Dalit Camera: Through Un-Touchable Eyes
[This article consists of two parts: the first part is a statement issued by the Dalit Camera Team on the events surrounding the tragic death of a Kashmiri student, Mudasir Kamran (read more about his death here), in the English and Foreign Languages University campus, Hyderabad, and the protests which followed it. The second part is the transcript of an interview with Munavath Sriramulu, an Adivasi student in EFLU, who had been taken seriously ill while protesting against Mudasir's death, and had to be immediately hospitalised. Sriramulu, speaking from the ICU of a local hospital, recounts his own long drawn struggle against the highhandedness of the casteist administration. For him, Mudasir's death proved to be a very traumatising event; he had been on a relay hunger strike only a week earlier to make the administration listen to the serious problems faced by students from marginalized groups like himself. Will EFLU listen at least now? The interview has been transcribed by Ajith Francis]
The students of the English and Foreign Languages University have been struggling for the past one week to ensure justice for the family of Mudasir Kamran, following his suicide on the night of 2nd March 2013. Mudasir was driven to suicide following the humiliation he suffered after he was turned in to the police by the Proctor, in the wake of a complaint made by Vasim (his ex-roommate, friend and classmate) in the late hours of 1st March. Instead of resolving the issue, the proctor got into a verbal altercation with Mudasir and called him mentally ill and a rascal. The proctor took Vasim to the Osmania University Police Station and asked the inspector to take Mudasir into custody. On getting wind of this, a group of students intervened and were able to secure Mudasir's release, after Professor Veda Sharan, the Warden, gave an undertaking that this was an issue internal to the University, and with proper procedures, this can be sorted at the university level. Meanwhile, the Proctor Harish Vijra reasserted his stand that Mudasir is a "rascal" and "mentally disordered" to a group of students who confronted him.
Mudasir was visibly upset and mentally tormented after he was released from the Police station and while breaking into tears asked: "Mein pagal hun kya? Vijra mereko aisa kyun bol raha hain?" (I am mad or what? Why is Vijra talking to me like this?). Seeing Mudasir's condition, students tried to console him and his close friends stayed with him through the night. Throughout the night, he was under tremendous mental duress on being humiliated and called a "mentally disordered rascal". On seeing his distress, Mudasir's friends kept a watch on him after he retreated to his room after breakfast. They made sure that he had lunch and found he had gone to read namaz in the afternoon. In the night, Krishna, another friend of Mudasir, realized that Mudasir had not taken dinner. When he rushed to his room, he found Mudasir hanging. Students broke in, and with the help of security guards, rushed him to Durgabhai Deshmukh Hospital where he was pronounced "dead on arrival" (DOA).
The role of Proctor Harish Vijra's apathy and his continuing indifference in the wake of this terrible tragedy cannot be overstated. Over the past three months, Vasim had been complaining a lot about his arguments and fights with Mudasir. Vasim had requested the Proctor on several occasions to intervene and resolve the issue. The University administration, instead of taking proactive measures like counselling or creating a support group, merely formed a Committee, which served Mudasir show-cause notices.
Students and friends who intervened had constantly reminded Prof. Vijra of the vulnerable position of Mudasir as a Kashmiri Muslim student. The fact that the Proctor consciously resorted to police action, despite the threats such an individual may have to face in the wake of recent events like Afzal Guru's execution and the bomb blasts in Hyderabad, further points to the utter insensitivity with which the issue was handled. The last confrontation between Mudasir and Vasim was not substantial enough to warrant police action. Vasim was not severely injured and had approached the Proctor to settle the situation internally. One could only understand Prof. Vijra's decision to involve police as a personal act of retribution – to teach a student his place within the University hierarchy. If Mudasir was going through a phase of psychological illness, as was explicitly stated by the Proctor, the decision to get him "treated" by the police escapes comprehension.
After Mudasir's death, the administration, the media and the police, have indirectly suggested that Mudasir was a homosexual. This had led to speculations that the revelation of Mudasir's private sexual life in public was the cause of his death. The problem lies not in the characterization of Mudasir's sexual identity – something which can no longer be confirmed. Rather, the use of this identity as a tool for incriminating Mudasir points towards the homophobic nature of the administration. Prof.Vijra's statements clearly characterize homosexuality as a mental disorder or a cause of violent delinquency – both cases perceived to be aberrations that can be corrected through incarceration. In the absence of any grievous injury to Vasim, it can be assumed that Mudasir's presumed "sexual deviance" was the reason behind his incrimination.
