As JNU students’ union president Kanhaiya Kumar was getting ready to pay his tribute to Dalit scholar Rohith Vemula, meet his family and join other students protesting his suicide, the University of Hyderabad was reeling under chaos, clashes and violence.
Ever since Rohith Vemula was found hanging from a ceiling fan in his hostel room in January, tension and distress became the varsity’s new normal. On Tuesday, when the university’s vice chancellor Appa Rao Podile resumed charge after a two-month hiatus, disconcerted students raised slogans against him, barged into his residence and vandalized it. They smashed the windows, broke furniture and other appliances, remonstrating his resumption of duty.
A section of these students alleged that Rao resumed work to keep Kanhaiya Kumar from visiting the university. They accused him of abetting Vemula’s suicide before carrying out his ‘disappearing act’. The students locked horns with the police and purportedly attacked the media as well. Twenty five students, so far, have been arrested for vandalising public property and attacking the police.
In a video that has surfaced, police personnel are seen dragging students by their hair and collars, carrying them by force and thrashing them. The arrests per se, were obligatory, for the students had resorted to vandalism as opposed to non-violent protests. They had held a top official hostage in his residence-cum-office for six hours and we believe that vehemence of any kind has never reaped results.
But what must be accepted, is the fact that the students had been swimming in a pool of pent-up emotions. Ever since the research scholar was found dead in his room, these emotions had snowballed into an avalanche of sentiments. What happened with Rohith was unquestionably unfortunate, but a bigger regret would be the way the case was handled. Rohith’s death brought to fore a nationwide debate on caste discrimination in education.
When our parliamentarians, ministers and luminaries were busy defining a ‘nationalist’, our students were increasingly growing restless. A student had ended his life over caste-based row and his death was toyed with irresponsibly by our politicians. In an attempt to present themselves in a godly light, our ministers called each other demons – and yes, believed they would slay the wrong with their divine political weapons.
Inside the parliament, our ministers spoke about caste-based discrimination with vested interests. Some even went on a delusional track and twisted the facts of Rohith’s unfortunate death.
We, therefore, pose a valid question here — is this how our students should be treated? By stifling their voices and treating them insolently? Is this how our government plans to deal with dissent? Do we need policemen inside the campus to come and raid rooms, count condoms and drag students out of their beds? Is the presence of armed forces inside our campuses justified?
We do not support violence, but we do not agree with the government’s approach either. Where is this country heading?
In Rohith’s words- In a nation like our’s (ours), death could be the only thing which can rescue us…”