HYDERABAD: Caste-based discrimination, alleged by the 26-year-old Rohit Vemula, one of five Dalit students expelled from their hostel two weeks ago and who committed suicide on Sunday, has put the focus back on the way Indian academic institutions treat students from backward castes.
A well-known educationist who did not wish to be identified said that as many students (like Rohit) come from rural areas and are first generation learners, the arrogance in urban areas kills their confidence.
Hari Babu Dasari, a Dalit Scholar and also a friend of Rohit Vemula, said he was in deep shock for the man who enlightened other Dalits about B R Ambedkar and braving discrimination resorted to this extreme step. “We have seen a lot of students, who face discrimination confine themselves to their rooms and eventually end up lives due to loneliness and emotional draining but a leader himself taking this harsh step shook all of us. Discrimination is rampant in the campus. We get to hear the word ‘reservation candidate’ every day and our talents are completely overlooked. Consciously or unconsciously, many students ridicule us saying, ‘Wow, you can speak English too?’ In fact, I share a room with a boy from a different caste and apparently another student advised my roommate to shift another room because I am a Dalit. Our spoons, plates, blankets are not shared by anyone. They share with anyone but not with us. When we keenly observe, even the couples ensure they are of the same caste. There is so awkward ‘caste feeling’ among the students,” he says.
“When I was at the campus in 2012, I could feel the hatred towards Brahmins, but now things have taken an ugly turn and the Dalit movement has gained a new momentum with things like an alliance of all student unions forming the student governing body that nurtures a common hatred for the ruling party at the centre. Students are being driven by a mob mentality with hatred for other students. Most of them are not even aware of why they are dancing to the tunes of a few people desperately trying to grow in the political ladder,” an ex student from HCU Arts Department said.
Srinivas, a communication professional, who opted out of UoH for the same reason, boldly shared, “It was in 1992 when I had joined University of Hyderabad and faced extreme discrimination. I got a seat in MA Telugu. Either there were Brahmin or Dalit students. I belong to neither of them. It was a completely different world. “It was like an agraharam with unwanted guests. I never encountered such divisions in 15 years of my previous studies. Dalit friends have some protection layer. I was all alone. Having come from a rural background, I could not complete some assignments in time. No teacher supported me. One teacher openly suggested me to leave the university as they are not going to allow me to get through the course. Then, I had decided to shift to Kakatiya university. Some left wing students in UoH counselled me to stay back. I got out and spent two years studying a foreign language without any problem. Luckily, the atmosphere in Kakatiya university was not so suffocating. Problem not with abilities, but with the atmosphere.”
Another ex-student said her friends who came from backward classes were surely identified by their caste and were ridiculed. “When a Dalit student dies, the lecturers immediately say the student died because he had three or four backlogs. UoH is a politically active campus. The Brahminical politics is very evident. Insensitivity is what makes their lives tougher. Every political party plays a game and students are aware of it. It should be confined to student politics only and shouldn’t escalate to another, undesirable level. Differences should be respected,” she strongly voices her concern.