Bias in the air: Dalit students discuss caste bias in the BBAU campus with Human Resources Minister Prakash Jawedkar

Prime Minister Narendra Modi for the first time broke his silence over the tragic suicide of Dalitscholar Rohith Vemula when he came to Lucknow on 21 January 2106 to attend the sixth convocation ceremony at Babasaheb Bhim Rao Ambedkar University (BBAU).

A Dalit research scholar, Rohith Vemula took the extreme step following torturous treatment, allegedly, due to deep-rooted caste bias and arbitrariness of the authorities at University of Hyderabad.

Modi had to face embarrassment of Dalit students’ protest as soon as he started to address the audience, as they claimed they were facing a suffocating atmosphere, similar to that faced Rohith and his fellow students ever since the forces of Hindutva took over the reins of federal power that control finances to the central universities.

In response, the Prime Minister said, “I can feel the pain of Rohith’s mother as nation too lost a son. Whatever may have been the reasons, a mother lost her son; indeed Mother India had lost a son.” Ironically, Rohith’s mother Radhika Vemula came to Lucknow to extend her solidarity to agitating eight Dalit students of BBAU, who were arbitrarily and unlawfully expelled and thrown out of their hostels without being afforded any opportunity to defend themselves.

Dalit students have been staging a continuous dharna in front of the administrative block of BBAU campus, demanding revocation of the arbitrary rustication of their leaders and allowing them to attend their academic classes. They are agitating over a host of issues relating to growing intolerance resulting in Hyderabad-like situations as they are facing caste bias and unlawful treatment in BBAU campus.

These students shouted slogans before the Prime Minister to protest over what they feel is “a systemic campaign” against the very ideals inspired by Babasaheb in a central university named after him.

BBAU VC RC Sobti and Kamal Jaiswal have been accused of following a Hyderabad-like caste discrimination  policy on campus

The Dalit students have been organising themselves in a better way to fight for justice. In order to support reservation policy and seeking justice to the eight Dalit students, they convened first pro-reservation “national student parliament” on 8 October in Lucknow where Radhika Vemula was chief guest, besides Dalit professors and student leaders from other universities like JNU, Hyderabad, Allahabad, Aligarh, Vardha, Lucknow and Tata Institute of Social Science.

Prominent among the guest participants were Dr Sunil Kumar Suman, Prof. Ratan Lal, Prof MP Ahirwal, Prof Amar Nath Paswan, Prof. Rajendra Verma, Prof NKS More, Prof Kamleshwar Priyadarshi, Bal Gangadhar Bagi, Girish Dahiya, Mithilesh Baudh, Ashish Kumar, Ajay Kumar, D Prasanth and G Uday Kumar. The voices of Dalit’s emancipation against such discrimination echoed in the meet, where a pledge was taken to fight out injustice.


Only words: Political assurance have so far failed to stop the university administration from passing weird orders, say Dalit students

Narrating her ordeal Radhika Vemula said, “First, they socio-politically victimised my son and forced him to commit suicide. Now they have started targeting me and other students who are fighting for Justice for Rohith. If there had been no courageous display of self-respect and commitment in the nation for the struggle to seek justice for Rohith Vemula, the movement would have broken long ago.”

She praised the students of BBAU belonging to Ambedkar University Dalit Students Union (AUDSU) who had not even spared the Prime Minister Narendra Modi. It is because of the resistance from these students that forced him to say that “the nation has lost its son,” though his own cabinet colleagues branded her son ‘anti-national and casteist’ for propagating the thoughts of Dr BR Ambedkar.”

Radhika lamented, “Today, the students of the same university from AUDSU are punished, without proper enquiry, just as happened in the case of five Dalit research scholars including Rohith belonging to the Ambedkar Students Association at University of Hyderabad. I have lost my son but no mother should suffer the pain I suffered. That is why today I came to Lucknow to stand in support of those students who are thrown out of their hostels and rusticated without any enquiry.”

