The Crisis at Hyderabad University: An Explainer

Puzzled by recent events on the HCU campus? Here's a handy timeline of what's gone on over the past few months.

July-August 2015: ABVP and ASA clash

On July 30, students of the Ambedkar Students’ Association (ASA) at Hyderabad Central University took part in an event that spoke of the hanging of Yakub Menon, executed in 2015 for his role in the 1993 Bombay bombings. The ABVP (youth wing of the BJP) said this was nothing but a funeral meeting meant to rake up “communal tensions”.

Soon after, the ASA organised a protest against the “ABVP’s hooliganism” and disruption of the screening of the documentary Muzaffarnagar Baaqi Hai in Delhi. After this, an ABVP student on Facebook called all ASA members “goons”. ASA members allegedly barged into his hostel room late at night and demanded an apology. He wrote the apology, but then claimed that the ASA members had “attacked” him. A police case was filed and ASA members were taken into custody for a few hours. Five ASA members including Rohith Vemula were suspended for 6 months after a proctorial committee report, but this suspension was revoked by the acting VC at the time. The suspended students denied all charges of having hurt the ABVP member, and enquiry committees also could not ascertain whether it had happened.

December 2015: Vemula and others suspended from hostel

The new vice-chancellor Appa Rao Podile set up a new committee to look into the incident. This committee suspended the students from hostel. The students began sleeping in the open as to mark their protest.

January 17, 2016: Rohith Vemula’s suicide

Rohith Vemula. Source: Facebook

Rohith Vemula. Source: Facebook

Dalit research scholar Rohith Vemula committed suicide in a hostel room on the HCU campus. His poignant suicide note was widely shared on social media. Widespread protests followed all over the country, condemning the role of Union ministers, the VC and the university administration in pushing the student to this point. Several people have since referred to Vemula’s suicide as an “institutional murder”.

A letter trail publicised after the suicide showed that Union labour minister Bandar Dattatreya and Union HRD minister Smriti Irani had written to the HCU administration asking that action be taken against Vemula and his ASA colleagues. Dattatreya had referred to Vemula and others as ‘anti-national’ and ‘casteist’.

January 18, 2016: Podile, Dattatreya and 3 others booked under SC/ST Atrocities Act

The Hyderabad police booked Podile, Dattatreya, BJP leader Ramachandra Rao and 2 students at HCU under the SC/ST Prevention of Atrocities Act for abetting Vemula’s suicide.

January 24, 2016: HCU VCAppa Rao Podile goes on leave

Following intense protests against him, Podile went on “long leave” in order to “facilitate talks with protesting students”. While going on leave, he had said: “I cannot say at this moment how many days I will be on leave. I have decided to be on leave till normalcy is restored. I have been in touch with the faculty and likeminded organisations to enable talks”.

February 26, 2016: Irani speaks in parliament; Vemula’s friends, family rebuff claims

Screen grab of HRD Minister Smriti Irani speaking in Parliament

Screen grab of HRD Minister Smriti Irani speaking in Parliament

HRD minister Smriti Irani spoke in both houses of parliament, addressing those who said she and other ministers from her government were responsible for Vemula’s suicide. Irani made several claims in her speeches, many of which were not factually correct, according to Rohith’s family and friends.

March 22, 2016: Podile returns to campus; police beat up and arrest protesting students and teachers

The vice-chancellor decided to return to campus on the morning of March 22, without prior intimation. Leaked “task sheets” have shown that Podile’s return was organised with precision. Outraged students held a protest outside the VC’s lodge, and the administration and media reports alleged that protesting students broke furniture and glass panes. The students present have disagreed, saying that although there was a scuffle, things were broken because the ABVP used them to form a ring around the VC’s lodge and protect the VC.

Police, CRPF and RAF forces came to the campus, and students assembled on the lawns outside the VC’s lodge were brutally removed and lathi charged. Some students were badly injured and had to be taken to hospitals, sources have said. Students have also said that they were abused and insulted, and female students were threatened with rape. Students from minority communities were allegedly called “terrorists”.

25 students and 2 teachers were arrested from the campus. All night, there was no news of those arrested and their whereabouts. It was later found that they were kept at Cherapally jail, though they had been moved through several locations on the first night.

Cases were booked on charges of damage to public property, trespass, preventing government officials from performing their duties, and other relevant sections of IPC, PTI reported.

March 22, 2016: Food, drinking water, internet facilities stopped

Non-teaching staff at the university went on strike after a scuffle with protesting students, meaning that students had no food or water available to them on campus. In addition, students alleged that internet facilities as well as ATM cards had been blocked by the administration.

Nobody without university identity cards, including the media, was allowed to enter the campus. Eyewitness accounts came in as students tried to get their message across. Rohith Vemula’s mother was also stopped at the gates when she tried to meet with students.

March 23, 2016: Community cooking disrupted; another student beaten up

Students started cooking together in a common area since messes were not functioning. However, the police intervened and did not let this happen, roughing up students yet again. PhD student Uday Bhanu was so badly hit that he had to be admitted to a hospital.

March 28, 2016: HCU students and teachers get bail

The court granted bail to all HCU students and teachers who had been arrested on March 22, 6 days after their arrest. They were released on March 29. They continue to demand the removal of the VC and justice for Rohith Vemula.

March 28, 2016: Appa Rao Podile issues an appeal

The VC stated that students add a lot to “the GDP of the country”. Students should then “rise above anger and confrontational attitudes”, he said. He also made an effort to justify why he had not intervened on behalf of arrested students and teachers.

March 29, 2016: Protests continue

Around 55 teachers went on strike at HCU to protest against the police brutality on campus and the return of Podile. Several students’ and teachers’ associations have spoken out in solidarity with the protests at HCU. Support continues coming in from various quarters, both national and international.