VC of the HCU perceived as hostile to Dalit students

Hyderabad,PARSA VENKATESHWAR RAO JR: There is a perception among the students that Vice Chancellor P Appa Rao has been unsympathetic and even hostile to Dalit students. Prashant Bagde, who is pursuing his doctoral degree in political science on the topic, “Ambedkarian Buddhism in Contemporary Maharashtra” and others have pointed out that Rao, who is a professor in the life sciences department, had rusticated 12 Dalit students when he was the chief warden in the university in 2002. He also points out that Rao was an ABVP member during his college days.

The four other suspended students, Sunkanna (PhD student in Philosophy), Prashant (PhD student in Economics), Vijyay Kumar (PhD student in Political Science), and Seshaiah (PhD student at Centre for Exclusion and Inclusion Studies), point out that they were accused of assaulting an ABVP student, but they did not show medical evidence to prove the assault. They were contesting the reasons given for their suspension. They do face a police case and the case is due for hearing.

Bagde says that the present vice chancellor took action in the matter as soon as he assumed office in December, though the complaint was pending since August last year.

The alleged hostility of the vice chancellor is also seen in the terms of the suspension. It said that the suspended students should not be seen in public spaces on the campus and that should not come to the administrative building in a group. Says Professor PL Visweswara Rao, a former faculty member in the media studies department at the university: “This is an outdated injunction. The university is a modern institution and its space is democratic. You cannot impose provisions of social boycott.”

There is also the perception on the campus that the vice chancellor is a political appointee and that he feels beholden to the ruling party at the centre.

Rohith Vemula, a doctoral student at the Central University of Hyderabad (CUH), who had committed suicide on Sunday, seems to have been driven to take the extreme step by the social boycott and public humiliation that the terms of suspension order brought with it. This has been confirmed by fellow-students as well as some of the faculty members.

Zuhail, president of thee CUH students union and a doctoral students in the physics department, draws a bigger picture where Dalit students at the doctoral level are being subjected to immense pressures and that there was no help from the faculty in helping them to cope with the situation. He says that Rohith’s suicide is not an isolated incident and that this is part of a larger pattern of suicides by Dalit students of the university. There have been eight to nine instances of suicides by Dalit students who were pursuing their doctoral degrees. Coming from poor backgrounds, most of these students felt intensely lonely in the socially different campus of the university.
Rao concurs about the pressure felt by the Dalit and other backward class (OBC) students at the central university, and points to the fact that the dropout rate for Dalit students at the MA level was 25 to 30 per cent in the 1980s and in the 1990s, and that it has now come down. The pressure is now being felt at the doctoral level where the dalit students are entering for the first time.