The UoH Struggle So Far: What We Were Not Expecting, And What They Were Not

Marika Gabriel


Marika GabrielMarika is a student of MA Communication, SN School, University of Hyderabad.

Yakub Memon was hanged. We sat in our university canteens and discussed why in the world the government would hang the brother of a terrorist after he offered help to them. We were enraged, naturally, for two reasons. One – we’re in the 21st century, how can a practice as draconian as execution still be acceptable? We’re not in war, are we? (This question is definitely debatable!) Two, how are other prospective informants ever going to talk if there are possibilities of them being hanged after their revelations? We, as politically aware and active students, started our democratic marches, screaming at the top of our lungs that capital punishment is morally and ethically wrong. The student opposition mocked us. We confronted their leader. He threatened us. We demanded answers. He then created stories out of dust. We let it pass. He didn’t. The callous administration then threw 5 PhD scholars who lead the confrontation out of their hostels and so very suddenly these students had nowhere to go in the middle of a blistering cold winter.

We weren’t expecting that.

Letters and notices were being exchanged between the Central and state ministries. The HRD (Human Resource Development) minister, an idiot-box actor turned politician waved the saffron flag in our faces, endorsed (through letters by HRD Minister herself) these 5 suspended students ‘anti-national’ because they opposed the killing of a terrorist (WRONG! LIES!), and refused to annul the suspension even though these students were now freezing out in the cold at the peak of the winter. The government wasn’t bothered, they looked the other way.

We weren’t expecting that.

Smriti Irani HCURohith Vemula was one of the 5 students who were suspended. Out in ShopCom, a very popular area in University which they turned into their campground with makeshift tents, they ate, agitated and rarely slept. Rohith’s home, a small one in a distant village in Guntur, was too far to travel to while the semester was going on. A Dalit, a student, a human who faced a lifetime of discrimination due to his ascribed social status, Rohith already had baggage that was weighing him down miserably. He carried it along to UoH, hoping that in a university space, he would finally be an equal. He hoped that his knowledge, of Carl Sagan, the stars and the universe, politics and everything in between, would empower him and he could finally spread his wings and fly (far away from the identity he was reduced to!) But they took away his spirit and threw him into the cold, so he took his baggage and then took his own life.

We weren’t expecting that.

As friends and fellow students recovered from the shock of his death, we had to face the oppression of the police force demanding to take his body from us. We collectively refused. Many of us were beaten, lathi charged and tear gassed. They tired us out and snatched Rohith away from us like he was dust they were cleaning off the road. We saw humanity perish that day, when students were bleeding on the road, struggling with open wounds and injuries only to ensure that Rohith in some way would stay with us, just a little longer. The police overpowered us, naturally. They had no remorse. Rohith was now in their bloody hands.
We weren’t expecting that.

We waited in buses to pay our final respects to Rohith. Some of us even wanted to talk to him one last time, tell him “we’re sorry”. We’re sorry for not being more actively involved when we saw you sleep in the cold every night. We’re sorry that we waited till you cracked for us to finally take action against a warped right-wing order that exists in our society, in our administration. We’re sorry that we weren’t as empathetic as we are now. But we’re fighting for you now, Rohith, we are fighting now. Yes Rohith Vemula, we’re doing what we can and we will do more. But as these thoughts went through most of our heads, we were told that the police rushed the funeral and cremation; Rohith, was now what they saw him to be all along, dust.

We weren’t expecting that.

Two months of protest, we saw the movement transform from a student struggle to a political battle. Politicians came and went, promising reform and change, and then disappearing. We didn’t see the Vice Chancellor though. Was he absconding? Maybe, maybe not; he was probably avoiding institutional culpability, hiding away in some 5-star hotel (so I’ve heard). He should have owned up and resigned, many of us thought he would on moral grounds. But then we laughed it off wondering if anyone in a position of power even had morals. Evidently, they didn’t. We then developed a new state of normalcy, with heavy hearts and extinguished hopes. No one could hear us, we wondered maybe if Rohith could, up there among the stars. Two months of recovery passed, and then, slyly and strategically, the Vice Chancellor casually came back to resume office. We rushed to protest. Unknowingly fell prey to their plot: A vandalised office, a devious and well thought out mischievous plan. What followed was this: They cornered us, beat, molested and dragged us into police vans. The police grabbed women by their breasts, hit them in their lower abdomen and dragged them by their hair. They attacked men, aiming at their privates, watched them bleed and carried them away. It was surreal. They registered cases against a hundred ‘unnamed’ students and threatened rape and arrest to those who protested.

We weren’t expecting that.

They shut down our internet, they blocked our water supply, they stopped our mess and canteen services, they refused to let the media in. They mercilessly beat a fellow student for trying to cook for us. They were trying to drain us out, rid us of our fervour, and make us bleed. But, we’re still standing strong. We’re fearful, yet even more determined to fight for this cause. The Police stand nearby even today, with their protective gear, while we sing our songs of revolution and sloganeer till we run out of breath. We’re posting boldly on social media, talking to the press and keeping the movement alive. Little did they know that we would rise above their filthy politics and thrive despite being in what many still call a war zone. We made food, we fed our friends, and we cooked for every student in university. We got a lot of food from Good Samaritans outside University; many supplied us with water and necessities. We marched forth, the fire in us burning much brighter than the fire around us. We ended up making enough food to fill the stomachs of nearly 5000 starving, undeterred, courageous students. We won.

And, THEY weren’t expecting that.