Rohith Vemula isn’t the first Dalit scholar to commit suicide on the University of Hyderabad campus.Over the last decade, eight Dalits have ended their lives, unable to handle, what has been termed as caste politics.
The suicides highlight the pronounced discrimination existing against students from marginalized communities at UoH, said city educationists.
“Eight suicides is not a small number but the university has still not woken up to the issues of Dalit students. Rohith’s death only highlights a larger issue of caste-based discrimination prevailing on campus,” said Zuhail KP, president of the UoH Students Union, while addressing protesters on Monday.
Vemula’s death has also brought to the fore certain unsavoury issues, which students allege the administration has been brushing under the carpet for years.
In 2013, M Venkatesh, a PhD scholar, committed suicide owing to discrimination against Dalit students on the campus.
In view of the growing number of Dalit suicides at UoH, educationalists and students blamed it on lack of financial assistance and the lack of a support system to help them in academics. This often forces several students to drop out. In 2008, Senthil Kumar, a PhD scholar from School of Physics, had allegedly committed suicide by consuming poison in his hostel room. According to reports, Senthil had stopped receiving fellowship fund due to a backlog in his course. Hailing from a poor family, the university fellowship was the only source for him to support his family and his survival.
“Although the government provides financial assistance, delayed fellowships to research scholars forces many to leave in middle. Rohith’s case speaks largely about the same as even he didn’t receive fellowship for a long time,” said Lenin Kumar, a student leader in Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi.
Educationists admit that there is lack of right approach in resolving Dalit related issues in varsities. “The university needs to have a proper mechanism to look into such sensitive issues related to Dalit students.
Only providing resources may not resolve the issues,” said E Haribabu, former vice-chancellor of UoH.
He further went on to add that the university needs to offer counselling and special classes for academic improvement of Dalit students.
“The university needs to conduct special counselling sessions for scholars. Special skill-based courses may help them fill the gap between their strengths and weaknesses,” Haribabu added.
In their letter sent by the Joint Action Committee on Social Justice, the students mentioned that in 2002, the university had rusticated 10 Dalit students without an inquiry.
“Students from the marginalized sections have committed suicide due to caste discrimination and institutional apathy in the past,” read the letter sent earlier this month.
Educationists ascertain that Dalit students are often looked down upon while pursuing education. “Most non-Dalits look down on them as subhumans, and often taunt, humiliate and victimize them.