HYDERABAD: A misleading calm has settled in the Hyderabad Central University campus after a tension-filled few days. Hundreds of policemen came inside, students were lathi charged and soon, many were taken into custody.
The students’ messes, which were without food, electricity and even water for a day or so are now back to normal, but the media is being kept out. The police has been partially withdrawn. Yet, while it may all look quiet, there is simmering anger among students and even some faculty members who are angry at the way things have turned out.
“In the more than two decades I have been here, I have never seen a campus so angry, so split, and so much in control of forces outside,” said a faculty member, refusing to give his name because of fear of reprisals. “This VC has divided the campus along several fault-lines. He has a well-known hostility to Dalits and is doing the bidding of his bosses. He has only one agenda – to help the ABVP take over the campus. But it’s not going to work; there are 1000 Dalits in the student body of 5,000. There is real anger over the suicide of Rohith Vemula,” he said.
Following Rohith’s death in January and the subsequent agitation, Vice Chancellor Appa Rao Podile had gone on “personal leave.” Many students had blamed Podile’s policies, including the suspension of Vemula and four other students, for the suicide.
On Tuesday, Podile suddenly returned, and some students, aghast at what they saw as a provocative act, barged into his house and broke windows and doors. The violence that followed brought over a 1,000-strong police force to campus who proceeded to beat up students. The non-teaching staff went on a flash strike backing the VC, which led to the cutting off of electric power, water supply and all food at the hostel messes.
After a day of little information from the police on where those whisked away were kept, 27 students and 2 professors were finally produced in court and sent to Cherlapally jail on several charges including arson, vandalism and obstructing officials from conduct of duty.
No moral standing
“Appa Rao has neither a moral standing to return as VC when investigations are underway against his role as prime accused; nor is it legally sound to take charge at a time when he can tamper with evidence. We won’t compromise on justice for Rohith or on our demand for Podile to be sacked,” said Akshita Chitla, a member of the CPM-backed Students’ Federation of India.
Some observers in the university say that this turn of events is part of the plan by the RSS’s student wing the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad to finish off the influence of left student groups on the campus. “Podile has been placed to ensure this happens,” said the faculty member
Suresh Kochattil, a member of the BJP”s social media cell seems to echo that. “We have seen how the Leftists resort to lies, mudslinging, abuse and intimidation as tactics to dominate academia for long. For over 50 years, the Congress failed to make an impact here, creating a vacuum which the Left filled. Now we are going to not stop till we are in control of every dimension of academic life here.”
Fury of Dalit students
But the ABVP will also have to contend with the fury of Dalit students. “We Dalits have never found justice but now we have found a voice. For months we have fought and suffered. We asked for scholarships, we got suspensions. We asked for equality, we were thrown out of hostels. We asked for justice, we got lathi-charged and arrested. We will fight on because we won’t be silenced. We will not allow Appa Rao to remain,” said Sunkanna, a student activist of the Ambedkar Students Union (ASA).
The ASA members are also furious at the turn of events after the police entered the campus. “The purpose is to intimidate us, especially Dalits,” said Gummadi Prabhakar, student leader of ASA. “While we were trying to find the whereabouts of our friends and professors for over 24 hours, with police refusing to give any information, the VC has ensured we have no food or water, or allow the media to report. This is nothing but an Emergency, aimed at reversing the Dalit resurgence.”
The timing of the return of the prodigal VC initially perplexed everyone who had witnessed the slow restorative crawl to calm on the HCU campus. His comeback seemed planned to the last detail-the perfect coordination between the VC, professors and students supporting him, the strike of the non-teaching staff and the strong police action reflected the determination of the government to take control.
A Congress leader, who managed to meet nine students kept at Narsingi police station on Wednesday, and was deputed by his party to support the students, told The Wire, “The students were a bit subdued and glum but determined. Police officials told me that they had orders from an official in the Union government to deal with the activists sternly. Even the charges were filed after lot of discussion and a go-ahead from higher ups.” However, he could not give any details.
The mood on the campus is one of a possible long fight. With several students in custody and many groups seething at Podile’s return and wary of his next steps, the calm in the Hyderabad Central University may prove to be short lived.
Sriram Karri is a Hyderabad-based commentator and novelist