Poet K Satchidanandan today said the suicide by Hyderabad University scholar Rohit Velmula was not “accidental” and alleged “continued oppression” of Dalit students in various universities in the country.
“I would not call it a suicide, but an institutional murder. This is not the first suicide remember. Right from Senthil Kumar, this is the eighth suicide of a Dalit student in the Hyderabad University. That cannot just be accidental,” Satchidanandan said on the sidelines of the ongoing Jaipur Literature Festival here.
“Clearly there is a design in the sense that there is continued oppression of Dalit students in the university like elsewhere, like in IIT Madras,” he alleged.
The poet likened the Hyderabad incident to the June 2015 incident in IIT Madras, which had derecognised the Ambedkar Periyar Study Circle (APSC), many of whose members are Dalits, following a complaint that it was critical of Prime Minister. Recognition was reinstated to the group later.
Satchidanandan also said that despite the suspension of the four dalit students in Hyderabad being revoked, the death of Velmula had “already done the damage”.
Velmula, whose body was found hanging in a hostel room, was among the five research scholars who were suspended by the Hyderabad university in August 2015 and also one of the accused in the case of alleged assault on the ABVP leader.
“The suspension has been revoked, but the damage has already been done with Rohith’s death. What more can happen than somebody deciding to leave the world because of that. They had to revoke it because there was so much pressure from nationwide protests,” he said.
The poet also expressed fears that such treatment could be meted out to other students as well.
“That does not mean it won’t be repeated. Anytime it could be repeated. Other students could be expelled like that,” he said.
Disagreeing with Union HRD minister Smriti Irani’s statement that it was not a Dalit vs non-Dalit issue, Satchidanandan said “it is much more that that.”
“It is much more than just a dalit vs non-dalit issue. Of course Rohith being a Dalit was a major thing, but that is just an expression of the kind of violence that some people have in them and their desire to suppress it using any means.
“It could be murder or forcing someone to commit suicide. Or it could just be silencing someone like a Perumal Murugan,” he said adding that Ambedkar “would be shocked to know that after so many years of freedom, the wonderful Constitution he drafted is not respected”.
Tamil author Murugan had over a year ago announced his
renunciation from writing after his book “Mathorubagan” faced opposition and he was forced to tender an apology.
Satchidanandan also questioned the letters by the HRD ministry to institutions like IIT-Madras and Hyderabad University.
“The HRD ministry writing letters is something that is absolutely new. First of all, institutions have their autonomy. It is true they are audited, but in academic matters they have complete autonomy and that is being questioned,” he said.
Satchidanandan, who had resigned from all positions in the Sahitya Akademi to protest against the killing of writer M M Kalburgi, said the literary institution had an obligation to defend the freedom of expression, but had failed to rise to the ocassion.
“If you put all the recent happenings together, you will find there is a growing culture of intolerance. The public intellectual is not safe, the writer cannot write what he wants. You cannot eat what you want to eat, you cannot think what you want to think, filmmakers cannot make the films they want. Who is safe in this country? ” he asked.