Protests at University of Hyderabad After Rohith Vemula’s ‘Velivada’ Demolished

Fresh protests have erupted at the University of Hyderabad (UoH) after the administration, on January 6, 2019, removed ‘Velivada’ – a temporary structure which housed portraits of many anti-caste icons like Dr B.R. Ambedkar, Periyar, Ayyankali, Savitribai, Jyotirao Phule, Savitribai and others. Over 200 students gathered near the temporary structure and raised slogans against the administration for hurting their sentiments.

The Velivada or Dalit Ghetto was first erected by Dalit scholar Rohith Vemula and four other students at a shopping complex after they were suspended from the university and their hostel, Telangana Today reported. Students of the Ambedkar Students’s Association (ASA) rebuilt the Velivada on January 5, 2019 ahead of Vemula’s death anniversary which falls on January 17, 2019. However, the administration demolished it the following day.

Students sitting inside the Velivada. Image credit: Ambedkar Student’s Association.

According to News Minute, on Sunday morning, January 6, students were shocked to see that the Velivada had disappeared. The students allege that the university had removed it early in the morning when no one was there on the campus.

Debomita, a student at UoH said, “During the suspension three years back, the five Dalit scholars had erected that (the Velivada) to endure the cold weather while sleeping in the open. It was a three-way covered space where Rohith and the others spent their nights during the suspension. It was the place around which the movement was shaping.”

Also read: DU Committee Wants the Word ‘Dalit’, Kancha Ilaiah’s Books Dropped From Syllabus

Outraged at the incident, the students burnt an effigy of UoH vice-chancellor (VC) Podile Appa Rao. ASA member Donatha Prashanth, who was also ostracised by the administration along with Rohith Vemula tweeted about the protest:

The News Minute quoted Prasanth as saying, “This is very emotional for me. Velivada stood as a testimony to the caste discrimination meted out to us. It was a testimony of our social boycott.”

Samson Gidla, president of ASA, in a press note said that the act is nothing but “the execution of the agenda of the BJP led centre”. He further stated that the demolition of the icons violates the SC/ST Prevention of Atrocities Act which says that one who “destroys, damages or defiles any object generally known to be held sacred or in high esteem by members of the Scheduled Castes or the Scheduled Tribes is punishable by this act.”

Image credit: Ambedkar Student’s Association.

The press note said that the “ghettos usually exist at the margins of every village, but constructing a Velivada at the centre of the Brahminic space must have sent shivers through the bones of the Brahminical VC Appa Rao.”

According to News Minute, the authorities had sent a notice to the ASA members asking them to remove the Velivada before demolishing it. The notice, signed by the VC read, “The University Administration has been issuing several circulars not to display any banners, posters, flexies etc on the campus without prior permission. However, it has come to the notice of the Administration about erected flexies and posters at the shopping complex (North) on the interim night of 4/5 January around 00.45 am, 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, flexies etc.”

Velivada before and after the demolition. Image credit: Ambedkar Student’Association.

Highlighting how similar incidents have occurred in the past, Gidla said, “Ever since then under the direction of BJP the university is erasing the portraits of Dr BR Ambedkar and now as part of which Podile Appa Rao, an accused under the SC/ST Prevention of Atrocities Act, who is a henchman of BJP has directly ordered for removal of Velivada and the frames.”

According to PTI, on July 15, 2016, the bust of B.R. Ambedkar was removed from the shopping complex area in the varsity. A group of students and teachers held a protest after the incident and also filed a police complaint in this regard.