The Chain of Events Leading to Rohith Vemula's Suicide

On 17 January 2016, 27-year-old PhD. scholar Rohith Vemula committed suicide at the University of Hyderabad campus. He was one of the five Dalit students who had been suspended from the hostel facility by the executive council (EC) of the university. The events culminating in this tragic incident are as follows:

  • July 30, 2015: A funeral prayer was organised at the shopping complex on the university campus following the hanging of Yakub Memon. Students belonging to the Ambedkar Students’ Association (ASA) took part in the programme. The Akhil Bharatiya Vidhyarthi Parishad (ABVP) alleged that the programme was not a seminar or public meeting to discuss the death penalty as such but was a funeral prayer intended to whip up communal passions; therefore it could potentially disrupt public order. Further, ABVP claimed that permission for the programme had not been sought from either the university administration or the police.
  • Close on the heels of this incident, ASA members organised a small gathering to protest “ABVP’s hooliganism in educational institutions”, namely ABVP’s disruption of the documentary ‘Muzzaffar Nagar Baqi Hai’ at the Kirori Mal College in Delhi University. Reacting to the programme, one ABVP student posted an acrimonious comment on Facebook labelling ASA students as goons.
  • A group of 30 to 40 students belonging to ASA approached the ABVP member in his room and demanded an apology from him for passing spiteful comments on Dalit students. The student wrote a letter of apology. Following this he was admitted to a local hospital. A police case was filed by the student’s parents saying that he had been beaten up on that night and had had to undergo a surgery. Subsequently, the police took four ASA members into custody and let them go later that day.
  • The following day a group of local Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha (BJYM) activists led by BJP Member of Legislative Council Ramachander Rao protested at the University of Hyderabad campus demanding action against the ASA students. Acting Vice-Chancellor R.P. Sharma assured the legislator that a statutory committee of the university was looking into the matter and a decision would be taken after it submitted its report.
  • An interim report was submitted by the Proctorial Board downplaying the incident, stating that there was no evidence to corroborate the claim of physical violence against the complainant who had not been examined as yet. The Board stated that it would submit a detailed report taking into consideration student depositions and the results of the physical examination of the complainant.
  • The Proctorial Board of the university submitted its report recommending that the five students who led the group to the ABVP student member’s room be suspended for six months on grounds of indiscipline. Student groups alleged that the report was self-contradictory because the final report too could not   corroborate the claim of physical violence. A protest was called by 10 student groups demanding revocation of the punishment. The acting Vice Chancellor decided to constitute another committee to look into the matter and for the time being revoked the suspension.
  • The ABVP student’s mother approached the High Court and moved a writ seeking protection for her ward and seeking to know what action was being taken by the university against her son’s aggressors. The court directed the university to file an affidavit detailing the facts of the case and action taken thereof. After failing to show up on the first two occasions, the university lawyer filed a reply explaining that a university committee was looking into the matter. The court directed the university to file a final response after the committee submitted its findings.
  • In the meantime, a new Vice-Chancellor was appointed. Union Minister for Labour and Employment Bandaru Dattatreya shot off a letter to the Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD) alleging that the university campus was being used by ‘anti-national’ and ‘casteist’ groups. The letter was forwarded to the university by MHRD. Sources in the minister’s office say he had merely acted on a series of complaints, including the “use of narcotic substances” and that the letter to MHRD was the normal procedure open to any member of Parliament. They deny the use of any pressure on the university to act contrary to law at any stage.
  • Under pressure from the High Court and MHRD, the new Vice-Chancellor decided to scrap the existing committee and constitute a new high level Sub-committee of the Executive Council (EC), which is the highest decision making body of the university. In the last week of December 2015 the Sub-committee decided to reduce the quantum of punishment. It revoked the suspension of the five students, instead suspending them from the hostel and barring “the entry of students in groups to certain public spaces”. The students were also disqualified from participation in the annual student union elections.
  • University sources say these actions were not extra-ordinary and that there are several precedents for the same. They point out that the Executive Council was keen to ensure that the students’ studies did not suffer — which was why they were allowed to continue with their courses.
  • A Joint Action Committee was formed by 10 student groups to protest the EC decision. Since the university opened after vacation in the first week of January the five suspended students have been sleeping in the open to mark their protest, supported by several on-campus and off-campus groups. Dalit organisations are claiming that the punishment amounts to a social boycott of students.
  • The suspended students approached the High Court against the EC decision. The appeal was clubbed with the writ petition filed by the ABVP student’s mother and was to be heard on 18 January 2016. Sources in the office of the Dean, Students’ Welfare, say that they had offered to accommodate the students in the university guest house until the court hears the case, but their offer had been rejected by the Joint Action Committee.
  • On 17 January 2016 Rohith was found dead, hanging from a ceiling fan in the New Research Scholars’ hostel on the university campus. Following this a Prevention of Atrocities case has been registered against Bandaru Dattatreya and Vice Chancellor P. Apparao.