This post has been self-published on Youth Ki Awaaz by Mrityunjay Pandey. Just like them, anyone can publish on Youth Ki Awaaz.

Justice For Rohith Vemula Movement And The Rise Of Left-Ambedkarite Unity

More from Mrityunjay Pandey

The shocking suicide of Dalit research scholar and activist Rohith Vemula at the University of Hyderabad on January 17, 2016, highlighted the dark reality of caste-based structural inequality and oppression making their presence felt in the institutions for higher education which are considered to be liberating spaces.

Nationwide student protests following the death of Rohith brought to the fore a discourse on caste-based discrimination in university campuses across India. Such discrimination is a lived reality Dalit students face as a founding hindrance in accessing higher education.

The ‘Justice for Rohith’ movement led by the Joint Action Committee (JAC) consisting of 17 organisations, representing progressive, liberal, left and Ambedkarite ideologies, highlighted the systemic exclusion and marginalisation which Dalit students face in their everyday life from upper caste professors, peer groups and administration in the colleges.

The movement also highlighted the discriminatory anti-Dalit politics of Hindutva forces and their attempt to saffronise higher education institutions after their ascendancy to power at the centre. This has been vehemently resisted by the Ambedkarite and left organisations.

The call for enacting the ‘Rohith Act’ to facilitate the setting up of an institutional mechanism to end caste-based discrimination was one of the major demands of the movement, apart from ensuring justice to Rohith by punishing the culprits responsible for his ‘institutional murder’. The demand of the ‘Rohith Act’ gives new hope for democratic and discrimination-free academic spaces.

After two years, when I look back at Rohith’s university and try to locate changes, I find continuously shrinking democratic spaces, false cases and selective denial of entries to eminent scholars from left-liberal-Ambedarite backgrounds as the new norms in the university.

The Vice-Chancellor Appa Rao Podile, who had faced the ire of the students for punishing Dalit scholars during the events leading up to Rohith’s suicide, continues to follow his policy of suspending Dalit students who question his discriminatory attitude towards them while favouring those from the Sangh Parivar’s Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP).

Last semester, 10 students were punished with academic and hostel suspension on the charges of finding a girl in the men’s hostel. Among these students, some are from Dalit and tribal backgrounds.

Priests are allowed to worship Ganesh and celebrate Vasant Panchami but Buddhist monks were denied entry on the day of Buddha Jayanti. It clarified the nature of the Hyderabad Central University (HCU) administration. Despite lots of protests, deliberation and complaints, the university administration still remains a men-dominated and upper caste body that gives women, Dalits and tribals just legislatively necessitated compulsory representation.

The Rohith Vemula movement did lead to the activation of an ‘anti-discrimination cell’ in the University. But still, the university administration remains in the hands of those selectively appointed by the Vice Chancellor, to follow his dictates without any genuine concern of upliftment of Dalits.

Recently, the Gender Sensitisation-Committee against Sexual Harassment (GSCASH) was replaced by the Internal Complaint Committee (ICC), which reduced the earlier vibrant gender sensitising body as a mere complaint redressal committee. This shows the HCU administration’s myopic understanding of caste and gender discrimination. All the institutional bodies meant to look into unequal treatment on the campus are either non-functional or act as mere complaint registration offices. Many among the administration who hold powerful positions are Brahminical – they do not understand the multi-faceted nature of the persistence of discrimination. The use of casteist remarks and wardens making fun of students’ humble backgrounds has emerged as a new trend.

Recently, a Dalit professor from the School of Economics, who happens to be progressive and who was also the president of UoHTA, was publicly abused on Facebook by a student (who also happens to be a national co-convenor for the ABVP) for asking a question on the ‘saffornisation of education’ in his end semester examination paper – ‘Economics of Education’. Professor K Laxminarayana has registered a written complaint but no action has been initiated in the last one month by the Appa Rao-led HCU administration.

All the above incidents indicate that even though Appa Rao’s administration was strongly challenged by the Rohith Vemula movement, with the passing of time and the gradual decline of the movement, the administration succeeded in establishing a regime of terror, actively assisted by the BJP-led government at the centre.

In July 2016, the UoH administration came up with a new farman, banning public gathering or meeting in open spaces inside the campus. Such an undemocratic move by the administration was strongly challenged by Students’ Union and the progressive groups inside the campus. SC/ST Teachers’ Association, with the collaboration of concerned teachers, initiated a weekly open discussion programme – ‘When Academia Meets the Streets’. All these efforts paid off and the democratic and critical public spaces of the campus were saved.

In April 2017, the HCU administration came up with new plan of changing the students union’s Constitution, with the agenda of making the VC the custodian of the union and keeping new undergraduate students out of university elections.

Students protested and challenged the administration’s intervention in the students union’s Constitution. In retaliation, the administration put arbitrary charges against students union president Kuldeep Singh Nagi. He was served more than five show cause notices on absurd charges like sloganeering, writing slogans on the walls, etc.

The attempt of punishing the president on these frivolous charges was also challenged and stopped by the united forces of the student community. These are a few examples to illustrate the HCU administration’s strong commitment towards a right-wing agenda, and also the ability of students to resist unitedly.

The suspension of Rohith and his friends in August 2015, and the stands the administration took at the time, act as wake up calls for all progressive student groups. Keeping aside ideological and political differences, 17 organisations came together to form the Joint Action Committee (JAC). After the death of Rohith, the JAC emerged as an organization that had representation from left, liberal and Ambekarite organisations. The JAC also held open meetings to listen and incorporate independent voices on the campus. This was the first movement I had seen at HCU which was not led by any particular organisation. Even though it had its own limitations, it presented a new model for politics – one that suggests that progressive groups with their differences can work together with a democratically decided ‘common minimum agenda’.

That understanding was visible in last three union elections, where many progressives decided to contest together, keeping aside past incidents and differences. They decided to unite and intensify their fight against the ABVP.

Those complicit in the death of Rohith are still walking freely. A concrete ‘Rohith Act’ is yet to materialise and a discrimination-free campus is still a daydream. But when I look back on the dynamic nature of HCU’s campus politics, I find that the Rohith Vemula movement clearly gives a new model to fight the right-wing onslaught through the strategic alliance of the left and Ambedkarite forces.

You must be to comment.
  1. Krishna Singh

    Justice to Rohit Vemula and all other oppressed people on caste, religious line is mingled with the justice of the working class, including justice to working women, child labours, oppressed nations!
    Unite with the working class for a socialist revolution by burying capitalism, mother of all evil!

More from Mrityunjay Pandey

Similar Posts

By Speaking Tiger

By Prithvi Vatsalya

By Adivasi Lives Matter

    If you do not receive an email within the next 5 mins, please check your spam box or email us at actnow@youthkiawaaz.com

      If you do not receive an email within the next 5 mins, please check your spam box or email us at actnow@youthkiawaaz.com

        If you do not receive an email within the next 5 mins, please check your spam box or email us at actnow@youthkiawaaz.com

        Wondering what to write about?

        Here are some topics to get you started

        Share your details to download the report.









        We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

        Share your details to download the report.









        We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

        An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

        Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

        Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

        The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

        Read more about his campaign.

        Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

        Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

        Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

        Read more about her campaign.

        MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

        With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

        Read more about her campaign. 

        A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

        As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

        Find out more about the campaign here.

        A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

        She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

        Read more about the campaign here.

        A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

        The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

        Read more about the campaign here.

        A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

        As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

        Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

        Find out more about her campaign here.

        Share your details to download the report.









        We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

        A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

        A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

        Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

        A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
        biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

        Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
        campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

        Sign up for the Youth Ki Awaaz Prime Ministerial Brief below