Everyone has the right to conceal/reveal one's sexual orientation. Mudasir too had the right to exercise this. If he were a homosexual he had every right to maintain his status as a closet homosexual. The proctor of the university negated his right to conceal private matters from public glare. Mudasir had to face not just a violation of his private space, but also the stigma associated with homosexuality. The administration and especially the Proctor, might have made him feel 'abnormal' by referring to his alleged violent behaviour to Vasim Salim as the acts of a 'mentally unstable person'. Normative practises, various regulatory markers, are the constituents through which our identity is created. A violent jolt to these markers could undo us and snuff the life out of us. Speculations about his sexuality could have severely undid Mudasir. It is anybody's guess that the administration's homophobia is a cause of Mudasir's death. In protest, the students called for a University bandh, initially for 2 days, demanding the suspension of Prof. Vijra , an impartial investigation into the issue and adequate compensation for Mudasir's family. They also protested against the continued presence of armed policemen in the days following Mudasir's death. However, the general sense of apathy of the University officials in addressing these concerns has forced the students to continue the strike.
A large section of the teachers' community has remained antagonistic to the on-going struggle. An urgent General Body meeting was called by the teachers. However, a few faculty members (who were opposed to students, as SC, ST, OBC students had lodged harassment cases against them) joined hands with the administration and stated that Prof. Vijra being a faculty member should get the full support of the teaching community. The following day, a meeting of the Teachers' Association, presided over by the Vice-Chancellor, was held. Though a few faculty members expressed their discontent, a large portion of those present decided to stand by the administration's demand to put down the protest and resume classes. A few teachers went so far as to inform students that the semester would be cancelled if the strike prolonged.
There are a series of issues which need urgent attention. The deaths of students that have been reported from the university is not a small matter. It is a fact that ever since CIEFL has become a central university and after the implementation of Mandal reservation, a wider variety of student population has come to the campus. Students suffer from addiction, depression, and a whole lot of other cultural issues which needs to be monitored and dealt with, in the context of this sudden expansion. A system needs to be in place, similar to counselling centers in Western Universities, where a student can open up about issues that he cannot otherwise confide to non-professionals. We cannot wait for another death for this system to be put in place. Kamran was a Kashmiri, probably a sexual minority, and a Muslim. He is marginalised across multiple axes. Such students need to be protected and their issues dealt with much more seriously and sensitively. Muslims are often stereotyped as homosexuals across various parts of the country. It is one thing to be homosexual, and another thing to get entangled in a web of discourses which blight you as a deviant. The private existence of Kamran as a homosexual is different from a discourse about his sexual preferences which is mired in a slew of discourses about Islam, Muslims, Kashmir and terrorism.
Administrators often forget that the university is made of students and not teachers or bureaucrats. Students form the centre of an academic institute and their well-being should be the top of the list and corner stone of any university's fundamental charter of existence. Administrators in EFLU are notorious for penalizing students and often forget that law is not a penalising but an enabling instrument. It should be used to facilitate the needs of a student than penalise him/her for silly infractions. The law should be employed to ensure that a student passes out of the university with maximum dignity and pride. Our university, as a penalizing instrument, confuses law as a reality instead of an enabling instrument. Their sadistic enthusiasm in chopping down a student's career, including that of many BA and PhD students, is frightening to behold. Recent complaints against various professors are cases in point.
Until now, Proctor Harish Vijra has not been reprimanded or removed from his position of power. Though the administration has formed a fact-finding committee, the neutrality of this group is under question, when the accused wields a position of great influence. While the administration maintains that it cannot take action until various facts are collated, they have released press notes which state that Mudasir committed suicide due to personal reasons, without realising that the personal is constituted through normative practices as well. The Vice Chancellor has revealed that she is under immense pressure from the Government of India, the Home Department and the Kashmir Government regarding Mudasir's death and ensuing protests. According to her, she had given directions to videograph and document the protests following instructions from the Government of India. The University campus, which is normally devoid of police presence, is currently under the surveillance of up to six undercover policemen of the IB department. On Friday, 8th March, the VC, after consultation with the Teachers' Association and the Government of India, announced that she was under instructions to take police action or to declare a zero semester if classes are shut down on Monday, 12th March 2013.