“I lost my son, whom I had groomed for 25 years on my own. The BJP-led Centre and its ministers had targeted students of Ambedkar Students Association, including my son, who were talking about Ambedkar and propagating his ideas. They have victimised them on socio-political lines and drove my son to commit suicide. After death of my son, now I am being targeted because I am talking against the atrocities committed by the BJP-led Centre. I have challenged the system of caste by embracing Buddhism. I am declaring solidarity with struggling Dalits across the country.”

The most severe action was taken against Sandeep Shastri, who has been debarred from taking admission to any course

Addressing the Dalit students, she said that her woes did not end with Rohith’s suicide. “Justice Ashok Kumar Roopanwal Commission, had directly maligned me, adding salt to my wounds. On numerous counts, I had revealed that I am a Dalit. I faced discrimination even in the household that adopted me. After marriage I continue to be ill-treated by my husband on account of caste. I had deposed before District Magistrate, along with late Banala Anjani Devi (who also was tortured by the BJP in the name of caste), who adopted me from a Dalit family.”

“Even after the magistrate’s certification of my son’s caste as Scheduled Caste, and further re-affirmation of the same by PL Punia, Chairman, National Commission for Scheduled Castes, Justice Ashok Kumar Roopanwal, branded me as non-Dalit and dubbed me as one who faked caste identity to attain benefits under Scheduled Caste category,” she said bitterly.


Mother power: Radhika Vemula, mother of Rohith, came to Lucknow to show her solidarity with agitating Dalit students of BBAU

“The pain of being oppressed would only be understood by a fellow oppressed but not by oppressor. Thus, it became easy for Justice Ashok Kumar Roopanwal and BJP leaders, who belong to the class of oppressors, to comment on my caste and my son’s caste to save their ministers and their henchman Podile Apparao from prosecution under the Prevention of SC/ST Atrocities Act,” says Radhika Vemula.

The Dalit students of BBAU feel that similar designs of forces of Hindutva are prevalent here as in Hyderabad. Political analysts say, “Ambedkar lived and died for the betterment of Dalits and downtrodden sections of society and opposed forces of Hindutva throughout his life as he never favoured their philosophy based on Manu’s law. He was a born Hindu but he adopted Buddhism after finding it discriminatory.”

Hyderabad-like allegations of caste discrimination and bias against Vice Chancellor Prof RC Sobti and Prof Kamal Jaiswal have continued to surface in BBAU that forced the Dalit students to disrupt convocation speech of Prime Minister to draw his attention to stop another Hyderabad like unfortunate incident. BBAU incidents paint the institution in bad light in wake of nationwide protests over the ill-treatment that Dalit students received from such authorities.

“In view of growing support from all section of society, we have mustered courage to speak up against injustice and caste bias that we face in our day to day affairs in the campus,” commented another student leader Ramendra Naresh, who has become victim of rustication along with other Dalit students. Another Dalit student who applied for admission in PhD and secured second rank in general category list of entrance examination, Sandeep Shastri expressed his disappointment and said, “Ironically, the central university was named after nation’s most respected Dalit icon Dr Ambedkar, who fought all his life to ensure justice and equality to poor and downtrodden classes of the society, is witnessing just reversed vision and values for which Dr Ambedkar inspired us to stand for.”

Post-graduate student Shreyat Boudha, who leads the voice of Dalit students in the campus, told, Tehelka correspondent with a heavy heart, “Here too the voice of dissent turned into silence.” “Confrontation started shortly after my admission when the Dalit students of the university raised objections against the University administration’s decision to name the university library after Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, an icon suddenly become dearer to BJP led dispensation. We protested the decision as Sardar Patel never subscribed to Ambedkar’s ideology,” he explained.

“Demonstrations and struggle led by me as a part of Ambedkar University Dalit Students’ group ultimately succeeded in bending the university administration to amend its decision to name the library after ‘Gautam Buddha’ in the January last year,” he added.

