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#India – Fact finding – Suicide of Dalit PhD student of Univ of Hyderabad

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Report of the
Fact Finding Committee on the suicide of
Mr Venkatesh, Ph D Student,
University of Hyderabad

28th November 2013

Centre for Dalit Studies (CDS)
Hyderabad
FACT FINDING COMMITTEE REPORT
INTRODUCTION
Mr Madari Venkatesh, Ph.D (Chemistry), third year student, in the Advanced Centre for Research in High Energy Materials (ACRHEM), University of Hyderabad, committed suicide by consuming poison on 24-11-2013 in his hostel room. Mr Venkatesh was son of a retired Police Constable and native of Lingampalli Village in Manchal mandal, Rangareddy District. Centre for Dalit Studies (CDS) deeply concerned about series of suicide incidents involving students belonging to the Dalit and marginalized communities on the campus of the University of Hyderabad. In this context, CDS took up the case of Mr Venkatesh’s suicide and constituted a Fact Finding Committee under the chairmanship of Sri. Mr. Anjaneyulu, Director, CDS to investigate the circumstances that led to Mr Venkatesh’s suicide. The committee consisted of the following members:
Sri Chukka Ramaiah, Ex-MLC

Prof Y B Satyanarayana, Secretary, CDS, Hyd

Sri M Anjaneyulu, Director, CDS, Hyd

Dr B Venkat Raju, Coordinator, CDS, Hyd

The fact finding committee members visited the University of Hyderabad campus on 26-11-2013, and held discussions with the teaching staff, students and Vice Chancellor of the university to inquire into the circumstances that led to Mr Venkatesh’s suicide. The committee collected information from the following individuals:
1) Vice-Chancellor, University of Hyderabad
2) Director, ACRHEM
3) Faculty members, ACRHEM
4) Student leaders of SFI, ASA, BSF, MSF, TSA, DSU, ABVP and Others
5) Prof V Krishna, Head, Dept of Hindi, HCU — Chairman, Enquiry Committee
6) Research Scholars
Meeting with the Vice-Chancellor
The committee met the Vice-Chancellor and expressed its grave concern over the loss of lives of students belonging to the dalit and marginalized communities on the University of Hyderabad (UoH) campus. The committee members Sri Chukka Ramaiah, Dr Y B Satyanarayana and Sri M Anjaneyulu raised several questions with the Vice-Chancellor during the meeting and made enquires about Mr Venkatesh’s academic and research progress, guide allotment, Venkatesh’s personal relations with the faculty and friends, Counseling centres, SC/ST grievance cell, caste discrimination, the status of the implementation of the recommendations of Prof Vinod Pavarala and Prof V Krishna Committees, psychological counseling centres and guide & student ratio.
The Vice-Chancellor was of the view that Mr Venkatesh’s academic and research progress was good. He further said that Mr Venkatesh had published an article in an international Science Journal and communicated two more papers to the journal editors for possible publication. He informed to the committee that he was shocked at the suicide of Mr Venkatesh. Vice-Chancellor maintained that caste discrimination is a reality of life on the campus and he expressed his inability in changing the attitudes of people who practice caste discrimination overnight. He expressed a hope that discriminatory attitudes towards the marginalized communities would change slowly. As far as personal relations with the faculty and friends was concerned, the vice-chancellor maintained that Mr Venkatesh was good at maintaining inter personal relationship although he was a little introvert and it didn’t pose any problem.
The vice-chancellor maintained that subject specialization among the faculty members has been a problem on the campus. He reported that there are about 2500 scholars pursuing research at University of Hyderabad and he maintained that guide and student ratio was very satisfactory. He also informed that a faculty member can guide up to 8 students as per the norms of the University Grants Commission. On the issue of academic pressure on the campus, the vice-chancellor reported that academic pressures are high at Hyderabad Central University when compared to the state universities for various reasons including medium of instruction, socio-cultural environment, and academic standards. He said that of the total students pursuing studies at the UoH, about 40% are from Telugu-medium and rural backgrounds. Medium of instruction appears to be one of the major problems for many students belonging to the marginalized communities. But, Venkatesh is very good at English, he said.
