Muhammad Ali Jauhar
Turbulent protests followed after the institutional murder of Rohith Vemula, a bright Dalit research scholar in the University of Hyderabad. The university gained normalcy when the VC, who was the primary culprit in Rohith’s death, had no other option than to leave. Another VC was appointed, but he also had to face resistance and go on leave as he was involved in an earlier suicide of another research scholar. The next incharge VC was popular among the students, and they had faith in him regarding justice.
The protest took a turn and it changed its mode. The students were busy after the protest and were getting ready to appear for their end semester examinations. The innocent students thought that VC who had gone on leave might not come back due to fear of protests. But that silence was an indication of an upcoming storm. Behind the curtains, a bigger conspiracy was active. It was on 18th march, one of my friends said that, the VC might come back. Because in some department, a few faculty members who are known for their right wing affiliation were regularly enquiring with the students about the status of protests and participation of students. So he guessed that there is a chance of the VC coming back. But we never thought it might happen so soon.
On the morning of 22 March, when we opened Facebook it was a shocking news for us that the VC Appa Rao is back in the campus. It was also updated on the university website that he has resumed charge. In the Facebook posts we came to know that the students are rushing towards the 3 crore rupees palatial home of the VC in the campus. So even we rushed towards the VC’s home. The students were in anguish and pain. There were slogans inside the VC’s home. A few students entered the VC lodge breaking the glasses and were sloganeering. We came to know the shocking truth that there were ABVP members already inside the VC lodge. And that a few faculty members were having meeting with them.
Students started shouting slogans and the media, police and other students and faculty members started gathering in more numbers. It was a political drama that was happening inside. The VC was protected by a few like-minded professors and ABVP members and they started chanting slogans like “Appa Rao Zindabaad ” in favour of the tainted VC. Other students gathered behind the door, and started slogans against the VC, then the ABVP students started throwing chairs and cushions towards protesting students. Basically they were the ones who vandalized the bungalow to show to the media and to public that the protesting students are resorting to violence.
Tension prevailed for some time and then a few workers came and started shouting slogans in favour of the VC. Later, the students got the news that there was a hidden greed pact regarding their demands, which was why the workers and non-teaching staff started supported the tainted VC Appa Rao. They were earlier standing with us. Students stayed there in the hot weather also. Majority of the students who were protesting had not had lunch. Till the evening, the students were reluctant to move from there. They were demanding the arrest of the VC, who hasn’t got bail till now from the High Court. His bail plea hearing had been deferred many times. But the police were arguing in his favour.
Then the student leader, and one among the suspended Dalit researchers, Dontha Prashanth came with many legal documents, which were saying that the VC’s coming back to the campus is illegal; he might tamper with evidences as the judicial probe is still on. But the Police argued that VC’s bungalow is his private home, so he could come and stay, and only if he comes to Administrative block, they can take action. But his private bungalow was the new admin block as meetings were happening there. There were many deans and loyal faculty members present there.
Dontha Prashanth and students’ union President Zuhail Kp proved the police wrong. But still the police were threatening Dontha Prashanth that they can even arrest him. The police acted as the VC’s personal security guards. Meanwhile, the students started distributing biscuits, water bottles among their fellows and even to the police personnel. In this period, the ABVP members left the VC’s home, with the protection of the police. Also the police had blocked the gates not allowing more students to enter.
It was around 5 pm when the police was deployed for lathi charge and forceful removal of the students. The students and a few faculty members were reluctant to move. It reminded us of the day of Rohith Vemula’s death. The agitating students were not allowing the police to remove the body, insisting that they had to meet the VC Appa Rao, who had already left the campus. But this happened after the police had brought his body down from the fan and the doctor had declared Rohith dead. In the morning, the police brutally lathi charged the students including protesting female students and snatched away the body. Now, on March 22, the students were experiencing the same.
Police asked us to vacate the place. But students’ demands were sacrosanct, so students were not ready to vacate until the arrest of VC Appa Rao. Within a few minutes the police started removing the students forcibly. They had started dragging teachers and students – including Dr Tathagata Sengupta who was beaten up – and put them outside the gate of the VC lodge. It was a black day in the history of University of Hyderabad.
