The bad name that Hyderabad Central University has acquired due to the continuous atrocities related to caste discrimination inside the campus is carried on by another incident that took place recently. A Dalit research scholar of the University was found dead inside his hostel room on 25th February 2008. The victim, Mr. Senthil Kumar, was a PhD scholar in Physics. The death of the student is suspicious due to a variety of reasons, all pointing to his identity as a Dalit. As the investigation is carried out, different Dalit students’ organizations like Ambedkar Students’ Association (ASA) and Dalit Students Union (DSU) staged protests in the university campus. What follows is the excerpts of an interview with the President of the ASA, Mr. Dhanaraj.
Q 1. How long have you been associated with the functions of ASA in the university?
I have been associated with the functions of ASA for eight years.
Q 2. Could you briefly tell us about the problems that Dalit students in the university face?
Dalit students in Hyderabad Central University are subjected to discrimination by the university authorities and teachers. Many incidents have been reported where the students are treated badly due to their Dalit background. Harassment by faculty members in the form of grading less for work and research papers of students has always been a serious issue among the Dalit students, which is not yet solved. Another problem is the one regarding the merit-based scholarships the MA and research students get and might lose, if they fail in any of the qualifying examinations. The scholarships are to be provided based on humanitarian concerns but when they turn out to be something that is directly linked with the performance they do not satisfy the requirement of ‘means of subsistence’. There have been reports of humiliation by the dominant caste students done through name-calling and hate campaigns. There has been an even more serious incident where a Dalit woman student of the university hanged herself after she was misused and abandoned by a Reddy guy. Though such atrocities are brought to light by the Dalit associations, no initiative was taken up by the University against them. In another incident that happened in the year 2002, ten Dalit students were rusticated without even conducting an enquiry.
Q 3. Let me come back to the most recent issue in this succession of events of humiliation, the death of Senthil Kumar. Did you know him personally? What do you think must be the reason for his death?
Senthil Kumar was a research scholar in HCU. I knew him personally. He had been a victim of the same humiliation and discrimination that is imposed on the other Dalit students in the campus. He was not allotted a guide even after two years of his PhD programme. Moreover he had a backlog to clear before his viva. When he approached the faculty in this regard, the response he got from them was disappointing. Mr. Senthil’s scholarship was withdrawn due to his failure in presenting the required performance level in some subjects. Ultimately he had to end his life.
Q 4. So do you believe that Senthil has committed suicide?
Yes, given the difficult situations he underwent, it is hard to imagine that he would have died a normal death. Not only that, the primary investigation report by the police also suspected the possibility of death due to poison. Though the newspaper reports were ambiguous initially, they themselves rectified the mistakes later. Some newspapers had said there were no bruises on the victim’s body and later they corrected the error.
Q5. What do the University authorities say about this?
The University refuses to admit any allegation of discrimination on the basis of caste. The authorities are trying to manipulate the postmortem report so that they can make it appear as a normal death. The university says the death might be due to cerebral hemorrhage or cardiac attack and is trying to wash its hands of the problem.
Q6. What measures have been taken by Ambedkar Students’ Association in this regard?
We have staged a dharna in front of the Vice-Chancellor’s office. We put forward three demands. i) An amount of rupees 10 lakhs should be given to the victim’s family. ii) The fellowships provided to the students are to be seen on humanitarian grounds and hence should be delinked with performance. iii) A letter has been given to the administration demanding judicial enquiry.
By Priya Chandran