Systemic Prejudice, Absence of Grievance Redressal reasons for Dalit Suicides: Teacher Testimonies

Here is the Text of the Submission Filed by Concerned Teachers, Scientists and Academics, Hyderabad before the Commission of Inquiry, University of Hyderabad

Image: PTI

The suicide of Dalit research scholar Rohith Vemula in Hyderabad Central University has brought to the fore the issue of caste discrimination in higher educational institutions. We believe that the suicide is only the tip of the iceberg of many problems that students from Dalit and other marginalized groups are experiencing. University administrations have generally attributed these deaths to personal psychology instead of initiating broad systemic and attitudinal reforms to prevent such suicides.

In 2012, in the wake of series of suicides by marginalised students in higher educational institutions, the University Grants Commission formulated two Regulations to ensure social equity and set in place grievance redressal mechanisms.  In 2013, Andhra Pradesh High Court took suo moto notice of the student suicides in Andhra Pradesh in PIL No 106/2013 and issued several directives to the Universities to prevent the recurrence of suicides. However, neither the UGC Regulations of 2012 nor the Court directives have been implemented by the Universities.

Rohith’s suicide also highlighted the lack of standardised procedures and due process in the universities in issuing disciplinary orders. The disciplinary enquiries in Rohith’s case as well as those conducted in other central universities such as EFL-U and MANUU reveal insensitivity and disproportionate punishment.  Major punishments such as rustication, hostel expulsion and stopping of fellowships are decreed without following due process or paying heed to the serious consequences of such punishment for the lives of students and especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds. This exercise of power is exacerbated by the absence of substantial appeal provisions within the University.  In such a context the student is forced to approach the High Court for relief which involves time, expenses and the risk of entering an adversarial litigation.  Also such litigation places the individual student in a disadvantageous position vis-à-vis the University which has both time and financial resources at its disposal.

In this context, we the undersigned teachers and concerned academics would like to bring to your kind attention the need to ensure that Universities follow the UGC Regulations, 2012 and the UGC Guidelines on Student Entitlements, 2013 and the AP High Court Orders dated 1-07-2013 in PIL No 106/2013:

2012   Set up the Equal Opportunity Cell headed by the Anti-discrimination Officer as per the UGC (Promotion of Equity in Higher Educational Institutions) Regulations 2012. (Annexure 1)

2013   Institute the Grievance Redressal Committee headed by the Ombudsman as per UGC (Grievance Redressal Regulation) 2012. (Annexure 2)

2014   Implement all the Directives in the Order passed by the High Court of Andhra Pradesh in PIL No. 106/2013. (Annexure 3)

2015   In keeping with the AP High Court Order Interim Measure No 3, a Special Commission be instituted to review disciplinary orders imposing major penalties such as rustication, expulsion from hostels and stoppage of fellowships in the case of all students and especially those from SC/ST/OBC and other marginalised backgrounds.

Further we assert that :

2016-17 The Special Commission should be constituted by the University Grants Commission for the Central and State universities. There should be a separate Commission for each State. It should be a three member quasi-legal body, with a three year tenure, and should convene at least once in every three months, and more often if there is urgency.

Its members should be a) an eminent scholar, b) a representative from the State SC/ST Commission, c) a senior professor from a law university.

1.    The Special Commission will have the powers to set aside, confirm or modify the orders passed by the University. While reviewing the Disciplinary Order, it will examine if principles of due process and natural justice have been followed in awarding the punishment.

2.    The Commission will provide personal hearing to both the University and the student. The student may be accompanied by a person of his choice to support him/her in the proceedings.

3.    The Commission will particularly take into account a) the social and economic background of the student and b) if he or she is a first generation learner.

— It will strive to conduct its proceedings in a non-adversarial and healing manner and make every effort for a settlement of the dispute between the university and the student without jeopardizing the interest of the student.
— The Commission should conduct its hearings and pass its Order within two months from the date of issue of the University Order.
4.     The Orders passed by the Universities should become operational only after it is reviewed by this Special Commission. During the pendency of hearing, the student will be deemed to be part of the University.

5.     The Special Commission will have powers to punish any official of the University for willful neglect of duty or failure to follow procedures. Such punishment may include suspension, forfeit of office, or withholding of salary.

We therefore request this Commission to recommend to the University Grants Commission and the Ministry of Human Resource Development to conduct audit of Universities’ compliance in following existing Regulations and Court Orders in spirit and letter and legislate fresh Rules in respect of the Special Commission for equitable, peaceful and productive functioning of the University and any other reliefs that this Judicial Commission deems fit to order in the interests of justice.
Place of Testimony: At the Golden Threshold, Abid Road, Hyderabad
Date: February 25, 2016,



Related Articles