In a decision that has outraged the protesting Dalit students and teachers, the Hyderabad University on Sunday appointed Prof Dr Vipin Srivastava to head the institution in place of Vice-Chancellor Prof P Appa Rao who went on leave.
The university also stated that its order suspending the five Dalit students, including Rohith Vemula who committed suicide on January 18, for allegedly assaulting an ABVP leader last year “stands withdrawn”.
Prof Srivastava, from the Department of Physics, was the chairman of the committee that recommended punishment for the five students. The protesting students also claimed that he had earlier faced allegations of having harassed a Dalit student from Salem, Senthil Kumar, a research scholar at the physics department who committed suicide in 2008.
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“Regular V-C Prof P Appa Rao is on leave for a few days and as senior-most professor, Dr Vipin Srivastava has been appointed in-charge,’’ said Registrar M Sudhakar.
Sources told The Indian Express that V-C Prof Rao’s decision to go on leave was taken after the administration’s bid to close the institution indefinitely failed.
According to sources, the university’s Executive Council (EC) held an emergency meeting on Saturday and approved the proposal to close the institution “sine dine”.
This, the EC members felt, could calm rising tempers on campus. However, the decision, which was also supported by senior faculty members, could not be executed after the state police reportedly advised against it.
“Closing the university would mean the police would have to move the protesting students out of the campus. They (police) didn’t think it was advisable,” said a senior professor, who did not wish to be identified. It was then that the V-C decided to go on leave for a few days to help put an end to the agitation, said sources.
However, grounds are being prepared to make the V-C resign if the protests continue. “He could step down in a week to ten days if nothing improves,” said a source close to Prof Rao.
The Indian Express had first reported on January 23 that the HRD Ministry is reportedly unhappy with the V-C for mishandling the situation and “forcing the government to firefight on his behalf”. The report of the two-member fact finding committee had also stated that the university should have handled the incident of “student indiscipline” more “sensitively”.
In Hyderabad, representatives of the protesting students and teachers described the appointment of Prof Srivastava as “outrageous”. “They have appointed Dr Srivastava as in-charge who himself was involved in punishing the five students. We oppose this move and reject it outright,’’ said Sannaki Munna, a member of the ASA.
“We do not know for how long Prof Rao will be on leave or whether he will be back at his job or not, but the appointment of Dr Srivastava is even more outrageous. He was responsible for punishing the Dalit students.’’ said a senior member of the university’s SC/ST teachers association.
In the other order issued today, the Registrar stated, “The order imposing punishment on the students stands withdrawn subject to the verdict of the High Court of Judicature at Hyderabad writ petitions and FIR registered at the Gachibowli police station.’’
At the protest venue, meanwhile, a new batch of seven students started an indefinite fast after the first batch of seven were evacuated to the university’s health centre late on Saturday evening. “Hundreds of students are ready to undertake the hunger strike until V-C Rao is removed from his post. If one batch of fasting students is removed, the next batch will take over,’’ said ASA’s Munna.
Sources said the protest is likely to spread to Osmania University, which was the centre of the Telangana movement, and the English and Foreign Languages University.
On Monday, several prominent activists, academicians and intellectuals are expected to address the protesting students under the banner ‘Chalo UoH?Justice for Rohith Vemula’. The speakers will include Prakash Ambedkar, grandson of Dr B R Ambedkar, said sources, adding that efforts are also on to invite author Arundhati Roy. They added that students from central universities in over 15 states have conveyed to the protesting students that they will hold protest marches on Monday in their respective campuses to express solidarity.
Editor’s note: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that the HRD Ministry has appointed Dr. Vipin Srivastava to head Hyderabad Central University in place of Professor P Appa Rao who went on leave on Sunday. The appointment was made by university authorities and not the government. We regret the error.