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'Hyderabad University is like a prison now'

By Syed Firdaus Ashraf
Last updated on: April 07, 2016 16:11 IST
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Students and police face-off at the main gate of the Hyderabad University campus. Photographs: SnapsIndia

IMAGE: Students and police face off at the main gate of the Hyderabad University campus. Photographs: SnapsIndia

'The police are warning students to leave their own campus.'
'This is a university and the police are dictating to students what to do and what not to do.'

Avnish Kumar, currently pursuing a PhD from the English and Foreign Languages University, passed out with an MA in print journalism and new media from the University of Hyderabad. He has been filming and documenting the students protest at his alma mater since the protests broke out after student Rohith Vemula's death.

Avnish spoke to Syed Firdaus Ashraf/ about why Hyderabad University has become a hot spot.

What is the protest in Hyderabad University about?

There are many issues, but the first thing that is happening right now is that there are certain people who are allowed entry inside the university while others are not.

The protest on Wednesday (April 6) was against this blockade. The lawyers and students who got interim bail are also not allowed inside the campus. This is the first demand.

Secondly, the vice-chancellor (Appa Rao) who has been booked under the SC/ST Atrocities Act (for Dalit student Vemula's death) is trying to portray as if he is still the authority. He is trying to prove that everything is normal in the university through social media.

There are police vans in the university and they take the students away. We are cut off completely from the rest of Hyderabad. It is like an open prison.

Are the gates blocked?

Yes. Even the media is not allowed inside.

Is the gate closed for every student or only for certain students?

This rule came on March 23. Till March 22 everything was fine. There is heavy presence of police in the campus. The police are warning students to go, to leave their own campus.

This is such an irony. This is a university and the police are coming from outside and dictating to students what to do and what not to do.

What happened on Wednesday?

There was a meeting headed by the vice-chancellor. The Joint Action Committee (of protesting students demanding justice for Vemula) is not acknowledging Appa Rao. They were protesting the meeting. The protest was at one corner of the university and then it went to the main gate.

What about studies?

Studies are going on. There is a voluntary call to students to boycott classes. No one is forcing anyone.

Those who want to study are going to class and those who want to protest are protesting at the main gate of Hyderabad University. A lot of students were detained.

Students scuffle with police in the Hyderabad University campus. Several were arrested

IMAGE: Students scuffle with the police inside the campus. Several were arrested.

The matter seemed sorted out after Vemula's death, so why have things erupted again?

Things have not been sorted out till date as Appa Rao has not been arrested. The investigation is going on.

Six times he has appealed in court, but he has not got bail. He has still not been arrested. He is still continuing as the VC.

The JAC is saying that the VC who has been charged with atrocities and who ordered a lathi-charge on March 22 is still holding power. So how can a fair investigation or inquiry happen?

This is the present situation. Nothing has changed.

If you follow the official channel of Hyderabad University you will not get a sense as to what is happening inside the campus. It is totally cut off.

There is a fresh controversy where the VC has been accused of plagiarism over his doctoral degree. How far is that true?

I read about that, but I cannot confirm it. The (April 6) protest is against the crackdown on students on March 22. Secondly, open the gates of Hyderabad University for everyone and not a particular section of students.

This is a public place and therefore it should be open to everyone.

You posted on social media that policemen in plainclothes are roaming on the campus.

That is true. From March 23 to March 29 I have seen plainclothes cops roaming inside the campus. I don't know why the government needs to do it. If you want to have a police presence, then let them be in police uniform.

If you are a student of Hyderabad University and have a valid identity card, then can you enter the university?

No, I can't. Even the alumni are not allowed. Right now no one is allowed and the gates are closed. Even with a identity card no one is allowed.

There must be some reason for this.

I didn't see any official reason. The reasoning we got from some registrar last Saturday (April 2) was that it was a unanimous decision of a committee.

They felt the media gave a lot of unwanted attention in January (after Vemula's death). They don't want media attention, but this is all oral and nothing was in writing.

You cannot just block the gate and say that no one is allowed.

The VC is addressing students only through YouTube and Facebook that he wants to meet students, but there is no official statement from the administration on this.

But the students are demanding that he be sacked.

Yes, that is the strongest demand. At least keep him away till the full investigation is over, so that there is a chance of some fair inquiry.

I thought that there was a compromise with the students that the vice-chancellor would go on leave and return once the inquiry was over.

There was no compromise. He went on leave for a while, but the investigation into the death is not over. So how can he come back? The case is going on.

He came all of a sudden without even informing acting Vice-Chancellor M Periasamy. Even he had no clue what is happening.

Appa Rao came on March 22, the day the lathi-charge happened. The movement had started slowing down and when he came back it erupted again.

Do you believe the VC is responsible for Vemula's death?

I don't say that he is the only one who is responsible for all the things. He is part of the system.

The problem is in the system and he is not the only one who is responsible.

I am saying that until the investigation is over he should be on leave. I am not accusing him of anything.

We have an acting VC. The university administration is functioning, so why is there a blockade at the gate?

When do you think this deadlock will end?

I think it will take some time to sort this out. It will not end so soon.

Whom do you blame for this deadlock?

It is a central university, but the Telangana government is also playing a political role in it.

I blame both the Centre and the state. The Telangana police is very much visible in Hyderabad University.

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Syed Firdaus Ashraf /