We feel greatly saddened to report the unfortunate suicide committed by one of our research scholar, Mr. Rohit Vemula, working for Ph.D. in Centre for Knowledge Culture and Innovation Studies. He was one of the five students who were asked to vacate hostel due on account of an incident that took place at night of 3rd and 4th August 2015. Incidentally, all five of them are Dalit students. It all happened when there was an alleged attack by a group of students in one of the hostels, on a student by name, Mr. Susheel Kumar, School of Humanities.
Mr. Susheel Kumar, the then President of the ABVP Unit on campus, was allegedly attacked by a group of students belonging to Ambedkar Students’ Association (ASA) during that intervening night. The Proctorial Board of University had inquired into the matter and submitted an interim report before talking to victim and a final report after talking to victim. When an Executive council (EC) approved the punishment to expel five students (including Mr. Rohit Vemula), the ASA students did not allow university administration to function for two days consecutively forcing the then in-charge Vice-Chancellor, Prof. R.P. Sharma, to withdraw the order; however, with a condition that the matter will be looked into afresh.
Accordingly, a committee was constituted by Prof. Sharma but the committee replied back, after Prof. Appa Rao took over the charge as the Vice-Chancellor at end of September 2015, indicating that recommendations of the statutory bodies like Proctorial Board and Executive Council cannot be reviewed by such a committee.
Meanwhile, Mr. Susheel Kumar’s (victim) mother filed a case in the High Court and it was repeatedly asking the University Legal Counsel to inform the action taken on recommendations of Proctorial Board. In the middle of November 2015, the High Court had ordered the University Legal Counsel to submit the action taken report with a few days’ deadline. Otherwise, the Judge was taking matter seriously. The University had a meeting of Deans and Administrative Officers of University in which Controller of Examinations, Chief Warden and Dean of Students’ Welfare (DSW) were also a part. It was decided that in given circumstances, an EC Sub-committee headed by Senior most Professor on EC as chairperson will examine the matter and submit recommendations.
Since none of the EC members were from Dalit community, we had requested the Dean of Students’ Welfare (Prof. P. Prakash Babu) to be part of EC Sub-committee. He is also a statutory officer of the university. We had also asked the Chief Proctor and others to give inputs to committee. The committee had very short time as deadline was approaching fast.
The EC Sub-committee, after fairly long deliberations and after consulting University security and local Police Officers, upheld the recommendations of the Proctorial Board and recommended to EC that the said five students be awarded punishment as recommended earlier.
At the full EC meeting which was held on 27 November 2015, the VC proposed to EC to be a bit lenient because the recommended punishment will deprive students of scholarships to continue Ph.D. after one semester expulsion recommended by the Proctorial Board. As Chairman of EC, the VC had taken DSW into confidence, and reduced the scale of punishment to benefit students. The full EC agreed to VC’s proposal to be lenient but as a regular practice followed in university for several years, it was indicated that these students will be permitted in respective schools/departments/centres, library and academic meetings but not in the hostel, administration and public places on campus as part of groups.
The decision of EC was submitted in writing to university legal counsel. It was communicated to students, after the said EC minutes were approved by members. First, the minutes were posted on university website and later the formal orders were issued to students concerned.
The chief warden communicated the same to students around 20th December 2015 and asked them to vacate the hostel. He had double-locked the rooms wherever required and submitted a report to university. The DSW was in touch with students.
Subsequently, on behalf of students, there was a group of students who met the VC and demanded revocation of hostel suspension as they felt it was a ‘social boycott’. They were linking this punishment to letter from the Hon’ble Minister, Sri Bandaru Dattatreya (enquiring about the August 3/4, 2015 night incident) forwarded by MHRD. It was adequately explained to students that the letter received from MHRD or the minister’s letter had no influence whatsoever on said EC decision.
Later, all five expelled students from hostel, moved to Hon’ble High Court seeking stay on hostel suspension. The Hon’ble High Court Judge observed that this petition be heard together with the one which was already in front of court on the same matter (filed by Susheel’s mother) and posted it for January 19, 2016. We understood the matter, therefore, as sub judice. Further, it was felt that the earlier decision of EC in September 2015 was already reviewed by EC on a letter given by the students. Hence, the decision of EC, this time as Appellate Authority, can only be reviewed by the court was our opinion and maintained the same in our discussions with the students.
the five students suspended from the hostels were eligible for fellowships. Two of them get regular JRF/SRF with HRA eligibility and other three were getting non-NET fellowship. In fact, one Mr. Sunkanna, School of Humanities, among these five students, has even submitted his thesis after August 2015.
On Jan 03, 2016, these students decided to protest as ‘Sleep in Open’ at the shopping complex of university. They erected a small tent and started sleeping at there. Three of them were found sleeping at shopping complex.
The DSW was regularly discussing with these students and counseling them to have patience to know the court’s decision in this regard. Meanwhile, a student JAC, including the students’ union represented by SFI, was building pressure on the university. On 13th January 2016, when regular VC was away, the members of the JAC closed down the administration building and did not allow employees to enter it.
They demanded that the regular VC should come, revoke suspension and then only they will agree. The VC advanced his return journey and reached the campus on January 13th night (cancelling appointments in Delhi) and called for a meeting of EC members, senior deans and DSW on 14th January 2016 morning on the course of action to be taken. It was decided that there will be an oral appeal, followed by a written appeal to the students to allow the administration to function. However, in the event the students did not listen, the university would take help from police to allow university to function. However, the class work was not affected on 13th and 14th January 2016.
On January 14th morning, by 12.20 pm or so, they allowed employees to get in after we issued a written appeal and sent our security officer to local police station seeking formal help. Subsequently, the VC talked to representatives of JAC along with president of the students’ union for about 2 hours and explained the position. It was repeatedly appealed to JAC members that they should wait for court’s decision on a matter that was sub judice.
The expelled students were not part of this JAC. The expelled students continued to sleep in the tent. On Sunday morning, January 17, 2016, it was realized that the JAC erected a tent and was planning to announce some form of hunger strike. The VC, registrar, DSW and other senior faculty members discussed the matter and were planning to speak to students once again to avoid hunger strike.
All of a sudden at 7 pm on 17th January 2016, the sad news broke out and campus was disturbed. The suicide note left behind the deceased had no mention about this hostel expulsion. The deputy commissioner of police of area suggested that the Chief Proctor, DSW and the VC should move out of campus with family.
The rest of events on the campus in this regard have been reported regularly by print and electronic media on 18th and 19th January 2016.
The matter was supposed to come up on 19th January 2016 in the High Court and somehow it did not come up today. At present, we do not know when the matter will come up next.
Further, the MHRD has sent a two-member fact finding committee to university to interact with stakeholders and report back to ministry. The committee has started its interactions on the campus.
This university had earlier resolved critical issues and this issue also needs to be resolved through discussions with university administration. The vice-chancellor has, therefore, appealed to everyone in university to allow regular class work to be taken up immediately especially when there is a tight academic schedule to complete in the shortened semester. The senior teachers at university are willing to pave way for discussions on matters concerning this incident with administration.