Sunday, January 1, 2017

Scientists fact-finding report on events at the University of Hyderabad

The report below is from some Indian scientists belonging to the Academics Group who visited Hyderabad University where a Dalit graduate student reportedly felt compelled to commit suicide last year. It points to wide discrimination in every sector that Dalits and other minorities face in today's India.


Dear colleagues and friends,

Almost exactly one year ago, on 17 January 2016, a Dalit PhD student at the University of Hyderabad, Rohith Vemula, committed suicide writing, in his final letter, that "my birth is my fatal accident." Ever since, the University has been engulfed in a fierce conflict. This conflict has been a matter of great concern to many of us in the academic community.

A few months ago, after discussing the matter with colleagues from institutions across the country, many of us felt that it would be very useful if a small team of scientists could visit Hyderabad as part of a fact-finding exercise and write a report addressed to the academic community. Accordingly, in July, Suvrat Raju, Prajval Shastri and Ravinder Banyal visited the University. They have now completed their report, and we are attaching it to this email.

The report draws on a large number of conversations with students and faculty at the University of Hyderabad, and also on a number of original documents that the fact-finding team was able to access.

Apart from the findings in the report that are specific to the University of Hyderabad, we would like to draw your attention to two findings that are relevant for all of us. The report finds that the the events at the University started with a relatively minor conflict between the Ambedkar Students Association and the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad. But the Ministry of Human Resource Development escalated the matter by writing five letters, in quick succession, to the University. This is part of a disturbing trend where the central government has chosen to make partisan interventions in University student politics. Second, the report finds that although the University of Hyderabad is a diverse institution, discrimination on the campus continues and in one of its most pernicious forms is disguised as a concern for "merit." This is part of a larger problem: reservations are not just about quotas, and a meaningful implementation of the reservation policy should include steps to combat discrimination in its myriad forms, and address the educational needs of a diverse student body.

These findings are significant because they pertain to questions of autonomy, academic freedom and discrimination that are important for all of the country's academic institutions. The report offers some
suggestions but these larger issues require a sustained discussion in the academic community. We are particularly keen to see such discussions in scientific institutions whose members sometimes tend to steer clear of addressing these important social issues.

So we would like to request you to share this report widely among the students and faculty at your institutions. We hope that the report can serve as a specific case study for discussing the broader social questions that are involved. We also hope that this fact-finding exercise will serve as an example, so that other such exercises can be taken up by independent groups of academics when they are needed.


(The institutional affiliations below are provided only for purposes of
identifications. We are writing in our individual capacity, and not on
behalf of our institutions.)

Dileep Jatkar, Harish-Chandra Research Institute (Allahabad)
Srikanth Sastry, Jawaharlal Nehru Centre for Advanced Scientific
Research (Bengaluru)
Prajval Shastri, Indian Institute of Astrophysics (Bengaluru)
N. Raghavendra, Harish-Chandra Research Institute (Allahabad)
Ravinder Banyal, Indian Institute of Astrophysics (Bengaluru)
Rahul Siddharthan, Institute of Mathematical Sciences (Chennai)
Saikat Ghosh, Indian Institute of Technology (Kanpur)
Samriddhi Sankar Ray, International Centre for Theoretical Sciences,
Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (Bengaluru)
Sandeep Krishna, National Centre for Biological Sciences, Tata
Institute of Fundamental Research (Bengaluru)
Alladi Sitaram, formerly with the Indian Statistical Institute
Bhanu Das, Tokyo Institute of Technology, formerly with Indian Institute
of Astrophysics (Bengaluru)
Sugata Ray, Indian Association for the Cultivation of Science (Kolkata)
Sumathi Rao, Harish-Chandra Research Institute (Allahabad)
Suvrat Raju, International Centre for Theoretical Sciences, Tata
Institute of Fundamental Research (Bengaluru)

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