In response to the questions raised by the committee members, the vice-chancellor said that there are no permanent Counselling Centers (24X7) on the campus to attend to students’ psychological grievances. And he further maintained that there is no particular Grievances Cell for SC and ST students. He said that he couldn’t appoint student counsellors on a permanent basis because of shortage of funds, and as a result, counsellors work only for limited hours. He talked about the idea of introducing ‘Zero Year’, where students will be given freedom to acclimatize themselves with academic and socio-cultural environment of the campus life to prevent these types of extreme acts by students.
But, he informed the committee that he would pass an ordinance soon that all the research scholars should be allotted a guide within a reasonable timeframe. He also said that he convened a Dean’s meeting on 25-11-2013, and gave instructions to all the Deans to prepare a list of candidates who were not allotted guides at present. He said that he gave instructions to all the Deans to take steps immediately to appoint guides for all the research scholars. The vice-chancellor informed that he didn’t receive personal representation from Mr Venkatesh over non-allotment of a guide following the retirement of Prof Tiwari in April 2013. The Vice-Chancellor maintained that Mr Venkatesh was asked to work under the supervision of Dr Ravi Prakash, a senior Post-Doctoral fellow, ACRHEM.
Meeting with ACRHEM Director and Faculty members
Director informed to the committee members that he had joined the ACRHEM three months ago as an employee of the DRDO, not as a representative/employee of the university. He made it clear to the committee that his main focus has been monitoring and reviewing the progress of the ACRHEM project, and not concerned with the university academic matters like registrations, appointment of guides, fellowships, etc. He said that he was not aware of non-allotment of a guide to Mr Venkatesh since he was preoccupied with the monitoring the progress of the projects. The Director kept quiet when the Fact Finding Committee members asked the Director of the Centre, is it not his responsibility to look into the welfare of the students of his own Centre. Faculty members said that Mr Venkatesh’s academic and research performance was good, and he had no complaints with the faculty members, scholarship, and semester registration. They also informed that Mr Venkatesh was a bright scholar with an international publication to his credit. The faculty members mentioned that they were not aware of social and economic background of Mr Venkatesh in response to a question posed by the committee. The Director said that he had forwarded a letter to the vice-chancellor for the constitution of a Doctoral Committee on 22-11-2013 just two days before the death Mr Venkatesh. The Director and his faculty members informed to the committee that Mr Venkatesh was not aware of the letter sent to the vice-chancellor regarding the constitution of Doctoral Committee. Faculty members said that Mr Venkatesh was asked to work under the supervision of Dr Ravi Prakash, a Post-Doctoral Fellow of the ACRHEM till an alternative guide is allotted. The faculty members categorically mentioned that guides were allotted to all the scholars who joined the centre during the academic year 2013, but not to Mr Venkatesh. At present 45 students are pursuing studies in the ACRHEM. The Director said that ACRHEM is facing shortage of Chemistry faculty, and no Chemistry faculty member is allotted to the center at present. As a result, they recommended for not taking students in Chemistry department during this academic year.
Meeting with student leaders, research scholars and ACRHEM staff
1. Mr Venkatesh approached the faculty members of the Chemistry department for supervision of his research work after registering himself as a Ph D student in the year 2011 in the ACRHEM, University of Hyderabad. To his utter dismay, none of the Chemistry faculty members whom he approached gave their consent for supervision.
2. Then the Director of ACRHEM, Prof Tiwari accepted Mr Venkatesh as his research student not out of choice but out of compulsion since no faculty member came forward for guidance.
3. Mr Venkatesh was not allotted a formal guide after the retirement of Prof Tiwari in the month of April 2013 by then the acting Director of ACRHEM Prof Ramakrishana Rama Swamy (Vice-Chancellor of UoH). .

