“Raju-Venkatesh Solidarity Committee” Report on Recent Dalit Student Suicides at University of Hyderabad
On 24th November 2013, Madari Venkatesh (student ID: 11ACPA02), a 3rd year PhD scholar, from Advance Centre for Research in High Energy (ACRHEM), University of Hyderabad (UoH), committed suicide in his hostel room in the campus. Venkatesh came from a Dalit family from Ibrahimpatnam, Andhra Pradesh; probably, a first generation University student. He was a CSIR-Junior Research Fellow, and stayed in the campus. This unfortunate death has raised serious issues and concerns with regard to the circumstances under which such incidents recur, in the last two years, especially, among marginalized students (SC/ST/OBC) in the campus, due to institutional lapses and prejudiced negligence. This signifies an atrocious case of institutional indifference to the needs and aspirations of marginalized students, to a large extent, in the campus.
University of Hyderabad Students, under the banner “Raju-Venkatesh Solidarity Committee”, protest at the administration building on 27.11.2013
M Venkatesh, after joining UoH for PhD, was not provided a guide and a lab, even after three years, even when other students had started their researches, and published international papers. ACRHEM director, the faculty members, and the management of the university grossly neglected to provide basic academic facilities to a research scholar, thereby, implying a casteist bias in the functioning of the University. Although continuous efforts were made by the deceased in July 2013, through a written request, to provide him a regular guide; his pleas were counter signed, by the Vice Chancellor (who was the in-charge Director), only to be put in abeyance. In the wake of recurrent suicides in the campus, especially, of marginalized students; student groups came together under the banner “Raju-Venkatesh Solidarity Committee.”
Mr. Madari Venkatesh, PhD Scholar
Madari Venkatesh was not allotted any supervisor, when he joined in 2011. In his notification of results for admission, he was specially asked by the administration to meet the director, considering his specialization.
M. Venkatesh, bearing hall ticket no: 115469071, was admitted to PhD at ACRHEM during the academic year 2011-12. Immediately after admission, Venkatesh was to get a supervisor from the department. Though he went and met all faculty members in the centre, none agreed to supervise him. He specialized in chemistry, for which there was one permanent faculty member, Prof. Susanta Mohapatra. However, he was not admitted under him. There were about 6 associated faculty members in the centre, among whom two were professors, and the rest: 1 lecturer and 3 readers.
Apart from Chemistry faculty in general, there were 8 permanent faculty members in the centre, amongst which 6 faculties were associated with centre. According to the Prospectus 2011-12, the proportions of seats were clearly demarcated as: out of total intake, i.e., 7 seats, 5 seats were notified with specialization in Chemistry and 2 Seats with a specialization in Mathematics. When the prospectus had notified the information on demarcation of seats with a specialization in chemistry, why Madari Venkatesh, one may ask, did not get a guide allotted, who is specialized in chemistry? Moreover for the academic year 2011-12, out of the annual permitted seats declared as 7, only 2 students were admitted. Besides, out of the demarcated strength of 5 students for specialization in Chemistry, only 1 student i.e., M. Venkatesh was admitted.
Since no one was willing to supervise him, Professor S.P. Tewari had accepted to supervise the student, as he was the director. At the verge of retirement, Prof. S.P. Tewari along with the institution has clearly violated the rules. The 67th Meeting of Academic Council held on 16th November 2011 had communicated the decision on allotment of supervisor to those who are on the verge of retirement. The minutes of the meeting under item AC67:2K11:17 states: “The faculty who has a minimum of 3 years of service left before retirement can guide students independently, if their service is less than 3 years but more than one year can only be co-supervisors”; and the same was communicated to Prof S.P.Tewari, the then Director of ACRHEM, who was present in the meeting.
M. Venkatesh was admitted to ACRHEM on 28th July 2011; while the decision on guiding the PhD students by faculty, who are on verge of retirement, was taken 4 months after his admission. Prof. S.P. Tewari retired on 30th April 2013, after completing his super-annuation. Prof. Tewari, hence, cannot be the main guide according to the rules; he can only be a co-supervisor. Moreover, Professor Tewari had a different specialization, other than Chemistry.
According to Clause 5(a), Chapter IX, Academic Ordinances of the University, a doctoral committee for a Ph.D student should be constituted:
“Immediately after the provisional admission of the candidate/s for Ph.D. course the School Board will constitute a ‘Doctoral Committee’ for each of the candidate admitted. The Committee shall consist of three members with the Supervisor of the student as Convener, the other two members to be nominated by the School Board.”
The letter, written by M. Venkatesh, on 18th July 2013, explicitly states that there was only one member in the doctoral committee for him: “I was allotted Prof. S.P. Tewari as supervisor for my PhD course, and he was only member of DRC (Doctoral Committee).” M. Venkatesh’s supervisor, Professor S.P. Tewari retired on 30th April 2013; after which Venkatesh was not assigned a new guide. In fact, it is testified by the letter written by Venkatesh seeking extension for semester registration on 18th July 2013, in which he wrote: “As now Prof. S.P. Tewari has retired and no other supervisor allotted to me till now”. All these occurrences have gone against, and contravene the provisions in the academic ordinances of the university.
