On January 6, University of Hyderabad security officials demolished the Velivada, a temporary structure where dalit research scholar Rohith Vemula had resided for two weeks before he committed suicide on January 17, 2016.
Students’ organisations in the campus condemned the move as “humiliating” the symbol of “resistance” and have begun a protest demanding the rebuilding of the Velivada where it was earlier and are urging the state government to arrest those responsible for the act including Vice Chancellor Podile Apparao.
“Demolition of the Velivada is nothing less than an act of tampering evidence by VC Apparao as Rohith Vemula’s case is still pending in the High Court and Apparao has been booked under the SC/ST Atrocities act,” said Munna Sannaki, representative of the Ambedkar Students’ Association.
Three years ago, on January 4, 2016, the Velivada was set up by five dalit scholars including Rohith Vemula, Dontha Prashanth, Vijay Pedapudi, Seshu Chemudugunta and Velpula Sunkanna when they were imposed with a punishment to leave their hostels and their movement was restricted in the public spaces inside campus. Claiming the punishment as a social boycott and politically motivated by the BJP, the students had raised the Velivada in the premises of the shopping complex within the campus and began protesting while residing there.
It was made using the flexes of prominent personalities including Dr. BR. Ambedkar, Jotirao Phule, Savitribai Phule, Gurram Jashuva, Ramabai Ambedkar, Periyar EV Ramaswamy, Komaram Bheem, Chhatrapati Sahu Maharaj and Kanshiram. Velivada means a dalit ghetto, which are usually placed at the margins of villages.
Speaking with NewsClick, Sannaki said, “Desecration and demolition of the portraits of anti-caste leaders is an act of discrimination. Students are all set to protest against the administration in numerous ways until the Velivada is rebuilt.”
For the preparations of Rohith Vemula’s death anniversary on January 17, ASA members had replaced the faded and withered flexes with new ones. Acting upon this, the University issued notices to a few ASA student leaders asking them to remove the Velivada. The notice signed by Apparao read, “The University Administration has been issuing several circulars not to display any banners, posters, flexes, etc. on the campus without prior permission. However, it has come to the notice of the Administration that flexes and posters were erected at the shopping complex on the interim night of January 4 and 5 around 00.45 a.m., in spite of objection made by the security personnel not to destroy the floor by digging the University property by erecting a temporary shed with banners, flexes, etc.”
On the evening of January 6, the campus students held a candle light demonstration and burnt the effigy of Apparao at the demolished site.
In January 2016, Rohith Vemula’s suicide had triggered nationwide outrage and protests wherein dalit activists and student leaders described his death as “institutional murder”.