By Syracuse University and SUNY-ESF:
We, concerned students, faculty and alumni at Syracuse University and SUNY-ESF strongly condemn the police violence inflicted on students protesting the return of the Vice Chancellor Prof. Appa Rao Podile at Hyderabad Central University (HCU) on 22nd March 2016. Prof. Appa Rao Podile has been accused of abetting the suicide of an HCU Dalit scholar Rohith Vemula and stands charged under the Atrocities on SCs/STs Act. On the day in question, Appa Rao Podile resumed as Vice Chancellor on March 22nd, leading to protests being held against him by students of the University. The University responded by allegedly sanctioning a violent police lathi charge on students, followed by the detainment of 27 students and 2 faculty members, many of whom have faced violence in prison along with a violation of their constitutional rights to seek legal counsel. Students have reported being manhandled by the police, with women reporting having been touched inappropriately and threatened with rape. Muslim students have reported having been labelled “terrorists”. In the days that followed students on campus were also deprived of food, water, access to their bank accounts via their debit cards as well as the internet. Students who attempted to cook for their fellow students were also subjected to physical violence by the police, with some being arrested and some being so grievously injured so as to require hospitalisation and intensive care. In addition, university officials prevented outsiders including the media and a National Fact Finding Team from entering the campus to conduct a fact-finding probe.
Equally troubling are similar instances of police brutality towards students and other protesters in Mumbai on 26th March, 2016, when students requesting police permission to conduct a protest meeting in solidarity with HCU were physically assaulted and detained. It must be noted that the police action in Mumbai is similar to that in Hyderabad, even though both cities belong to different states and are ruled by different state governments. The criminalisation of dissent in university spaces has not been limited to JNU and HCU, and students at educational institutions in other places such as Chennai and Pune have also reported being vulnerable to it.
We stand in solidarity with our student and faculty friends who challenge casteism, discrimination, and the silencing of dissent. We extend our support to them, even as we anticipate similar instances of violence on students in the future, given the precedent set in the last few days. The situation is made even more dangerous given the silence of the media on the issue, including newsgroups that made visible student protests during the Jawaharlal Nehru University crisis. This silence is disturbing, and symptomatic of a complete disinterest in caste-based discrimination.
In unity with statements of solidarity by students and faculty condemning ongoing and increasing violence on university campuses, we demand the following:
1. Removal of Appa Rao Podile as the Vice Chancellor.
2. The immediate withdrawal of the charges against the students and faculty members of HCU who have been arrested.
3. The withdrawal of police from the HCU campus and also a fair enquiry into the state of affairs at HCU.
4. The release of all students detained in connection with protesting the events at HCU.
5. An independent enquiry into all the events that took place at the VC’s residence on 22nd March, 2016, including the vandalising of the VCs office.
6. Enactment of the Rohith Act against caste discrimination in educational institutions.
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