S Swaroop Sirapangi
As a response to the non-stop suicides in the campus, especially among the Dalit students, over the past few years, various student organisations and concerned active University students have come under the platform of 'Raju-Venkatesh Solidarity Committee' and started an indefinite hunger strike from the morning of December 06, 2013, i.e. on the day of Dr B R Ambedkar's death anniversary. Four students - Mr Siluveru Harinadh, Mr Prabhakar Gummadi, Mr Sunkanna Velupula and Mr Naveen Emmadi sat on a hunger strike at the University shopping complex in the main campus. These four research scholars hail, equally, from Mala and Madiga Scheduled Caste communities of Andhra Pradesh. All these four students are very senior research scholars in the University.
The University administration headed by Vice Chancellor Prof Ramakrishna Ramaswamy failed to effectively address this issue, satisfying neither the students nor the other sections.
At midnight, on December 8th, 2013, the police arrested the above four students who were on an indefinite strike and shifted them to the Apollo Hospital in Jubilee Hills. The University appears to be bearing all the medial expenses in this respect. And, they may get discharged from the hospital on the morning of December 10, 2013.
Meanwhile, as a continuation of the indefinite hunger strike initiative, another set of students - Bipin Thongam, Dickens, Vijay Kumar, Arun, Uday Bhanu have started their hunger strike after the arrest of the Siluveru Harinadh, Prabhakar Gummadi, Sunkanna Velupula and Naveen Emadi. With this act, the intensity and seriousness of this protest is taking new directions. And, interestingly, these five students hail from different social backgrounds of marginalisation and have come from various regional identities and backgrounds within the Indian state; two of them come from Mala and Madiga background. Thus, the intensity of the agitation is consolidating and is receiving wide response from different sections of the student community, especially, indicating that it is not restricted to the Mala-Madiga student community.
On December 09, 2013, the Vice Chancellor along with various other University officials visited the Apollo Hospital at Jubilee Hills and held talks with the students to some extent. However, when he attempted to resume this talk at the University shopping complex where the indefinite hunger strike was going on, it failed, as the students raised slogans against him and demanded his immediate resignation. But, even then the Vice Chancellor had a little conversation with other section/s at the same venue; and he appealed to the agitating sections and to the protesters on the hunger strike not to close the dialogue option by behaving in such a manner, as the administration under his leadership was considering the issue as a serious one and attempting to address it to the best. He also said that steps were initiated in such a direction, starting with efforts to hand over compensation to both the families of Raju and Venkatesh and all the legal technicalities in this respect were being looked at, and the process of judicial enquiry was also likely to commence on behalf of the University. These statements and more by the Vice Chancellor failed to convince the agitating sections who were very firm on the demand of his resignation.
The prime reason for vehement demand of Vice Chancellor's resignation by the 'Raju-Venkatesh Solidarity Committee' was that Mr Venkatesh had presented his case to the Advanced Centre for Research in High Energy Materials' (ACRHEM) In-Charge Director seeking to allot him a Research Supervisor. And, when such a representation was made by Mr Venkatesh, the Vice Chancellor Mr Ramakrishna Ramaswamy was heading the ACRHEM as In-Charge Director. The original copy of Venkatesh's representation was found by the 'Raju-Venkatesh Solidarity Committee' and based on its content, it was evident that the Vice Chancellor, in the capacity of In-Charge Director's position, had failed to allot him a supervisor even after such a long gap of time after his admission. So the vociferous demand for his resignation was put forward by the 'Raju-Venkatesh Solidarity Committee'.
The most interesting and disturbing aspect about this incident was the lack of proper coverage to this incident in the media; though a certain sort of coverage is provided by some sections, it was inadequate in getting the problem resolved. The students are increasingly feeling the need for wider media coverage to solve this issue, especially at the national level. But, they are till now unable to get such coverage. Though there is lack of national coverage from media, different civil society organisations or non governmental type of organisations have extended support and are cooperating with the students agitation to the best of their capabilities. This type of cooperation between the University student organisations and NGO/civil society organisations is taking place occasionally depending upon the gravity of the situation, bringing new contours to student politics and/or to the social movements.
Apart from this kind of NGO/civil society support, internal support from various sections in the University has also increased - like from employees, certain faculty members, etc. And the University employees association/s have officially gone to the extent of extending full support to the agitation and hunger strike. Their cooperation may start from December 10, 2013, in different forms. A major representative of one of the employees' associations argued with the Vice Chancellor that why does he not resign from his position and pave way for the judicial enquiry as it becomes difficult and/or suspicious if he holds the position while the process of judicial enquiry goes on, as he is considered a culprit in the Venkatesh's death incident. The Vice Chancellor failed to reply to this demand and kept silent. His silence seemed to be on account of the volatile situation which prevailed at that particular point of time!!
Amidst this kind of a situation, now it remains to be seen how the 'Raju-Venkatesh Solidarity Committee' is able to hone its agitational skills and achieve success in getting their demands accepted!!
The demands put forward by this Raju-Venkatesh Solidarity Committee, as part of this indefinite hunger strike, are as follows:
Please also read a related article: Report on Recent Dalit Student Suicides at University of Hyderabad