The SC/ST Faculty Forum at the University of Hyderabad (UoH) demanded varsity authorities to “immediately and unconditionally” revoke the suspension of two faculty members, who are on a relay hunger strike for the past two days.
Associate Professor K Y Ratnam and Assistant Professor Tathagata Sengupta were served with a suspension notice on Monday after learning that they had been detained by police for more than 48 hours in March this year. On Tuesday, the two professors started an indefinite relay hunger strike outside the university gate in protest against the suspension order.
Hyderabad Police had booked Ratnam, Head of Centre for Ambedkar Studies and faculty member of Department of Political Science along with Sengupta, faculty member of Department of Mathematics, and 27 other students on March 22 for allegedly vandalizing the office and residence of UoH Vice Chancellor Appa Rao Podile.
The UoH authorities had said Ratnam and Sengupta were suspended from the services strictly in accordance with Rule 10 of the Central Civil Services Rules. The varsity stated that as per the rule “a government servant, shall be deemed to have been placed under suspension by an order of Appointing Authority with effect from the date of his detention, if he is detained in custody, whether on a criminal charge or otherwise, for a period exceeding forty-eight hours”.
However, a statement issued by the SC/ST Faculty Forum and Concerned Teachers insisted that the faculty were merely expressing their solidarity with students and trying to protect them from police ‘excesses’. The statement further added, “while it is true that any employee who is in custody for more than 48 hours is deemed to be suspended, the rules for suspension say that this should be used sparingly.”
Forum members demanding revocation of the order are claiming that the suspension was a result of a long-standing feud with VC Appa Rao.
Speaking to Indianexpress.com, Arpita Jaya, a PhD scholar at UoH, said: “Professor Ratnam is a Dalit Associate Professor and this is not the first time he is a part of an anti-caste struggle. In 2002, when Appa Rao Podile was the chief warden, he (Rao) had rusticated 10 Dalit students. Even back then, Ratnam stood by the students and protested against the rustication.”
Jaya is also a member of the Joint Action Committee for Social Justice-a student community at UoH.
“Ratnam sir has a history with Appa Rao Podile because he has always resisted against any anti-Dalit move by University administration.” she said.
One of the suspended teachers, Sengupta told Indianexpress.com: “This (the suspension) is a part of the individual targeting that the University is carrying with the ones who were a part of the Rohit Vemula struggle.” He also alleged that the students associated with the struggle have faced intimidation from the authorities and are harassed by their departments.
“Basically, they want to neutralize the struggle before the new academic year begins and wipe out the memories of the resistance. For instance, they have even been whitewashing the graffiti across the campus, including quotes by Ambedkar and Vemula,” Sengupta said.
Sengupta added that the university authorities are planning another executive council meeting towards the end of June where they are “probably going to discuss about suspending the students on whom there are police cases”.
Referring to the Guntur district collector’s report that confirmed Vemula’s caste as Hindu Mala, which is categorised as Scheduled Caste, Sengupta said, “The reason why they have come up with this right now is because Rohith’s caste certificate got validated.”
“The Chairman of the SC/ST Commission has given a statement saying he will ask the police to take appropriate action on the Prevention of SC/ST Atrocities Act charges slapped on the five people, including Union Minister Bandaru Dattatreya and Appa Rao.”
This, according to Sengupta, has made University officials ‘jittery’.
Asked about the future course of action of their protest, Sengupta said, “We are sitting on a relay hunger strike and we will continue till our demands are met.”