By Abhishek Jha for Youth Ki Awaaz:
Four Dalit research scholars of Ambedkar Students’ Association (ASA) at University of Hyderabad (UoH) have been barred from staying in their hostels by the highest decision making body of the University, the Executive Council. They will also not be allowed to participate in the students’ union elections and cannot enter the hostels, the administration building, and other common places in groups. A former research scholar of the University has also been similarly barred. The decision was taken by the Executive Council, whose Chairman is the Vice-Chancellor, after considering the recommendations of a Sub-Committee.
The Registrar of the University, Shri M. Sudhakar, told YKA that the students have been punished due to “a skirmish” that happened between the students of ASA and an ABVP student. The members of ASA have been contesting this claim since August when the alleged altercation happened. The ASA had organised a protest in UoH denouncing ABVP’s disruption of Nakul Singh Sawhney’s screening of Muzaffarnagar Baaqi Hai at Delhi University. The ABVP President of the campus, Susheel Kumar, had then called the protesters “goons” in a Facebook post, following which they demanded a written apology, which Kumar provided in the presence of a security official.
The ASA students have claimed in a Facebook post that Kumar along with his brother had then “spread false allegations” against the students that have been suspended. They have also alleged that Kumar’s brother belongs to Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha (BJYM) and that BJP MLC Ramachandra Rao had met the VC along with his party cadre after the altercation to urge him to take action against the students. The VC’s office, to which several calls were made, told YKA that he was unavailable for comment due to his engagements. Kumar could not be contacted.
The Proctorial Board, a statutory authority, then made an enquiry into the incident but “could not get any hard evidence of beating of Mr. Susheel Kumar” despite contacting the hospital where he was admitted. The security official who reached the spot also did not witness any beating and saw only “a big gathering of ASA cadres discussing with Sushil Kumar (sic)” according to the Proctorial Board’s findings. Despite this the Proctorial Board decided to suspend the five Dalit students for a semester. However, this decision was revoked pending further enquiry after the students had an open discussion with the VC.
M Sudhakar, who is also the ex officio Secretary of the Executive Council, told YKA that the Sub-Committee of the Executive Council found the students of ASA guilty and upheld the Proctorial Board’s decision although it “diluted” it. The Council “resolved the matter” on its meeting dated 27th of November, of which the students learned on the 18th of this month. However, the ASA has alleged that Council arrived at the decision without conducting any further enquiry. The minutes of this meeting also refer to a communication from the MHRD. However, when contacted, Mr. Sudhakar told YKA that the Ministry asks for a report on “disturbances” as and when they happen in campuses. “This is all we have referred,” he told YKA.
The suspended students have now filed a writ petition in the Hyderabad High Court against the University’s order, where the hearings are yet to begin. A senior member of the Ambedkar Students’ Association told YKA that the students also submitted a memorandum and made a representation to the VC on the 21st of December. He also said that they called for an open meeting between the board, the complainants, and the victims and that “all the (student) organisations (except ABVP) put some questions” to the VC but “he did not have any answers”.
The senior member of ASA told YKA that since the appointment of the new VC there has been “more resistance to Dalits” since they assert themselves more in UoH and “participate in social activities”. The claims of the ASA assume significance in the light of the de-recognition of the Ambedkar Periyar Study Circle at IIT Madras earlier this year following an anonymous complaint from the campus to the MHRD and the expulsion of 73 students, around 90% of which were from reserved categories, from IIT Roorkee (also this year) by a new merit criteria of the institute. The decisions at both the IITs were later revoked. The decision at UoH seems to have been made in a similarly opaque manner. That the Proctorial Board’s decision was contradictory to its own findings reflects a casteist bias or political pressure on the University. Neither seems constitutionally sound.
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