“Rohith was a Man of Convictions. Nobody could have done what he did, if they did not have conviction in their Ideas”
- Sreerag, President, Students’ Union, Hyderabad Central University (HCU).
Two years after his institutional murder, Rohith’s memories live on and continue to inspire students’ organisations and individuals to demand what is rightfully theirs, but has been structurally denied to them. Students from marginalized sections- Dalits, Adivasis, Women, Muslims, Laborers, Workers, Farmers and many others have come out on the streets of the country demanding the right to education for all, in a dignified manner.
In the name of justice, the government played a lot of tricks, right from denying Rohith his identity, to harassing Radhika Vemula to the (humiliations contained) Roopanwall Committee report. The report was summarily rejected by Radhika Vemula on the grounds of its ridiculous findings that “research scholar Rohith Vemula committed suicide last year because he was “a troubled individual”, not because of caste discrimination.” The report also said Vemula was not a Dalit”
While the struggle for justice for Rohith goes on, students across the country, and even in HCU, a politically conscious space dotted by numerous autonomous students’ groups, still struggle for their rights.
Amid the preparations for the second Shahadath Diwas for Rohith (today), we were fortunate to speak to Sreerag Poickadan, the President of the Students’s Union at HCU. In a historic moment of show of solidarity, Sreerag was elected as the President of the Students’ Union in the month of September, 2017 as a candidate of the Alliance for Social Justice (ASJ).The grand alliance was forged in the context of the increasing attacks led by the RSS-BJP-ABVP against public universities in India. Within HCU in the last one year, there were moves by the administration to unilaterally change the constitution of the Students’ Union, and several proctorial enquiries were instituted against Union office-bearers as part of the attempt to clamp down on the students’ movement. Talking about the relevance of a joint forum like the Alliance for Social Justice (ASJ), Sreerag said, “This alliance for social justice can be a model that can be followed in our joint struggles against the present fascistic regime. However the leaders (in the opposition) are more interested in sectarian politics” Talking about the challenges faced to form such a forum, Sreerag says, “ We do have our disagreements, but all these sections, whether left, liberals, or anyone else are for the idea of democracy and hence we need to come together in united actions”
While responding to the question about how the struggle for social justice is located after the spontaneous agitations that erupted in the background of Rohith Vemula’s institutional murder, Sreerag feels that the main influence of the struggle has been that the movement has grown to various parts of the country, evoking all oppressed sections. “This is the remarkable legacy of Rohith”, he adds affirmatively.
However, many mainstream parties that had joined the struggle for social justice seem to have lost interest. “The problem is that they are controlled by upper castes and classes and could not see a scope to appropriate our struggle. We are okay with solidarity but no one should try to appropriate the struggles that the students are waging”
Despite the uproar after Rohith’s institutional murder, the HCU campus has seen a variety of assaults, reminiscent of the McCarthyan regime. “The attitude of the administration has not changed because it is controlled by people who have vested interests. They will never be interested in protecting interests of students from marginalised sections. This is why we have been pushing for the Rohith Act” adds Sreerag.
In another stark instance of caste discrimination,a Dalit professor, K Laxminarayana, was abused by Karan Palsaniya, a PhD student in the History department. The offender is also a senior leader of the ABVP, not just in Hyderabad - he is a national co-convenor of the students’ wing of the ruling party, Akhil Bharatiya Vidhyarthi Parishad (ABVP). Sreerag feels that the assault on him came because being a Dalit professor, he was talking about both saffronisation and privatisation of Indian education systems. “There the line of caste is drawn” notes Sreerag.
“Rights of the students, and even Professors now, are suspended arbitrarily, unilaterally. We are not going to accept such unilateral decisions, taken without any consultations with elected representatives and students’ groups. The Students’ Union has been consistently taking up issues of fee hike, arbitrary suspensions” says Sreerag in a firm tone. He feels that despite being aware of the limitations of the students’ union, the unions have the potential to work for the welfare of the students. How they want to use the platform of the students’ union, is up to the students.
Beyond the university campuses, there have been multiple assaults on assertion from marginalised sections, especially Dalits. Commenting on the recent attacks in Bhima Koregaon, Sreerag says, “See, these attacks were always there. These are not new. These are inevitable. They [the oppressors] are getting frustrated with everything.” He believes all these experiences will help people in evolving their politics. “Possibly, we will see the idea of a new nation, a just nation emerging. We disagree with the idea of the nation in its current form” he resolutely notes.
“Rohith was the Vice President of Ambedkarite Students’ Association (ASA) when I joined, Sreerag recollects, “Rohith always spoke about ideas in his mind. He always thought a lot and read. He always wanted to engage in discussions and had conviction in his ideas. Only a person who has deep conviction in his ideas can do such a thing na?” He leaves us with this profound question.