The criminalisation of dissent has become a common practice in Indian central universities. It is at this juncture that the situation of the Central University of Kerala becomes alarming. Since its establishment back in 2009, the university didn’t have a healthy work environment. There was always a situation of unrest. In this particular year, there have been many cases where the administration was found to have targeted a specific group of students who are generally active in protests and political activities.
One of the first cases this year was related to the cancellation of admission of Ajith. Ajith who got admitted for a Ph.D. programme at the university was given two technical reasons for the cancellation. The first one was that the guide did not sit for his interview and the second reason sighted was that there are not enough vacant positions. “I found both of these reasons invalid and decided to file a case in the court,” says him.
However, University then argued that according to UGC regulation, the student has to score 50% marks in the entrance examination. “But while presenting their arguments, they selectively forgot the other half of the same regulation that explains the manner in which the entrance was to be conducted and which wasn’t followed by them. For over 6 months the University delayed the case. Meanwhile, I got admitted to the University of Hyderabad and withdrew the case as my priority was to join for the research programme” he added.
Annapoorni was dismissed on May, following an enquiry. A JAC statement from the university at that time read, “An administrative staff took the photo of Annapoorni and her friend, who brought her some clothes and other materials from her room in the hostel (Annapoorni was not permitted to enter hostel premises). When this was questioned by her, there started a dialogue between the two which led to a brutal physical violence and harassment against Annapoorni. In order to justify their part the convict has lodged a complaint against Annapoorni accusing her of manhandling.” The dismissal order states that the allegations leveled against Annapoorni was found to be true and hence will be removed in the ‘interest of the university’. Though there was a widespread protest in the campus, the dismissal order was not retracted.
Following this, three students Shabira, Ruksana and Vishnu were not permitted to sit for their semester examination as they didn’t have an attendance of 75%. Vishnu who was a JRF holder lost his claim for the same due to this action from the admin. Though the students tried to question this, the department closed it as an internal issue.
It was during vacation time that 5 students were dismissed from hostels. Abhinand, Ram, Subramanian, Shilpa, and Aleena. The students claimed they were not given show cause notices through the right channels, denying them the right to defend and clarify their positions. They were also not given any prior notice or information regarding the same.
Addressing the allegations in Registrar’s order, Abhinand Kishore wrote in social media that the day of this particular incident is the day before Dalit Hartal in Kerala, March 8. The students were putting up posters the previous night, which read ‘Stop witch-hunting against Dalit students’ ‘Enact Rohit Vemula act’, ‘Jaibheem Lalsalam’, ‘Smash Brahmanism’ ‘Abolish Capitalism’ near university road.
Students who participated included not only Shilpa, Abhinand, Subrahmanyan, and Ram but also Akhil, Ramu, Haroon, Thufail, Basil, and Sonu. All of them went back to their hostel at 1 pm. Abhinand, Subrahmanyan, and Ram went to Kabani hostel as Shilpa had called them, informing that the security wasn’t allowing her to get in.
Shilpa had talked to the caretaker, security and her father about the issue at the time. None of the students talked to the warden. The students painted on the wall, “break the curfew“(which is a slogan raised by girls at the College of Engineering, Thiruvananthapuram (CET) to end the 6.30pm curfew at the ladies hostel in 2015)
The details of the inquiry committee which took this decision were also not disclosed. Students also point out that the university conducted the inquiry and initiated disciplinary action during the vacations to that they would not have to answer anyone regarding their action due to the fear of protests happening against the University administration. The students filed a petition in court and the case is still under trial.
Soon after this, Akhil Thazheth was suspended for his fictional Facebook post and an enquiry was ordered against him. Though there were protests, the university did not comply. Senior research scholar and Dalit activist Ganhoti Nagaraju was arrested and remanded by the police on August 9th on charges of breaking glass panes in the hostel. Nagaraju, an active member of the Ambedkar Students Association and a native of Telangana, was arrested for breaking the glass pane of a fire extinguisher cabinet. The student was remanded for a period of 5 days on a trivial charge. Nagaraju was also targeted earlier by the university administration. Back then, he was slapped with a memo accusing him of instigating a protest carried out by the people from Kalam Nagar, who were displaced for the construction of the University.
The latest incident to be added to the series is the dismissal of Akhil on the Facebook post and the removal of Professor Prasad Pannian from the position of HoD of English and Comparative Literature Department. Prasad had put up a post extending solidarity to Nagaraju, which university found was against its interests.
Meanwhile, the administration is accused of being autocratic and corrupt. The Vice-chancellor was found to have drawing undue pension benefits from the university. The witch hunt students suspect is to create an environment of fear in the university so that the actions of admin would go unquestioned.