Dalit Camera Interviews Munavath Sriramulu in ICU
Munavath Sriramulu is a third year student of the German Department in the English and Foreign Languages University, Hyderabad. He is an ST student from the Telangana region of Andhra Padesh. For the past year, he has been fighting the injustices meted out to him by his teachers and the caste-based discriminatory practices prevailing in his department.
What is the reason that you are here?
The Administration of the EFLU, the Vice Chancellor of EFLU (VC) and Meenakshi Reddy (the senior Professor of the German Department accused of discrimination).
So what happened to you in the University?
For the past 8 months (nearly a whole year), I was struggling to get permission to sit in the class. But they made two committees (to enquire into the matter), one is the SC/ST committee and the other is Meenakshi Reddy committee (to enquire into the complaints of the discriminatory behaviour of Meenakshi Reddy prevailing towards the students). But even after 8 months, no results have surfaced. They have been delaying the whole process and spoiled my whole academic year (2012-2013).
The ones primarily responsible for this (administrative deadlock) are: the VC - being in a powerful and authoritative position the only reason and explanation she gives is that she is helpless in taking action against the accused (Meenakshi Reddy); second, Meenakshi Reddy (the person majorly responsible for this) and the Administration of EFLU in general (as they support Meenakshi Reddy and continue to protect and save Meenakshi Reddy) and outside the University, the Commissioner of Police, the Assistant Commissioner of Police (ACP) and people of notable political background (who support and lobby for Meenakshi Reddy) also aid and abet her by failing to take any legal action against her.
Though we lodged a complaint against her (six months back) under the SC/ST Atrocities Act, no action has been taken by the police against her. By this alone, you could understand the extent of lobbying done for her and how much influence and power she wields (just to stay in the position of a Dean or a Professor). If you won't stop this kind of practice, it clearly shows that we are not living in a democratic and secular nation.
The reason why I went into a coma and why I got a ----- attack is: on the day of Mudasir's (Mudasir Kamran) death, I met him between 10 and 11. He stays in G-wing and I stay in F-wing (in th Basheer Men's Hostel, EFLU). I was waiting for one of my friends, near the water tank in front of our hostel. I met him (Musadir) on my way to my room.
He asked me 'How are you?' and I replied 'I am fine' and then I asked him 'Last night, I saw you sitting near the gate. You were crying. What is the reason?'.
He said 'I am not upset with Vasim or about the fight I had with him. I got really humiliated by the statement made by Harish Vijra, the Proctor. He had the responsibility to solve the issue within the University, but instead of that he called the police and made them arrest me.' He felt really humiliated and insulted. In his family, he was the first person to enter a Police Station, and it was the first time in his life that he had entered into one. He was very sensitive to what had happened to him. I knew he was very emotional at the moment but I never expected that he would commit suicide (but it happened that very night!).
This current scenario (in the light of Mudasir's suicide) proves to us very well that the University Administration, day by day, instead of solving the issues, involves the Police in these issues without any apparent reasons by projecting the image that they are 'helpless'.
Is it because you belong to the ST category that they are humiliating you?
Yes. I am an ST student. I am a local. I am a Telangana student. I am a Telugu guy and I possess at least some power and legal support. But what about a Kashmiri student, for whom being an Indian would mean being treated on lines comparable to being alienated? I feel very sorry and sad for him. I sympathise with him. What the student organisations are demanding has to be met by the Administration. Otherwise the University has to be closed. There is no appeal (or compromise about it).
Okay then. Thank you.
Here's an earlier interview of Munavath Sriramulu in which he talks about the problem of discrimination he is facing in the German department of EFLU:
Please also read a related article:
'First as Tragedy, Then as Farce: The color of Kashmiri Blood in a Hyderabad Campus': by Achuth Ajit & Ria De