Apparently after Professor S.P. Tewari retired, Professor Ramakrishna Ramaswamy, Vice-Chancellor, University of Hyderabad, occupied the position of director-in-charge for ACRHEM. Since the letter dated 18th July 2013 was addressed to the director, and was approved by the vice-chancellor, the information on non-allotment of supervisor was available with the centre and the head of the institution. During admissions in 2013-14, 4 students were admitted, of which 1 student under reserved category (scheduled caste) has left the course. The newly admitted batch of students was assigned supervisors, but not M. Venkatesh, who had no supervisor, since April; in fact, logically, since his admission.
Venkatesh was worried about the non-allotment of supervisor, and therefore, this must have contributed to the slow pace of his work. However, Venkatesh could publish one paper in a reputed journal, and was about to publish two more. After Prof. S.P. Tewari’s retirement, he approached many faculty members, and they had rejected to offer him guidance. On Friday (22nd November 2013), he met a faculty member in school of chemistry, with a request to guide him, and the faculty told him to start the work from the beginning.
In a broader context, ACRHEM was not even following the norms of the reservation policy. In 2011-12, the annual permitted strength was declared to be 7 seats; 1 (one) seat was reserved for Scheduled Castes, 1 seat for Scheduled Tribes (ST). There were 3 ST students who appeared in the interview, but none was absorbed in. For the academic year 2012-13, out of annual permitted strength of 7, there was no reservation for Scheduled Tribes. One scheduled tribe student attended interview, but was not admitted; again one scheduled caste seat was left over. Hence, from the academic year 2012-13, no SC/ST students were admitted.
In summary, ACRHEM allotted Prof. Tewari, two years before his retirement, as a guide to Mr. Venkatesh. This is unofficial, and clearly violates the UGC norms, as well as, the University institutional guidelines, as any about-to-be-retiring faculty should not take any new students for guidance. Further, even after repeated pleas by the deceased, efforts were neither made by the director nor the faculty, for the last three years, to allot an official guide, as well as, constitute a doctoral committee for Mr. Venkatesh.
ACRHEM increasingly flouted institutional guarantees, bypassed governmental policies, and generated academic stress. He found the life, research, and his continuity with studies in the campus difficult, especially when Prof. Tewari retired. His attempts and requests fell on deaf ears that, perhaps, made him a victim of a gross systemic violation, bureaucratic negligence and institutional apathy. Even after death, none of the university authorities showed any inclination to console the family members of Mr. Venkatesh. This case is not alone in its occurrence. The problem is cases like this ominously recur.
Mr. Venkatesh’s suicide represents a clear case of discrimination against the marginalized students, especially Dalits, in the campus. Two other Dalit students had committed suicide in similar circumstances: Pulyala Raju from MA Applied Linguistics, from Andhra Pradesh, in April 2013, and Senthil Kumar, a Dalit PhD research scholar in Physics, from Tamil Nadu in April 2008. The reports of the committees that were constituted by Prof Vinod Pavarala (2008) and Prof V. Krishna (2013), as chairs, to look into the deaths, were hardly circulated by the administration; in fact, they were not released to the public, immediately. The recommendations were never taken seriously, and were not implemented in letter and spirit.
The UoH administration has also vilely violated the order of the AP High Court PIL 106/2013. The Hon’ble High Court made it mandatory, for all the universities in Andhra Pradesh, to implement the guidelines issued by Prof Faizan Mustafa committee report to ease academic stress. The UoH administration has, also, violated Section 4 and Section 7 of University Grants commission Grievance Redress Regulations (2012) by constituting Prof V Krishna committee, which comprises of faculty from the same university, to probe and submit a report on the students’ suicides in the campus, in the wake of the deaths of Dalit students P Raju and M Venkatesh. A University ‘Ombudsman’ was never referred.
In the instant case, the Vice Chancellor was the in-charge Director of ACRHEM, and he should be made liable, for the suicide of Mr. Venkatesh pursuing PhD in the University campus. And, additionally, he should be made responsible for not taking any steps to implement the UGC Regulation on Promotion of Equity in Higher Educational Institutions, 2012 to ensure equality of opportunity and non-discrimination on university campuses.
The Vice Chancellor Prof. Ramakrishna Ramaswamy had, in the past, suggested the profiling of North-East students, scrapped fellowships, unilaterally decided to pre-pone the entrance exams, engineered non-implementation of reservation policies in student admissions, meddled with the constitutional provision for faculty recruitment, and was implicated in allocation of funds and land to private players. These moves generated, vehemently, huge protests and opposition among students, teaching and non-teaching staff.
1. A Judicial probe, by setting up a committee under a High Court Judge, to look into the student suicides from SC/ST background, and find evidence whether there is a case for caste atrocity.
2. The Vice Chancellor Prof. Ramakrishna Ramaswamy should take responsibility for the mishap, and should resign from his position, to make way for a fair judicial enquiry.
3. Dismiss the guilty, and take legal action.
4. Compensation to the families of P Raju and M Venkatesh.
5. A Panel to enquire the research students’ condition, redressal, and well being in the University.
6. Take measures to stop such unfortunate incidents to happen.
7. Filling up of vacant seats: Students and Faculty.
8. Allotment of qualified and official guides to all research students as a basic research amenity.
The discriminatory attitudes of the University departments, especially ACRHEM, in this case, must be highlighted. The need to be sensitive to the needs and aspirations of students, especially of the dalit and marginalized communities, must be emphasized, as suicides clearly represent a case of discrimination in the university against students, particularly, the marginalized.
[Drafted by Dontha Prashanth (UoH), Dickens Leonard M (UoH), and Ashok Kumar (NALSAR)]
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