Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Senthil Kumar : first Dalit victim of Hyderabad Central University


Senthilkumar Solidarity Committee



Press Note



The Senthilkumar Solidarity Committee is a group of university teachers, students and independent researchers based in Hyderabad. It was formed following the suicide of Senthilkumar, a research scholar at the School of Physics, University of Hyderabad in February 2008. 


A fact finding committee appointed by the University found that - 


• '…it is a fact that most of the students affected by the inconsistencies and ambiguities in procedures were SC/ST students.' (p4)


• ’…many of the dalit students who have come from backgrounds where such practices are not uncommon, tended to attribute the problems they were facing in the School to caste-based discrimination.' (p4)


• '…Senthil was aware of all the problems being faced by other SC students in the School. He was not only beginning to believe that the SC/ST students were 'being targeted' in the School, but was also getting anxious about it.' (p5)


• 'All the Physics students that this Committee could meet have reported their sense that the School was acting against the interests of the SC/ ST students.' (P4)


The Report concludes that 


• There has been a 'lack of transparency and standardization in the administration of the Ph.D. course work for the 2006 batch in the School of Physics' and that it has 'created unacceptable uncertainty in the minds of students.' (p7)


• There has been '…inconsistency and subjectivity in the standards applied for course work and for allocation of Supervisors…' and that it has lead to '…an understandable perception among SC/ST students … that they are being discriminated against on the basis of their caste.' (p7)


The vice chancellor's recent press statement, however, distorts the findings of the report to state blandly that "the committee did not find any caste discrimination on the campus". One wonders what more 'deliberate or systematic discrimination' the administration is looking for! 


In fact, we all know that such hidden but powerful discrimination is rampant in our universities, not least in the University of Hyderabad itself. This is the first time that it has been 'recognized' officially, and we believe that some exemplary action must be taken against the authorities that are clearly responsible, though the Report falls short of calling them to account. An internal 'meeting', attempted 'sensitization' of faculty in responsible positions and procedural changes are welcome, but far from adequate. 


The conduct of the University authorities smacks of complete insensitivity and indifference to the demands of justice in this case. The death of a student in an institution is a serious enough issue; in this case, a young man has been driven to take his own life as a result of institutional caste-based discrimination. Senthilkumar represented the hopes and aspirations of an entire community; his death must not be allowed to become just another statistic in the growing list of Dalit dropouts and suicides in institutions of higher learning. 


We demand 


• That stringent action be taken against those who are responsible for Senthilkumar's suicide.


• That the compensation which the university has agreed to pay to Senthil Kumar's parents should be increased to Rs.10 lakhs and be paid immediately. We strongly object to the tone of philanthropy that the VC has adopted in this regard. This is the least that can be done by the University and is, in fact, two months too late! 


• That the University acknowledge the spirit of the report and take cognizance of the widespread caste discrimination in the functioning of the departments.


• That it should take prompt steps to institute Grievance Redressal cells in every School, in consultation with the dalit students and faculty on the campus. 


Premier institutions like the Hyderabad Central University must be made accountable to students who have to overcome innumerable obstacles to enter higher education. It is about time the academic community began to respond to the demand made on them by the increasing democratization of elite spaces of higher education!



6th May 2008

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