The students who were present on that day, will never forget the police atrocities. Female students were dragged out, many girls’ clothes were torn. There were hardly 5-6 police women and many female students. The male personnel were manhandling girls. Rape threats were hurled at female students by policemen. Mercilessly, they beat them up black and blue. They targeted those students especially those who were taking videos and photos. Salman, a research scholar who was making a video, was brutally attacked by the police who snatched his bag and camera. Many policemen were in civil dress, and they acted as goons.
But the students were not ready to leave the place even after being put out of the gate. They started shouting slogans ‘Police GO back’. During that time, many female students were manhandled by policemen. They arrested a student who was hiding behind the car out of the fear, and he was treated as a noted criminal. Police were slapping him and taking his pictures. The second arrest was also very cruel. But still students were not ready to leave. Students gathered with more energy and started shouting slogans.
Then they started arresting those who spoke against the police and were leading the protest. They arrested the leaders and put them in an ambulance and shifted them from the campus. People were beaten up inside the ambulance. Sixteen students were put into a police van and brutally attacked. Others were in the ambulance. They were arresting the people who were shouting slogans. In fact, a female faculty member, Dr. Shobha, was also beaten up. But once they reached the Department of Humanities they have started targeting those who were making videos and clicking pictures.
We didn’t know how many of our friends were arrested, until next day. Because many were missing. After one day, we got the exact number of the arrested. Prof K Y Rathnam was beaten in front of us. He was trying to rescue the female faculty members and female students from the police. Then he was arrested and beaten in front of us. It was like a police camp. The police occupied the whole campus. Once they arrested and beaten up badly, the students were exhausted and didn’t know what to do. Then we came to know the truth that, they have cut the mess food. And also internet. They had even arrested a documentary maker named Moses Tulasi for making a video.
Police officers had cameras and they made a video of the students. They clicked pictures. Police threatened us that they can come to our hostels and arrest us on “Sedition Charges”. Police inspector, Gachibowli police station, J Ramesh was the person who threatened us. Another policeman who was tall and in civil dress was abusing us in Telugu and beating us very badly. He kicked us, slapped us. Many people were crying by seeing this brutality. We didn’t understand the abuse, because they were abusing us in Telugu. Later, a few students said that, they have called girls as prostitutes and they will show them who they are if they spend one night with the police. Some female students said that, policemen even grabbed the private parts of female students.
The VC announced one week suspension of classes. He wanted to create fear among the students and reduce the number of students in the campus. Once the VC suspends classes for one week, students can go home. He expected it. But the majority of students remained in the campus and continued the protest.
The next day was really tough, there was no food, no internet in the campus, no water in the hostels. They even blocked the ATM machine so students could not go outside and buy food. The news reached outside only through the students who had internet packs. They blocked internet and wifi to suppress the students and put them in fear. In the afternoon, students started cooking in the ladies hostels. All students were united and started sharing food. Students started cooking at the shopping complex too.
It was then that the police brutally attacked Uday Bhanu who was cooking food. He was beaten in front of us. And put in the police bus and beaten again. Later the policemen said he was attacked by security officers of the campus, not by the police, but the photos which were taken by students proved them wrong. They terrified the students and all of them were hiding in the hostels out of fear. In the night all the students gathered again at shopping complex and started distributing food.
It was really a refugee camp. Students were hungry since morning and rushing for food. There are many students who had come from very poor backgrounds and suffered a lot. Many research scholars who stay outside the campus cooked at their home and fed their mates. The police even blocked food and water outside the gate.
Denial of even food united the students. But another side – we didn’t know what was happening to the arrested friends. Many rumours were floating around. Students were in a panic. There was the news of more arrests in the campus. Students who went outside were not allowed inside the campus and others were not allowed to go outside.
Update – 3rd April, 2016.
The author wishes to mention some inaccuracies that had crept into his account due to some difficulties in recollecting:
Prof Shobha was not beaten–she was only verbally threatened. Second, classes were suspended only for two days–Wednesday and Thursday. Friday was a holiday anyway. Third, the meeting was between the Deans and Prof Appa Rao, not between faculty and students–the students had come to meet with Appa Rao separately. The two senior faculty members who took charge after Appar Rao went on leave were not “appointed”–they only became in-charge in his absence.
Muhammad Ali Jauhar is doing his Masters in Communication at University of Hyderabad. He is from South Canara, Karnataka, and has worked earlier as the Associate Editor of Eshara Fortnighly (Kannada) magazine.