On February 22, more than 175 students from Hyderabad University boarded a Delhi-bound train to be part of the "Chalo Delhi" march, to protest against the death of Hyderabad Central University Dalit scholar Rohith Vemula. The moment the students reached Delhi, the group scattered to different parts of the city. Accommodation was a big challenge. Prem Kumar, 28, a PhD scholar from Hyderabad University, found a small apartment in Jamia Nagar area where he could stay. While sipping his tea, he mentioned it was his third day in the capital and there hasn't been a solid reply from the MHRD on the demands the group placed before them. "Oh yeah, one melodramatic speech from Smriti Irani has been doing rounds on social media. We don't buy your angry-pseudo patriotic speech," Kumar laughed.
A former President of Ambedkar Students' Association (ASA) in Hyderabad, Kumar had gone for the Chalo Delhi march followed by a candle march on Wednesday night. While the former was peaceful, the latter landed a few of his group members in jail. "On February 24, we reached India Gate for a candle march, but Delhi Police drove us away and detained a few students at Parliament Street police station," he said.
Along with the Joint Action Committee, Hyderabad, students from Hyderabad University have made the following demands of the MHRD:
1. There should be a proper enquiry on how caste system is still practised in the educational institution. In order to stop such caste-based discrimination, the Rohith Vemula Act should be immediately enacted in every university.
2. Rohith has died. His family should get compensation and one of the members must get a permanent government job.
3. Whoever is involved in this atrocity, should be punished according to the SC/ST Prevention Act. From the MHRD to the vice-chancellor, the chief proctor to the ABVP president in Hyderabad University - all those guilty should be prosecuted for practising caste-based discrimination on campus.
4. After the heinous December 16 gangrape case in Delhi, the Nirbhaya Act 2013 was enacted. Similarly, owing to the rising cases of ragging in schools/colleges, the anti-ragging act was brought in. We demand the government to identify an act which abolishes caste-based discrimination within or outside universities.
Besides Joint Action Committee, Hyderabad, many states have held their own agitations. "It's been three days since we came to Delhi. We came from Hyderabad to be the part of the march. We have been staying at Ambedkar Bhavan and the logistics have been taken care of by JAC. Also, many students have arrived in in smaller groups. Students and members from NSUI, SFI, AISF and Ambedkar Students' Association are supporting what we are doing," he said.
In response to Smriti Irani's recent speech in Rajya Sabha, the students at Ambedkar Bhavan asked the HRD minister: "You mention in your speech that everyone is using Rohith Vemula for their own political mileage. Even in the 21st century, without any proper evidence or enquiry, five students from Hyderabad University were kicked out and forced to live on the streets. You called them "anti-nationals". Rohith Vemula's death is not an instance of suicide, but a perfect example of academic genocide. And you ask us to find out your caste? No thank you, we just want Rohith Vemula act to be enacted immediately."