Kerala polls: Congress-led UDF promises ‘Rohit Vemula Act’ in manifesto

The Act will strive for better grievance-redressal mechanisms for marginalized communities in the universities and increased measures for their protection.

Hyderabad: In a bid to end caste-based discrimination, ragging, bias against students in universities, colleges and schools, Congress-led United Domestic Front (UDF) in its manifesto promised to implement a ‘Rohit Vemula Act’ if it is voted to power in the ensuing general elections in Kerala.

“Will enact Rohit Vemula Act to put an end to caste discrimination and partiality against students from marginalized sections in schools, colleges and universities,” the UDF manifesto, released on Saturday, reads.

Named after the Dalit scholar who died by suicide at the University of Hyderabad in 2016, inclusion of the ‘Rohit Vemula Act’ in the manifesto is a joint demand of the National Students’ Union of India (NSUI) units in HCU, Central University of Kerala and Pondicherry University.

MS Education Academy

“Our deliberations with the public policy wing and manifesto committee of the Congress party have culminated in this victory for all student activists across India,” said NSUI wing in HCU, in their official statement.

“We promise to take this forward and enact the ‘Rohit Vemula Act’ in other states too. The fight against the fascist central government and their institutionalized exploitation should not be limited to mere slogans, rhetoric and lumpenism but dialogue, deliberation and zeal to get things done,” the statement added.

“The idea of this Act has its roots in the protests that began after Rohit’s death in January 2017. When then Congress president Rahul Gandhi visited the campus on January 19, two days after Vemula’s death, several Ambedkarite groups expressed views regarding a specialized mechanism to curb caste-based discrimination on the campus. In the following years, on every Rohith Shahadat (or martyrdom day), it was brought up. However, no one did effectively take it up,” said Amal Jose, general secretary of NSUI wing in HCU.

Speaking to siasat.com, Jose said that the student union units in Pondicherry University, Central University of Kerala and HCU passed a joint resolution towards the enactment of the ‘Rohit Vemula Act’ in January this year. “We wanted to reach out to state governments and parties in the state that are heading for polls. In Kerala, we had interactive sessions with the UDF manifesto drafting committee led by Shashi Tharoor, who included our demands from the resolution in the party’s manifesto.”

The Act will strive for better grievance-redressal mechanisms for marginalized communities in the universities and increased measures for their protection, besides setting up of SC/ST cell in state universities, Jose added. “The promised Act is currently in its vague form. We look forward to making it legally in place,” he said.

In August 2015, Rohit Vemula, along with four others, was expelled from his hostel in the university on a complaint by the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), which accused them of assaulting some of its leaders. The students then set up a tent and called it Velivada (or Dalit colony) protesting against their suspension. A few days later, Vemula committed suicide in a hostel room on January 17, 2016.

Vemula’s death put the spotlight on student politics, campus unrest and atrocities against Dalits, making the 26-year-old student-activist the rallying point of protests, discourses and debates over societal prejudices against people of lower castes.

Promulgation of a ‘Rohit Vemula Act’ to ensure legislative protection for students from marginalized communities in higher educational institutions has been raised several times in the past.

The election for the 140-member Kerala assembly will be held on April 6. The counting of votes will take place on May 2.

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