“It was not the end of the matter. I was on the hit list of the administration because I united Dalit students, educated them and raised voice of dissent that led to renaming of University library. Soon other issue cropped up with regard to unreasonable hike in fees. It was raised eight times in a go for the poor Dalit students. We were pushed to a corner either to fight against this social injustice or leave our studies in a midway,” said Boudha.

The collusion story here runs parallel to Hyderabad. Shreyat Boudha muster the support of more and more Dalit students on the issue of arbitrary eight-fold fee hike. On 16 August 2015 they all were discussing over dinner in the mess how to overcome new problems as no one was mentally prepared to bear such irrational acts of the administration. All of sudden, without any provocation, a group of upper caste students led by one Amit Gupta allegedly, physically attacked Shreyat Boudha and some other Dalit students for protesting the fee hike. “They used unparliamentary and abusive language and badly assaulted us when we tried to convince them about our poverty and stand,” he alleged.

“I gave a written complaint to the then Proctor Prof Kamal Jaiswal about the incident but he deliberately did not initiate action against the culprits. Later, from his inaction and motivated action against us, we developed a sense of realisation that he too was hand-in-glove with the upper caste group of attackers. Instead of taking disciplinary action against them, they allowed them to register criminal cases against us with the police. By the time we could understand their game and file our FIR, police had already arrested three of us for assaulting them while actually they assaulted us and we reported first them first to the Proctor,” Boudha said.

In the backdrop of these happenings and a complaint of Prof Jaiswal alleging that he was attacked by a group of Dalit students on the night of 7 September, eight Dalit students — Sandeep Gautam, Ashwini Ranjan, Ramendra Naresh, Shreyat Boudha, Sandeep Shastri, Jai Singh, Ajay Kumar and Sumit Kumar — were rusticated the next day, without holding any proper enquiry and removing sitting Protector Prof S Victor Babu. The newly appointed Protector Prof Ram Chandra, though Dalit by caste, is said to be a favourite of the VC, hastily issued rustication orders without conducting any enquiry or issuing showcause notice to them.

A delegation of Dalit students led by the convener of “Save Reservation Action Committee” Avdhesh Kumar Verma met Union Food Minister Ram Vilas Paswan and Union Human Resources Development Minister Prakash Javdekar and apprised them about the serious state of the affairs on the BBAU campus. They demanded removal of vice chancellor RC Sobti, stern action against Prof Kamal Jaiswal and revocation of arbitrary and unlawful rustication of Dalit students.

Despite assurances from the ministers, the Dalit student leaders are shocked over the outcome as the university administration again passed “weird” orders. Now it has conditionally revoked the rustication orders in respect of Jai Singh, Ajay Kumar and Sumit Kumar after submission of “required statement” and the rustication orders in respect of Ramendra Naresh, Ashwini Ranjan, Shreyat Boudha and Sandeep Gautam would be treated as suspension orders; their entry in the campus would be banned till completion of judicial enquiry.

The most severe action was taken against Sandeep Shastri, who has been debarred from taking admission to any course as he was not found to be a student of the University. A judicial enquiry will be conducted as retired judge of the Allahabad High Court Justice Kalimullah Khan. No time has been fixed for submission of his report.

The Vice Chancellor referred this correspondent to newly appointed Proctor Prof Ram Chandra to take the version of the university. Prof Chandra could not explain under which provision of their disciplinary rules they can rusticate a student without issuing him a chargesheet or showcause notice. Or how could the same authority reverse punishment order of rustication into suspension.

Dalit students allege that such action is an afterthought on the part of BBAU administration to legalise the unprecedented unlawful action against them. They feel that such a discriminatory action is designed to create divisions among students.
It is clear from the way the situation is developing that the simmering discontent in the campus could fire passions of a caste war if timely action is not taken by the Union Ministry for Human Resources Development.http://www.tehelka.com/2016/11/lucknows-dalit-students-suffer-the-same-fate-as-hyderabads/?singlepage=1