Arrested Tuesday on charges of vandalism and booked under Prevention of Damage to Public Property Act, the 27 students and two faculty members of Hyderabad Central University (HCU) will be in jail until at least Monday, when a local court will take up their bail hearing.
A member of the Joint Action Committee, which is spearheading the protests against Rohith Vemula’s suicide, said that the arrested people were not produced before the magistrate within 24 hours of detention, as the law mandates. “Instead, they were produced (before the court) at 11.40 pm. Due to certain problems, the bail petition could not be taken up,’’ the JAC member said.
They were arrested in connection with violent protests by a section of students opposing the return of Vice Chancellor Prof P Appa Rao to the university. Prof Rao went on leave two months ago following widespread protests and condemnation of his role in the suspension of five Dalit students and the subsequent suicide of Vemula.
Among the two faculty members arrested on Tuesday is Prof Konda Yesu Ratnam, 53, a widely respected Dalit teacher whose arrest has outraged academics across the country. A mild-mannered and well-liked associate professor of Political Science, Prof Ratnam is the founder of Ambedkar Studies Centre in HCU, probably the only one in a central university.
The confusion meant the family members and friends of both Ratnam and Tathagata Sengupta, 31, an assistant professor in Mathematics, were left a harried lot throughout Wednesday night, frantically looking for them at different police stations.
The bail petition was filed on behalf of the students and teachers by a team of human rights lawyers, including J Bhim Rao, Vasudha Nagaraj, C Damodar Reddy, and B Raghunath. While the public prosecutor opposed bail, contending that the youths were unruly and creating trouble in the university, the court asked the police to file a counter and posted the matter to Monday.
Prof Ratnam, who comes from a Dalit family, is also editor of the academic journal of Ambedkar Studies. “We do not know why and how Prof Ratnam was detained,” S Munna, one of the student leaders said. “All our pleas to the police were in vain ? they booked him for vandalism just on hearsay, even though he had neither said a word nor done anything…he is also diabetic, and we are very worried for him.”
Students alleged that Prof Ratnam was picked up by the police because he is opposed to the V-C. Sengupta, described by students as a brilliant teacher who is easily approachable, is secretary of the Teachers’ Association and is also said to be strongly opposed to Appa Rao.
V Kumar of the Joint Action Committee (JAC) for Social Justice, which is spearheading the protest over Vemula’s death, said that Ratnam and Sengupta’s family members, as well as the “university community”, still do not have any clear information about their whereabouts. “Police officials have not disclosed information about them since they were detained. Family members, professors and students have been running from pillar to post since Tuesday and are yet to meet or speak with a single person detained.”
While Gachibowli Police has registered three cases under the Prevention of Damage to Public Property Act, the HCU registrar has also lodged a complaint on Tuesday’s disruptive protests. According to the varsity’s complaint, at 10 am on Tuesday, when Appa Rao was in the middle of a meeting with faculty members at the V-C Lodge on HCU premises, “about 10 students…came to the lodge, jumped over the main gate, broke open the man door windows/door glass panes and entered the premises. They…ransacked the V-C’s lodge, damaged the TV, furniture, computers and laptops.”
According to the registrar’s complaint, the students were prevented from entering the main room by other students and faculty members, “who closed the door and thus saved the V-C from physical harm”.
The complaint names Munna, Ramjee, Vijay Kumar, Lingam, Sanjay, Seshaiah, Venkatesh Chauhan, Kesaban Roy Choudary, Dontha Prashanth among students who were part of this “vandalism”.
In a statement issued Thursday, the JAC said besides these nine students, the FIR mentions “other students of UoH”. This, the JAC stated, means “anyone can be picked up by the police and slapped with false charges. We strongly condemn the misuse of state apparatus to crush voices of the students. The use of police force and unnecessary detention and slapping of false cases against the faculty and students has started to become a pattern. We witnessed the same in FTII, JNU and many other campuses.’’