Caste came up in 3 suicide probes at Hyderabad University

The HRD Ministry wants a judicial commission to probe the events that led to the suicide on January 17 of Vemula.

Written by Apurva | New Delhi | Updated: February 8, 2016 9:36 am
The room where Rohith killed himself . (Source: Express photo by Harsha Vadlamani) The room where Rohith killed himself . (Source: Express photo by Harsha Vadlamani)

The University of Hyderabad had all the warning it needed before Dalit research scholar Rohith Vemula committed suicide last month. Three red flags, in the form of three suicides by Dalit students within six years. And three probes that arrived at the same conclusion: this was no campus for the marginalised.

The HRD Ministry wants a judicial commission to probe the events that led to the suicide on January 17 of Vemula, who was among five Dalits suspended by the university for allegedly assaulting an ABVP leader. But the findings of the three committees that probed the three suicides on campus between 2008 and 2014 were clear: the Dalit students faced a “sense of alienation” and “institutional discrimination” owing to “caste consideration”.

One of those committees, headed by retired Supreme Court judge Justice K Ramaswamy, stated in its report: “Because of the insensitivity towards problems faced by the students belonging to the aforesaid social groups, frequent occurrences of suicides are taking place.”

Senthil Kumar committed sucide in 2008 while P Raju and Madari Venkatesh killed themslves in 2013. The three suicides, like that of Rohith Vemula, happened inside the New Research Scholars (NRS) Hostel on campus.

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‘Was tense about supervisor’

2008: Prof V Pavarala committee report on Senthil Kumar’s suicide

On February 28, 2008, Kumar, a PhD student in Physics, consumed poison. The report noted, “Senthil Kumar came from a poor Dalit family from Tamil Nadu, probably a first-generation university student. According to his friends, he was also struggling to send some money home. Many of his friends remember him as a strong and brave person, often jovial in his mannerisms. He was interested in reading Tamil literature and would engage in discussions with friends in the Humanities on such topics as modernity and deconstruction.”

Senthil’s friends told the committee that he wished to explore options abroad or move to another university. “He was also apparently under some tension about the supervisor with whom he would have to eventually work for his PhD. Students reported that in the last week or so, leading up to his death, Senthil was considerably uneasy and found it difficult to sleep,” stated the report.

The report concluded that most students affected by “ambiguous procedures” in the university were SCs and STs. Among its 12 recommendations were:

* Every school/department must have a grievance redressal mechanism which the students can turn to without fear of reprisals.

* There is a need for all faculty members to internalise greater sensitivity about students belonging to the reserved categories.

* It is important to be pro-active in mentoring and advising students who come from less privileged backgrounds, both in the classroom and outside.

* It is imperative that a top-ranking central institution takes a lead in nurturing and promoting a corps of scientists from among the marginalised sections.

‘No grievance redressal system’

2013: V Krishna committee report on P Raju’s suicide.

On March 19, 2013, P Raju, a student of the Integrated Master of Arts (IMA) and an officebearer in the Dalit Students Federation (DSF), hanged himself. After performing well in the first three years, Raju failed in four papers. And according to rules, he would not have been allowed to appear for his eighth semester examinations unless he cleared at least two papers.

Raju wrote the exams in January 2013 and was awaiting his results when he committed suicide. When the results were declared, he had cleared only one paper. Raju’s friends told the committee that he had also developed “a crush” on a classmate who had helped him develop his English language skills but was “demoralised” when he realised that the feelings were not mutual.

“Some students… spoke of a sense of alienation — distinctly accentuated in the case of Dalit students — in coping with the demands of the regular MA programme. This was also corroborated by some teachers, although the explanation offered for variation in performance was that in the MA segment, the academic competition was more intense,” stated the report.

“While Raju’s personal setbacks may have left him distressed, his academic burdens seem to have only compounded the problem… neither his peer community at large nor his teachers showed the receptivity that could have addressed the seriousness of (his) plight,” it said.

The committee also observed that no grievance redressal mechanism was evident. “The Committee did not find any evidence of a grievance redressal mechanism in place in The Centre for Applied Linguistics and Translation Studies (CALTS)… Informal consultation with departments/ schools/ centres also revealed the absence of such a mechanism,” the report stated.

‘Antipathy clearly apparent’

2014: Justice K Ramaswamy committee report on Madari Venkatesh’s suicide.

