Petitioning President of India Pranab Mukherjee

Statement condemning the brutal display of state violence against and the unlawful arrest of student protestors on the University of Hyderabad Campus

Sign this petition here.

WE stand in solidarity with the students and faculty of HCU who are protesting the return of Appa Rao as VC,  despite the ongoing judicial enquiry into the circumstances leading to the death of Rohit Vemula. We unequivocally condemn the use of violence by the police against students and faculty on campus and the unlawful detention of members of students and staff. We also condemn the restriction of access to basic necessities such as water and food on campus. 

A couple of days ago, a report ranked three departments of the University of Hyderabad among the top 500 university facilities in the world. However, much like the rest of the country, the university campus is a space where systematically oppressive caste structures operate and are institutionally legitimised. Recent events at UoH have left us dismayed and angered at the treatment meted out to peacefully protesting students at the hands of the administration and the police.

Suicides of Dalit students have been recurring in UoH.  While such incidents continue unabated across the country, the issue spiralled into a nationwide students’ protest with the untimely death of Dalit scholar and social activist Rohith Vemula on January 17th. Rohith’s suicide note gives us glimpses into the individual that he was — an astute observer of the human condition. His progressive ideas gave hope, especially to marginalised groups, for whom he fought tirelessly. The son of a Dalit mother who makes her living out of a sewing machine, he proudly bore his mother’s identity and fought for the rights of all people regardless of caste, class, gender and sexuality. He was especially vocal about the plight of Dalit students, a 200-million-strong population that has historically been denied fair opportunities to achieve social mobility in Indian society. It is unforgivable that the university administration could not save him.

A grave problem lies, therefore, in the fact that as of March 22, Dr. Appa Rao Podile, who mismanaged the suspension of Rohith and others, leading to his suicide, has returned to the office of the VC after two months of leave. This is despite a non-bailable charge against him under the SC/ST Atrocities Act. It may provide him the opportunity to tamper with evidence and to influence witnesses.

The morning of Rao’s return saw an unprecedented display of violence in the campus. The media reported that the students pelted stones and ransacked the VC’s lodge. But, information from several sources, especially eyewitness accounts from students, faculty and non-teaching staff, contests mainstream media reports. There is ample footage of the police brutally assaulting students with lathis. Some police personnel allegedly threatened to rape students. Even faculty members were not spared.

After the incident, the university has been locked down with no food (14 messes have shut operations), water, electricity (in some parts), and no internet connectivity. This cannot be the reality of a central university, where, as we write this letter, ATM cards linked to student accounts have been blocked barring students from making essential purchases. Students who attempted to cook for their peers were severely beaten up by the police for the absurd crime of ‘cooking in a public place’. The administration has imposed an emergency-like situation in one of India’s biggest universities. Today UoH resembles a surveillance state with students being attacked, and their basic needs like food, water and money being denied to them. As the University and state administration tries to starve out its own students by using state machinery and the law to wage war on members of a public institution, the response of the city has been heartening, with residents of Hyderabad cooking and delivering food and water to the students.

In light of these developments, we appeal to all citizens to keep asking the unpleasant questions that Rohith’s suicide has raised; questions about the persistence of caste in our educational institutions, and the present government’s apathy and refusal to hold the university administration accountable. Universities are spaces for understanding our complex social structures; where questions are and must be raised against the abuse of power and authoritarianism.

We the undersigned write to draw attention to the atrocities that the students are experiencing for raising their voices against injustice. We stand with the students and faculty around the country in universities like UoH, JNU, FTII, DU, IIT Madras, University of Allahabad and numerous others that are fighting to uphold the freedoms that are guaranteed by our constitution. We stand with Radhika Vemula and her ongoing courageous struggle for justice against a casteist and patriarchal administration. We condemn any kind of violence that tries to suppress freedom of expression and seeks instead to spread fear. Let all students and citizens debate to make India the safest example of a real grassroot democracy. Let them speak for a just world where everyone feels safe to just be.

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