By Amit Kumar, TwoCircles.net
On January 17, Rohith Vemula, a Dalit student at the University of Hyderabad, committed suicide. For the whole year, his mother, brother and thousands of others have been asking for justice, and hold the University’s VC accountable for the institutional murder of Vemula.
But far from acting in this regard, the government continues to ask: was he even a Dalit? Was he not an anti-national? The ‘debate’ is on.
In November 2012, junior civil judge S Rama Krishna was allegedly assaulted by CV Nagarjuna Reddy and his brother, Pawan Kumar Reddy after he refused to remove the name of Reddy’s brother from a dying declaration. The said declaration was of a servant employed with Pawan Reddy, who had accused him of setting the servant on fire “for not agreeing to sign on a blank paper.”
The Dalit judge was subsequently suspended, and for the past three years, he has been running from pillar to post with the hope of getting justice. A week ago, 61 members of the Rajya Sabha submitted a petition to Rajya Sabha Chairman Hamid Ansari for initiating the impeachment process of Justice C V Nagarjuna Reddy of Telangana and Andhra Pradesh High court for alleged victimisation of the Dalit judge, along with amassing assets disproportionate to his income.
But while the senior judge remains scot free, the Dalit judge has had to go into hiding, and fears for his life.
But both these issues have already been written about. So why do we bring it up here?
On Monday, the Namapally Criminal Court, Hyderabad, found five Dalit students guilty of ‘defaming’ English Foreign Language University (EFLU) professor Meenakshi Reddy, Dean of the School of Germanic Studies.
The court ordered six months’ imprisonment against the five, but all the accused are out on bail and have been given time till January 10 to appeal against the judgement.
Reddy is the daughter of Obul Reddy, who served as the chief justice of of Andhra and Gujarat High Courts and the former governor of Andhra Pradesh, and in fact, the judge takes notes of this, remarking, “she hails from a good family”. It is also not a mere coincidence that the same lawyer, Prabhakar Sripada, who is representing CV Nagarjuna Reddy, was also here to defend Meenakshi Reddy.
What lead to the professor being defamed?
According to Praveen (name changed) one of the defendants who spoke with Twocircles.net, the verdict is another case of Dalits being targeted for raising their voice. Also, it is important to point out cases of caste discrimination are not new to the campus, and neither is it a case of Hindu right vs the ‘liberals’. “The professor, and other officials who have colluded with her are the members of the left liberal spaces but are happy to ignore cases that can potentially damage their reputation,” said Praveen.
As early as 2009, a girl from the department tried to commit suicide; in 2011, the Osmania University (OU) police questioned two university professors including Meenakshi Reddy after the NHRC took notice of R Jayamurugan, a Dalit student pursuing German, who claimed that he was being failed consistently in his semester examinations, which forced him to discontinue the course.
In 2012, one more Dalit student, Kush Kumar, from the same department tried to commit suicide by consuming pills after he ‘failed’ his exams.
According to the defendant, these are not mere unfortunate incidents of students failing to cope up with the pressure. “In all these cases, the department’s attitude has come under scrutiny, but let alone take action, the University has not even bothered to investigate the matter. What does this show, if not an absolute disregard to the problems that we are facing,” Praveen added.
It is important to point out that of the five defendants-R Bathran, M Sriramulu, Upendra, Satish and Mohan–only Sriramulu was a student of the German department, and had alleged discrimination at the hands of Reddy since 2011. “She was very casteist, and would tell Dalit students to quit studies and go back to the villages they came from,” Praveen added.
Apart from Sriramulu, the other students, who were also members of various Dalit and Ambedkarite organisations in the university, took note of the harassment that Sriramulu was facing. One of them interviewed Sriramulu in a series of interviews that were then uploaded on YouTube, which can be watched here, here and here. These videos were all uploaded in 2012 and 2013.
According to Praveen, for the judiciary, the use of the term ‘Reddy harasses’, ‘Feudal Reddy’ is defaming. “We never knew these words are defaming. The case did not have much to prove defamation, but all through this we students were defamed and at the end the Judge says we are convicted because we defamed!”
“It is the rarest of the rare case, where students have been convicted where defamation case conviction was given for students,” he added.
What was said in the interviews?
In one of the interviews which Sriramulu gave while hospitalised he said, “For the past 8 months (nearly a whole year), I was struggling to get permission to sit in the class. But they made two committees (to enquire into the matter), one is the SC/ST committee and the other is Meenakshi Reddy committee (to enquire into the complaints of the discriminatory behaviour of Meenakshi Reddy prevailing towards the students). But even after 8 months, no results have surfaced. They have been delaying the whole process and spoiled my whole academic year (2012-2013).” The struggle for justice had taken its toll on Sriramulu and he had been hospitalised for a lengthy period during the year.
Praveen added that this case picked up heat in 2013, when Mudasir Kamran, a PhD student in the ELE (English Language Education) Department, committed suicide after insensitive and high-handedness of administration on the night of March 2, 2013.
A member of the administration, Proctor Harish Vijra, responded to a scuffle between Mudasir and his friend by handing him over to the police. An internal matter which could have been dealt with in a sensitive manner within the university was instead dragged to a police station. Following Mudassir’s death, the students increased their protests and against the Proctor, and at the same time the protests against Reddy also increased.
What was even more surprising was the fact that when faced with accusations, Reddy decided to approach the court directly and filed a private complaint, including against one of the defendants for merely recording the interview which was uploaded on YouTube. The fact that the University did not object to this action of Reddy also shows that it seemed only too happy to side with one of its faculties than to look into the issues faced by the Dalit students.
What happened to the case filed by the students?
The students had not limited themselves to merely shouting slogans against Reddy; instead, as early as 2012 itself they had filed a case against her under the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act. But of course, there has been no action taken by the authorities in this regard. In fact, even the judge in the defamation case took cognizance of this point, and remarked, “Admittedly, the A1 (Sriramulu) has lodged a report against Pw1 (Reddy) which was recognised as C.R. no 359/2012 of P.S.O.U., u/Sec 3 1(x), of SC/ST (PoA) Act, 1989. Admittedly, no charge sheet is appeared to have been filed in that case as its copy is not placed by any of the parties herein. As per the Pw1, the said case was closed after finding its content as false.
“However, the Pw1 could not file the copy of the final report said to have filed by the Police in the said case. As per the A1, he has not received any notice from the police in that case referring his report as false, and thus the said crime has not attained finality.”
So, while the case filed by the student has not even reached the stage of a charge sheet, the complaint filed by Reddy was deemed good enough for defamation.
Still wondering why Dalits have such hardships in getting justice?