4. Students said that Mr Venkatesh was undergoing tremendous mental pressure ever since he joined ACRHEM as he couldn’t get a guide in his area of specialization. Mr Venkatesh expressed anguish to his friends over non-allotment of a qualified guide for his research work.
5. Students mentioned that there was complicity on the part of ACRHEM and university authorities in allocating a guide to Mr Venkatesh.
6. Students said that a Doctoral Committee should consist of three members, but in case of Mr Venkatesh, Prof Tiwari was only the member of Doctoral Committee.
7. Students demanded resignation of VC and ACHREM Director for institutional lapses in allotting a guide and preventing the suicide of Mr Venkatesh.
8. Students expressed dismay over irresponsibility of the ACRHEM and University authorities allotting Prof Tiwari as a guide just two years before his retirement in violation of the norms of the University. No Co-guide was attached to Mr Venkatesh since 2011 to take care of his research after the retirement of the Prof Tiwari.
9. According to the version of the students, Dalits were discriminated in all aspects in the University which boasts itself as the top institution in the country.
10. The faculty members of ACHREM informed that they were not aware of the enquiry committee reports on the suicides of Mr P Raju and Mr Senthil Kumar submitted by Dr Vinod Pavarala and Prof V Krishna.
11. Prof Y B Satyanarayana requested the students not to take extreme steps in times of depression and mental pressure. He advised the students to gather courage and strength to fight for their rights. Prof Satyanarayana pointed out the discriminatory attitudes of the ACRHEM and university authorities in allocating guides and providing support to the students belonging to Dalit communities. He demanded that all the scholars should be provided a guide within a stipulated timeframe.
12. Sri Chukka Ramaiah highlighted the discriminatory attitudes of the ACRHEM, and requested the university authorities to fill up the vacant posts immediately. He further said that all scholars should be allotted qualified guidelines. He emphasized the need to be sensitive to the needs and aspiration of students especially of the Dalit and marginalized communities. He also said that this suicide clearly represents a case of discrimination in the university against dalit students.
13. Professor V Krishna said that Mr Venkatesh got humiliated for non-appointment of a guide for 3 years, and faulted the University authorities for not assigning a co-supervisor to Mr Venkatesh in anticipation of his regular supervisor’s retirement. He also said there are several lapses on part of the ACRHEM Director and University authorities in implementing the recommendations of Prof Vinod Pavarala and Prof V Krishna committees.
Committee Findings and Observations
1. Committee observed gross negligence on the part of ACRHEM director and faculty members and top management of the University in allotment of a guide to Mr Venkatesh.
2. Allotment of Prof Tiwari two years before his retirement as a guide to Mr Venkatesh is clearly in violation of the norms of the University.
3. Concrete efforts were not made by the ACRHEM Director and staff in constituting a doctoral committee for Mr Venkatesh after retirement of Prof Tiwari in April 2013.
4. The committee came to the conclusion that the authorities were indifferent to the needs and aspirations of dalit students to a large extent in the Campus. None of the university authorities showed any inclination in consoling the family members of Mr. Venkatesh.
5. The committee felt that Mr Venkatesh’s suicide represents clearly a case of discrimination against dalit students in the campus.
6. The recommendations of the two committees constituted under the chairmanships of Prof Vinod Pavarala and Prof V Krishna to look into the suicides of Mr Senthil Kumar and Mr Pulyala Raju were not taken seriously and the recommendations were not implemented in letter and spirit.
Fact Finding Committee Recommendations
1. Professional counsellors should be appointed on a regular (24X7) basis on the campus.
2. SC/ST students grievances cell should be established in every department/center.
3. All the research scholars should be allotted guides soon after (within a period of 3-6 months) registration into a research programme.
4. Special focus must be paid in allocating guides to students belonging to Dalit and marginalized communities keeping in view of their socio-cultural and academic backgrounds.
5. Psychological Counselling Centers should be established similar to the centres set up in Osmania, EFLU and NALSAR universities as per the directions of the Hon. High Court.
6. Teacher-Student committees should be formed to build rapport and resolve the pending issues.
7. Rs 10 lakh compensation should be given to the family members of the deceased students.
8. Employment should be given to the eligible family members of the deceased students on humanitarian grounds in the University.
9. Cases should be registered under SC/ST Prevention of Atrocities Act for proven negligence on the part of the faculty and administrators.
10. Sensitization programmes on discrimination and marginalization should be conducted on a regular basis in the campus.
11. An enquiry committee with a sitting judge of Hon High Court should be set up to enquire into the cases of suicides of students belonging to Dalit communities.
12. Efforts must be made to create a democratic space on the university campus so that students can take their concerns and problems to the faculty, dean and management without the fear of reprisals.

Sri M Anjaneyulu, Chairman, Fact Finding Committee

Prof Satyanarayana, President, CDS

Sri Chukka Ramaiah, Ex-MLC

Dr B Venkat Raju, Co-ordinator, CDS

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