On November 24, 2013, Madari Venkatesh, a postgraduate researcher in chemistry consumed poison. A committee, under Justice K Ramaswamy, found that Venkatesh was not allotted a supervisor since he joined the School of Chemistry despite several efforts, including a letter to then Vice-Chancellor Prof Ramakrishna Ramaswamy.

“No Doctoral Committee was constituted to supervise his research which is mandatory. Though six faculty members from School of Chemistry were available, none was willing to supervise his research. Whatever research he had done, it was only by his self effort… He was discriminated on the ground of caste consideration,” noted the committee.

Its report stated, “It is the consequence of institutional discrimination and systematic exercise of exclusive and oppressive behaviour of the Institution and the faculty of the School of Chemistry.”

It further observed, “The antagonism, antipathy and insensitive mindset of the faculty, in particular of the School of Chemistry… towards the student belonging to marginalized social groups is clearly apparent.”

Justice Ramaswamy also noted that the suggestions made by the V Pavarala and V Krishna committees were not implemented in full.

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  1. M
    MyTake
    Feb 8, 2016 at 5:56 am
    (* It is imperative that a top-ranking central insution takes a lead in nurturing and promoting a corps of scientists from among the marginalised sections.) Who you are going to compete with the scholars that will be produced? Talking about Nehruvian social Engineering? Didn't have enough of it? Consequences of LICENCE Raj mindset?
    Reply
    1. M
      MyTake
      Feb 8, 2016 at 5:43 am
      How a Ph.D. Scholar can be marginalized? Either he is not a scholar or he is not a marginalized - both can't apply to same person. A Scholar should be the one who keeps fighting for his scholarly conviction. If not scholar then he should have been in the vocational courses learning hands on skills which could have been subsidized which would have given him some confidence in life. For scholarly education there should be right education to the right person.
      Reply
      1. M
        MyTake
        Feb 8, 2016 at 6:10 am
        If they have to apply for job of a peon or cleaner (like many Ph.Ds in India do) they could have done a good job by taking that direction early in their life to save some significant period of years of their lives, learn some real life skill to struggle like everyone else and that would have set a good example for their future Children as well! That would have put them in a more respectable group of people.
        Reply
        1. M
          MyTake
          Feb 8, 2016 at 5:52 am
          No where in the article it says a talented Ph.D. I thought someone have to be talented enough to do a Ph.D. If it is not the requirement then state it as such and make it a rule to give Ph.D. Degree to reserved category just at the end of period no matter what! Quota Ph.D. ! Best thing would have been to give them hands on job skill so they could look after themselves! Like leader like scholars you buggers!
          Reply
        2. M
          MyTake
          Feb 8, 2016 at 6:02 am
          Real antipathy is not giving them the skill to survive. Giving a name tag "scholar" can be a joke and a very Cr uel one When they have to pay with their own life like they did here ( if not earned the right to live that name among the people)! It's like changing the name to "Harijon" for the downtrodden without giving them a process how they can come out of their vicious life cycle!
          Reply
          1. M
            MyTake
            Feb 8, 2016 at 7:43 am
            Without resorting Caste politics: Do you really want to curve out your space among world community with quota Ph.D.? Isn't it better instead to give them skill according to what they can absorb starting from vocational skills. Give all the facilities to deserving candidates and there should not be any bar on that including Ph.D., Professorship, PM position, President's position everything - just invest wisely that will produce better results for all including the downtrodden. What a name sake Ph.D. will do other than just occupying another quota position? A right man in right place however if produces one job for a right Ph.D. there will be 100s of others down the line to fill up the position and they can go to those who can show other skills required for that job. If producing Ph.Ds for the sake of Ph.Ds then keep doing that so everyone one day find out Indian Ph.D. means is equivalent of a High School Degree from a recognised school!
            Reply
            1. K
              krishna rao
              Feb 8, 2016 at 12:11 pm
              CONG resp 4 ROT IN HYD U’sity and RESULTANT SEVERAL SUICIDES OVER d yrs - CONG neglected 2 take corrective action on Probe findings/recommendation
              Reply
              1. R
                Rajesh
                Feb 8, 2016 at 8:06 am
                Good that the HRD min is taking its own actions. Meanwhile all the pseudo-seculars who shamelessly took advantage of a person's death have disappeared. Rahul is in Bangkok and Nautankiwal is in Bangalore.
                Reply
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