Prayagraj: Several student-led protests have broken out across universities in Uttar Pradesh after University of Allahabad proctor Rakesh Singh launched a violent attack on student Vivek Kumar, who is from a Dalit community, last week.
In a video circulating on social media, the accused, Rakesh Singh, can be seen snatching a lathi from a policeman and hitting the student while he raises slogans against the proctor. Kumar tries to shield himself but Singh continues hitting him and stops only when the policemen intervene.
इलाहाबाद यूनिवर्सिटी में दलित छात्र विवेक कुमार ने “जातिवादी चीफ़ प्रॉक्टर मुर्दाबाद” का नारा लगाया तो चीफ़ प्रॉक्टर “राकेश सिंह” बिफर पड़े और पुलिस और सुरक्षा कर्मियों के सामने दलित छात्र पर लाठियां भांज दी, वीडियो सोशल मीडिया पर वायरल है #UttarPradesh #allahabaduniversity… pic.twitter.com/IyyiNtB1EN
— Dalit Times | दलित टाइम्स (@DalitTime) October 18, 2023
Former MA student and All India Student Association (AISA) unit president Vivek Kumar believes the October 17 attack stems from a place of discrimination and bias towards marginalised communities. “Unfortunately,” he says, “No action has been taken against the chief proctor, as has been the case with all such incidents in the past.”
“We were leading the protest for a number of reasons and we had some demands which in my opinion were quite reasonable,” he says, “but the chief proctor became absolutely furious and started hitting me. I was shocked, I had not expected that.”
Several students along with Kumar marched up to the local police station and spent eight hours trying to get the police to lodge a first information report (FIR) against Singh, but were unsuccessful. “Former IPS officer Amitabh Thakur sir was also accompanying us but even with his help we couldn’t get the police to lodge an FIR.”
The protest that got the chief proctor riled up was part of an agitation which gained momentum when the university implemented a staggering 400% fee hike last year.
“Three students who were leading the movement against the fee increase – Ajay Yadav Samrat, Satyam Kushwaha, and Jeetendra Dhanraj – were suspended and jailed about three months ago,” Kumar said.
“And two more students Harendra Yadav and Manish Kumar had been suspended for other reasons. Harendra Yadav is now not even being permitted to sit for exams which goes against the basic rights of students. In the history of this institution even if someone has been in jail, they’ve been released on parole to come and sit for exams.”
The demands at the latest protest, Kumar said, were that of the release of the three students from jail, lifting of the suspension of all students, and permission to sit for exams for Harendra Yadav, among other demands.
“But after the attack, one more demand has been added and that is the suspension of the proctor Rakesh Singh,” he said.
Vive Kumar, who is from Baramadpur, said this is not his first encounter with proctor Rakesh Singh.
“When I lived in the hostel, the superintendent was Rakesh Singh. During the first week when the beds were allotted and the list came out, it showed only nine out of 112 were Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe. When I questioned it and said it should be at least 25-26 students according to the reservation, he got very angry and warned me to keep my concerns to myself or he’d remove me from the hostel as well.”
Kumar believes the hostel incident had the proctor harbouring a grudge against him which has added fuel to the fire. “I think he dislikes me for taking a stand on issues.”
He says he’s seen a pattern of discrimination not just towards Dalits but also towards students from Scheduled Tribes, minorities, and women.
“Women are barred from entering the university premises on weekends which is highly inconvenient for them, they just want to study. The authorities cite the issue of security as reason but if that’s so then something should be done about it.”
The access to the library, Kumar says, has also been a big point of protest with students demanding the library be made open and accessible 24 hours a day.
“The library currently closes at 6 pm which means some students don’t have a proper place to study after that time. We have been fighting to get the hours increased but no one’s heard our plea.”
The deteriorating state of infrastructure, unsanitary toilets, and impure drinking water are some other points which have often been raised by concerned students but all requests, Kumar says, have fallen on deaf ears.
“These days it seems that if you raise your voice against even the most basic things, you’ll either be suspended or jailed.
“In the history of this university, there has always been some or the other issue that students have been dissatisfied with and have protested against, and authorities have heard their demands and often tried to resolve issues. But of late, there has been growing intolerance towards protests.”
Students of Lucknow University and Banaras Hindu University have shown solidarity with Vivek Kumar and have come out in huge numbers, demanding the suspension of accused Rakesh Singh.
Lucknow University student and National Students’ Union of India (NSUI) student representative Vishal Singh said several students from AISA, NSUI, and other unions gathered on campus on October 18 to condemn the “disgusting assault” by Rakesh Singh.
“We want to see some action being taken, authorities shouldn’t take the case lightly just because he’s a Dalit,” Vishal Singh said.
The Lucknow student believes while Allahabad University and Lucknow University are two different institutions, the issues faced by the students are quite the same.
“The situation is such that you can’t speak out against anything now. Just to give an example, the residents of the girls’ hostel were told that if they posted anything on social media that shows the university in a bad light then they will have to pay a fine and will be asked to vacate the hostel,” Singh says.
He says students are always being issued show-cause notices for various reasons. “We don’t even have the freedom of expression anymore.”
Vishal Singh joined Vivek Kumar and other students in their protest in Allahabad on Thursday last week and plans to stay in the city to be a part of the movement.
The Wire contacted vice-chancellor Sangita Srivastava’s office and registrar N.K. Shukla and is still waiting for a response.