Police Detain 27 Students, 2 Teachers from Indian University as Protests Continue

This article is part of Feministing’s continued reporting on the current Indian student movements for the rights of minority students and the right to dissent. You can find a complete report from the initial days of the movement, including context, here, and subsequent reporting on the movement here. Coverage of the JNU students’ release is here.
The dust had barely settled on India’s Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), where three student activists had recently been granted bail after nearly a month of being held on charges of sedition, when it was stirred up again in another university campus by police boots.

Hyderabad Central University (HCU), a central-government funded university and one of the country’s most prestigious institutions of higher learning, has been in a state of turmoil since January, when the suicide of Dalit research scholar Rohith Vemula sparked student protests of university and central government casteism.

While protesting the return of Appa Rao, the university’s Vice Chancellor who had been charged with abetment of suicide following Rohith’s death, 27 students and two professors were arrested Tuesday and denied bail. Dozens of other students have been injured by the police, and for two days, due to a strike of the non-teaching staff against the protesting students, students were denied food and internet access; they also did not have drinking wate. No outsiders, including media, have been permitted inside the campus, leading to a lack of media coverage of the events.

To understand the current events at HCU, it’s necessary to understand the broader student anti-caste movement sparked by the death of Rohith Vemula.

The Justice for Rohith Movement

Rohith Vemula, part of the Ambedkar Students Association (ASA), a group of mostly-Dalit, or oppressed-caste, students following the ideology of Indian constitution-framer and Dalit leader B.R. Ambedkar, was suspended along with four other ASA students for an alleged altercation with members of the ABVP. The ABVP is the student wing of the right-wing BJP, the political party currently in power in India. HCU admin, encouraged by central government ministers, suspended the students from taking part in educational or residential activities, reducing them to camping out on the campus. In late January, Rohith took his life.

His suicide sparked the Justice for Rohith movement, which has swept institutions of higher education across the country. The movement demands include punishment for Hyderabad Central University Vice Chancellor Appa Rao, who has been named in an abetment of suicide case, and punishment for Smriti Irani, the Minister of Human Resource Development, under which central public universities are governed and funded. Demands also include the enactment of a Rohith Act to prevent caste discrimination in Indian higher education.

The Justice for Rohith movement comes in the wake of an increased climate of central government incursions upon the historical autonomy of public universities — often under the rationale of preventing so-called “antinational” activities, and often harming marginalized students.

Continued Student Activism and Arrests at JNU

In the Indian Institute of Technology Madras last spring, administration suspended the Ambedkar-Periyar study circle, a mostly Dalit group, for supposedly spreading “hatred” against the government; after protest, the group was reinstated. Meanwhile, students from the Film and Television Institute of India went on strike for over a hundred days protesting the appointment of Gajendra Chauhan, a right-wing supporter with questionable film qualifications, as Vice Chancellor.

Then, in early February, six student activists at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), one of the country’s most prominent central universities, were charged with sedition for “anti-national” slogans allegedly raised at an event protesting the execution of Kashmiri separatist Afzal Guru; eight total students were suspended. Many of these students are from marginalized backgrounds. Three of them, Kanhaiya Kumar, Anirban Bhattacharya, and Umar Khalid, were jailed for about three weeks until finally granted bail.

The police action, subsequent mob violence (including right-wing lawyers’ beating of journalists covering events at a major Delhi courthouse), and media fear-mongering (including the widespread use by several media channels of doctored videos) prompted extensive student protests and showings of international support.

Recent Events at HCU

Just days after the release of the last two arrested JNU students, major police action commenced at HCU following student protests of the reinstatement of Vice Chancellor Appa Rao on March 22. Following the vandalization of Rao’s office by some students — with the admin claiming it was protestors, and protestors claiming it was right-wing students — police took action on campus. During the course of the day, 27 protesting students and 2 professors were arrested at a sit-in and taken to jail. Videos of the arrests and of police beating students were broadcast on social media, and a number of students were beaten to the point of hospitalization.

The HCU administration ordered the university gates closed to all non-ID holders, so media persons were not allowed on campus, resulting in a near-blackout of information about the goings-on. Meanwhile, students had no water or electricity, and a strike of the non-teaching staff against student protests left students without food and internet until the morning of the 24th. A human rights violation investigation has commenced against the university for the withholding of food and amenities to the students.

The arrested students, whose whereabouts were unknown for a couple days, are currently in judicial custody. As they were denied bail, they will be held at least until Monday, when they will come up again for bail in front of the court; you can watch a legal update of the situation, given by the arrested students’ lawyer, here.

Meanwhile, despite the lack of substantive mainstream media coverage, numerous organizations — including the Joint Action Committee for Social Justice, which organizes Justice for Rohith; and the JNU Teachers’ Association — have issued statements in support of HCU students. JNU students and concerned citizens in Delhi protested in front of the Ministry of Human Resource Development, responsible for overseeing public universities, on Wednesday.

The situation at HCU is just one of a number of recent draconian state and police actions on Indian university campuses. But just as we saw at JNU, images of student solidarity have emerged, as well. Residents of the city of Hyderabad banded together to deliver food and water packages to the stranded students, who gathered together in dormitory kitchens to communally cook. And if there is anything we have learned from the recent student movements, it is that these students will not give up.

Cover image from “Stand with HCU” Facebook page.

Reina Gattuso is passionate about empowering conversations around queerness, sexual ethics, and social movements with equal parts rhapsody and sass. Her writing has appeared at Time, Bitch, attn:, and The Washington Post. She is currently pursuing her masters.

Reina Gattuso writes about her sex life for the good of human kind.

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