Excerpts from the report of the People’s Tribunal on Caste Discrimination and Police Action in University of Hyderabad, prepared by Justice K Chandru, retired judge, High Court, Madras; Prof Ghanshyam Shah, formerly professor, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi; and Prof Govardhan Wankhede, formerly professor and dean, Tata Institute of Social Science , Mumbai:
The brief to the tribunal was to examine the circumstances leading to leading to the suicide committed by Rohit Vemula Chakravarthy, a Research Scholar as well as the police action subsequent to his death and the existing caste discrimination practice by the University. And, to recommend among other things, besides protocols to enable marginalized students to fully participate and enjoy the academic, political and social space of the university more productively and effectively; and to examine the existing grievance redressal systems to prevent caste discrimination in the University of Hyderabad and evaluate their effectiveness.
The issue raised by late Rohit Vemula Chakravarthy and his organization (Ambedkar Students Association) was a larger political issue related to freedom of expression and idea of India. There was nothing ‘castesist’ in these issues, as MHRD alleged and persuaded the University to change its earlier decision and take action against the Dalit students. Instead of looking at the issue in larger perspective, the adversary of ASA dubbed it ‘casteist, extremist and anti-national’.
The manner in which the university authority conducted the inquiry against Rohit and other Dalit students give an impression of targeting them for their political position. At least that is how the Dalit students and many perceived.
Rohith’s suicide in the UoH is not the first one. In less than ten years, three other students had committed suicide. The University has done nothing to prevent recurrence of suicides of students in the past. This was despite the fact that the earlier committees, appointed by the University, consisted of the university teachers, had made recommendations to set right things regarding student issues. What is disturbing is that UoH has not yet taken these suggestions made by their own colleagues seriously.
Even as early as the year 2013 the High Court of Andhra Pradesh (now renamed as High Court of Telangana and Andhra Pradesh) in PIL No.106/2013 had issued several directives to all the Universities in the state to prevent recurrence of suicides. However, neither the UGC Regulations of 2012 nor the Court directives nor UOH Committee recommendations have been implemented.
- The University should immediately implement the AP High Court Order Interim Measure No 3 that calls upon the University for instituting a Special Commission to review disciplinary orders imposing major penalties such as rustication, expulsion from hostels and stoppage of fellowships in the case of all students and especially those from SC/ST/OBC and other marginalised backgrounds.
- Although at the University level, there are entities such as Office of the Dean, Students’ Welfare, the Central Grievance Committee, and SC/ST cell to address any problems faced by the students, there is no formal, institutional mechanism in any of the Schools for redressal of grievances of students, especially those who belong to the marginalized categories. The existence of such agencies even at the University level and the procedures to be followed are not widely known to the student community. The doctoral committees, which may be expected to take up this role, exist more on paper than in practice in all the schools.
- The University should institute as early as possible the Grievance Redressal Committee headed by the Ombudsman as per UGC (Grievance Redressal) Regulation 2012. And, on the priority basis, it must implement all the Directives in the Order passed by the High Court of Andhra Pradesh in W.P (PIL) No. 106/2013.
- It appears that UoH has not yet set up the Equal Opportunity Cell headed by the Anti-discrimination Officer as per the UGC (Promotion of Equity in Higher Educational Institutions) Regulations 2012. That has to be done urgently. Simultaneously, SC/ST cell to safeguard the interests of SC/ST students; and remedial coaching in English language programme to improve their academic performance require review and to be made more effective.
- The university requires the formation of a broad-based “Students Counselling System”. Such system needs to be interactive involving students, teachers and parents to address common student concerns ranging from anxiety, stress, fear of change and failure to homesickness and a slew of academic worries.
- The University should on priority basis appoint anti-discriminatory faculty advisors for SC/ST students. It is a responsibility of the advisors to work as watchdogs to protect the students against discrimination. Moreover, they should also look into the problems –personal and academic- faced by the students and advise them accordingly. They should work as counsellors.
- The University does not have effective system encouraging one-to-one student- teacher relationship at all levels. The students in general and those belong to the marginalised communities feel alienated in the university system. Besides classroom and laboratory teaching, the teachers need to make a special effort to cultivate a one-to-one relationship with all the students so that when a student needs guidance/advice s/he can contact a teacher without fear. This responsibility needs to be interwoven with teaching and guidance. If needed teacher-student ratio needs to be reduced so that all the teachers get opportunities to spend time with the students.
- The teachers need to be more sensitive towards the students coming from the rural background and of the marginalised communities. They need to self-introspect critically regarding their bias and approach towards the students belonging to the different social background than theirs. All the three committees appointed by the university have emphasised this.
- Universities in general and the elite universities, in particular, should not only be the centre for disseminating knowledge but they should also disseminate knowledge in such a way that it provides space to the subaltern and empower them by enhancing their capacity and self-confidence. It is dangerous if the dissemination of knowledge reinforces and legitimizes inequality in society. The task of university needs to inculcate values among students of mutual respect, equality, and fraternity.
- University has an important role in creating and disseminating knowledge in society. In order to facilitate the task, it needs to provide congenial space for critical inquiry without fear. Within the university boundaries, no concept/idea/symbol is sacrosanct. The academic community enjoys the freedom to express their views and debate on all issues under the sky without fear. Dissent is a core of critical thinking which needs to be allowed and protected within the university campus. University is not a factory to manufacture robots. It is a place to develop a critical mind. Everyone has a right to dissent, including dissent against capital punishment. The university of Hyderabad needs to protect such freedom. Dialogue and debate have to be an integral part of academic life. Without that, the university would be dead.
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