Police Crack Down on Student Demonstrations Against Authorities' Apathy at Hyderabad's EFLU

Protests at the Union government-run university intensified after the alleged sexual assault of a woman student on campus. Students say that EFLU's administration has responded with scare tactics to muffle dissent.

Hyderabad: Police detained seven students of the English and Foreign Languages University (EFLU) on Monday (November 6) amid a hunger strike through which they were protesting against administration’s apathy towards students’ concerns.

Protests began on October 16 against the administration’s inactivity in constituting an internal sexual harassment committee and intensified two days later when a woman student was allegedly sexually assaulted on campus.

The Quint has reported that on Monday, 31 others, including 20 students from the University of Hyderabad, were also detained in addition to the seven from EFLU. A source told The Wire that 34 non-EFLU students were detained in total.

Everyone detained had been released as of 8.30 pm on Monday, the source said.

They added that FIRs were registered against the non-EFLU students under Section 188 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), which deals with disobeying orders promulgated by a public servant.

EFLU students began a hunger strike and boycott of classes on Monday.

Another source told The Wire that five students are currently on indefinite hunger strike and six others are participating in a relay hunger strike.

University officials first filed a police complaint against 11 students a few days after protests began on October 16, alleging that they had unlawfully gathered outside proctor T. Samson’s quarters.

Police filed an FIR against the 11 students based on the complaint – including under section 153-A of the IPC, which deals with promoting enmity between groups – in which Samson said there was a “premeditated plan to harm him”.

People protest campus surveillance at EFLU in Hyderabad. Photo: Special arrangement.

But students said that one of the 11 accused was not even in Telangana at the time and that Samson was falsely accusing students of trying to stoke communal feelings.

Local police also filed an FIR against four students who allegedly prevented a visually impaired faculty member from leaving the university’s administrative building last week.

The professor involved said that “the students’ actions amounted to a violation of human rights and the rights of persons with disabilities”, The Hindu reported citing a police official.

A statement signed by ‘The Student Community of EFLU’ dismissed the allegations and said that they were an example of the administration’s “scare tactics”.

“The four students were not only absent from the mentioned entrance, but the professor too did not stop to hear the other students allowing him to leave the building,” the statement read.

It also said the university administration has tried to intimidate protesting students, that one of its officials compromised the identity of the sexual assault survivor, and that it violated due process in running a new internal complaints committee.

Some of the ways the administration tried to intimidate students include having students videotaped using cameras meant for academic purposes and deploying strangers to question students on campus about dissident activities, the statement alleged.

Students have also claimed that the administration has released back-dated circulars – created on one day but carrying a date from the past – and The Hindu reported on October 28 that a metadata analysis conducted by an expert corroborated these claims.

The latest such circular that students say is back-dated is a letter addressed to them by EFLU vice chancellor E. Suresh Kumar.

Some EFLU students allege that Kumar tacitly condoned what they said was the administration’s targeting of students. Photo: Special arrangement.

He said in his letter dated November 3 that the university was “extending all the required academic and other necessary support to the woman student [the survivor]” and that it would take “the sternest action” against the culprits if they happen to be EFLU students.

Kumar claimed that there are “a few dissident outsiders waiting for an opportunity to create disturbances in the university, harm your [the students’] careers and try to damage the reputation of the university.”

He also described an incident where students “incited by misinformation” blocked entry and exit points in the university’s administration building, which left staff with medical problems unable to have meals or access medication.

“Without police intervention, there would have been a humanitarian crisis, with several employees on the verge of collapsing because they could not eat on time or take their prescribed daily dose of insulin or drugs for chronic ailments,” he said in his letter.

However, students claimed they only wanted Kumar and Samson to address them and that they did not prevent staff with medical issues from leaving.

“Staff with medical needs and non-teaching staff were allowed to leave by students … on the contrary, it is the administration that has used measures that have had grievous consequences for students,” they said in their statement.

They continued: “In retaliation to the protests on [October 16 and 17], the administration cut power to the hostels and the site of the gathering for hours.”

“This resulted in serious difficulties for students with disabilities and chronic ailments, with students scrambling to find storage for their insulin and day scholars having to step in to help them. The power supply to the administrative block remained uninterrupted throughout.”

The statement concludes with its demands of the administration, which include justice for the sexual assault survivor, withdrawal of the FIRs against students, the vice chancellor’s removal, and “immediate cessation of [the] surveillance and harassment of students by guards”.

Sources told The Wire and The News Minute reported that proctor Samson addressed students shortly after the police action on Monday and refused to accede to their demands.