New Delhi: The Joint Action Committee for Social Justice (JAC), Hyderabad Central University (HCU) held a protest march from Ambedkar Bhavan to Jantar Mantar on Tuesday, seeking justice for Rohith Vemula and an end to caste discrimination. Several banners also linked the protests to recent events at JNU, asking for the immediate and unconditional release of JNU Students’ Union president Kanhaiya Kumar.
The rally was attended by thousands of students, teachers and supporters from different parts of the country, as well as members of Rohith’s family. According to the organisers, 200 people had come from Hyderabad alone. Political leaders, including Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal and CPI (M) leader Brinda Karat also joined the march at different points.
Rahul Gandhi accused the Modi government and RSS of “crushing voices of dissent of students”. “We need a law to ensure that students in colleges and universities do not face discrimination and their voice is not stifled,” he told the assembled students.
Kejriwal, who spoke to the students at the culmination of the rally at Jantar Mantar, also came out strongly against the centre and their persecution of students. “If Modi does not change his ways soon, students from all over the country will collect to teach him a lesson,” he said. “The way they are targeting institutions, targeting judicial processes (in Patiala House court) cannot go on. The struggle of Rohith and others will not be allowed to die.”
In a statement signed by JAC Hyderabad, JAC Delhi and JAC Mumbai, the organisations put forth several demands which they said would be steps towards “justice for Rohith”. They said those who pegged Rohith and his friends as “anti-national” and put “immense mental pressure on them through suspension, expulsion and harassment” – the list includes Human Resource Development Minister Smriti Irani, BJP MP Bandaru Dattatreya, BJP MLC Ramachandra Rao, HCU Vice Chancellor Appa Rao Podile, ABVP activist Susheel Kumar and professor Alok Pandey — to be punished for their actions and tried under the SC/ST Prevention of Atrocities Act. They also asked that an inquiry by set up against Podile and he be removed from his post, one member of Rohith’s family be employed at HCU, 50 lakh rupees to be paid to his family as compensation and “false police cases” against the five research scholars of the Ambedkar Students’ Association be dropped.
In addition to these demands, they also suggested the enactment of a ‘Rohith Act’ to look into the discrimination of Dalits, tribals and other marginalised communities in universities, and punish those responsible for any form of unfair treatment.
Struggle against discrimination
Linking what happened at the Hyderabad Central University to events in JNU, Bikramaditya Choudhury, secretary of the JNU Teachers’ Association, told this reporter the government was making “undesirable interventions” in higher educational institutions, and not allowing them to function in a “socially just manner”. “The HCU case was clearly one of caste discrimination, but instead of accepting that you have ministers questioning Rohith’s caste. Why is that? The JNU incident also could have easily been handled internally. In both universities we have seen an unconstitutional attempt to silence dissent.”
Abha Dev Habib, a lecturer at Miranda House college, said the government, the ABVP and the RSS were carrying out a “systematic attack on universities,” visible at FTII, HCU, Pondicherry University, JNU and the Aligarh Muslim University.
Government attack on universities
Accusing the government of deliberately allowing issues in HCU and JNU to blow out of proportion and set up a “witch hunt” of students, politician and BR Ambedkar’s grandson Prakash Ambedkar said that not resolving these issues in a quick and fair manner was part of the “Manuvadi Hindutva” followed by the government.