What Sunkanna’s Resistance Means: Dalit Scholar Refuses to Accept His PhD From Appa Rao

This Dalit scholar’s act is more than symbolic. It signifies not just the resistance, made iconic by Rohith Vemula’s image with the velivadas, but the resistance of India’s institutions to take corrective steps and improve

University of Hyderabad
Photo Courtesy: University of Hyderabad/Facebook

Facebook Video of the Epic Event:


Velupla Sunkanna refused to accept his PhD degree from suspended Vice Chancellor(VC) Podile Appa Rao.
The refusal of Velpula Sunkanna, a student of the University of Hyderabad (UoH), to accept his PhD degree from the Vice Chancellor Podile Appa Rao is an unprecedented act of resistance that has shaken the institution. Sunkanna was one of the five students expelled from the hostel and public places in the university along with Rohith Vemula, who committed suicide in January this year.

Rohith Vemula's death on January 17, 2016 had shaken the conscience of the country. Not because the media covered it, but because it was forced to. His letter of December 18, 2015 to Podile Appa Rao was simply not responded to by the university authorities.

[Rohith allegedly sarcastically said in the letter that every VC of HCU should “10 mg of sodium azide to all the Dalit students at the time of admission… [and] a nice rope to the rooms of all Dalit students.” This handwritten letter should have been read as a precursor to what was coming. In the letter, Rohith allegedly goes on to say, “I request your highness to make preparations for the facility [of] ‘euthanasia’ for students like me. And I wish you and the campus rest in peace forever.” ]

The Ambedkar Students Association was vilified, and dubbed 'anti-national' by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The party in power used its clout  from Hyderabad to New Delhi– and this crass interference and the chain of command interference by the ruling regime has been documented.

A central minister of the BJP, Bandaru Dattatreya wrote to then minister for human resources development (MHRD) Smruti Irani on August 17, 2015, a letter in which he clearly calls the activities and vision of the Ambedkar Students Association (ASA) as casteist and anti-national?  Letter can be seen here. This was after the state vice president of the party nudged those in Delhi.

 Rohith Vemula’s Research Fellowship and that of four other Dalit research scholars was stopped (illegally) for seven months severely constraining and humiliating him.On five occasions, bureaucrats of the MHRD under Smruti Irani write directly to the Vice Chancellor (VC) Hyderabad Central University (HCU) on the matter showing an unseemly interest in the case.

(The letters are dated September 3, 2015 from the Under Secretary referring to comments by Bandaru Dattatreya, MOS, for Labour and Employment; another dated September 24, 2015, sent as reminder, signed by Deputy Secretary to the GOI; letter dated October 20, 2015, signed by Joint Secretary, MHRD; letter dated November 19, 2015, signed by Under Secretary to the GOI). Letters can be seen here.

These letters show an obsessive interest by the Minister, MHRD that was, in effect, putting extraordinary pressure on the university authorities, the VC.

Though a fellow student at HCU called the Health Centre immediately after learning of Rohith being hanged and within five minutes the CMO Health Centre, Dr P Rajashree reached the spot, felt his pulse and declared him dead, the Modi regime through Irani(in Parliament) was busy nullifying this and perpetuating a Goebellsian lie to the nation in Parliament that no doctor or police were allowed to see Rohith till the next day. [The doctor certified Rohith's death at 7.30 pm: UoH medical officer counters Smriti Irani's statement – http://www.thenewsminute.com/article/doctor-certified-rohiths-death-730-…

On February 25, 2016, the minister, Smruti Irani demeaned her post by uttering a series of falsehoods on the floor of the Indian Parliament.

It did not stop here. Insult upon insult has been heaped by the Modi regime on the Rohith Vemula family and wider family, that of the protesting students. In a shameful act, the top echelons of the government spent time and energy in trying to prove that Radhika Vemula, Rohith Vemula's mother was not Dalit.

The iconic scene and site of the nine month long protest has been the veliwada,  the spot within the university campus where the humiliated scholars were forced to sleep, out in the open. It became the spot where the protests were mounted, songs were song, paintings created. In memory of Rohith and to strengthen the resistance. Caste exclusionary practices on the campus are shameful to document; they have not yet been repulsed by mainstream India.  Rohith Vemula, Dontha Prashanth, Sunkanna and their compatriots have through dogged resistance made a lasting impression on the reality that is the university campus of today. A battleground of ideas and dissent.

But the ultimate resistance came last week when the student election results were announced. And the rowdy and criminalised Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) did not win a single seat.

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