a week for student union leaders to respond to the circular. Since the leaders did not turn up, we have got the tents removed with the help of security staff,” Prof Vipin Srivastava, the university’s official spokesperson said.
As for Vemula’s bust and the other structures, the professor said he didn’t know if they would be cleared. “The circular only mentions about removal of tents and we have done it.”
Defending the university administration’s decision, Srivastava said the shopping complex was a common place for everybody and a section of students could not occupy it in the name of protests. “Unfortunately, media is also biased against the university and has been reporting only one side of the story,” he said.
The central university was propelled into national limelight after Vemula committed suicide on January 17. Students protested against the university administration, claiming they drove him to the extreme step, though Vemula’s suicide note did not blame anybody.
The matter became a political touchstone as Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi reached the campus to show his solidarity and the party attempted to corner the ruling BJP and Union human resource development minister Smriti Irani over the issue in parliament.
Students at the university also demanded that Rao be removed as vice chancellor. Though initially sent on leave, Rao resumed office two months after the suicide which led to violent protests on campus.