Interim Report of the Independent National Fact-Finding Team into the Violence on March 22 at Hyderabad Central University

Members of the Fact-Finding (FF) Team:

Henri Tiphagne, Human Rights Defenders Alert–India
Tara Rao, Amnesty International
Burnard Fatima, International Movement against all forms of Discrimination and Racism
Kuffir Nalgundwar, Round Table India
Kiruba Munusamy, Supreme Court Lawyer
Beena Pallical, National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights
Ramesh Nathan, National Dalit Movement for Justice
Asha Kowtal, All India Dalit Mahila Adhikar Manch
Paul Divakar, Asia Dalit Rights Forum

Mandate of the team:

1. To ascertain and understand the sequence of events that led to the escalation of violence on the 22nd of March at Hyderabad Central University (HCU).

2. To identify the human rights violations that transpired as a result of the events.

3. To contribute towards a restoration of normalcy, peace and an environment of non-discrimination in the University Campus by making key recommendations to the concerned parties—the University Administration, the Central Government, the State Government and University Students and Faculty.

This team was constituted as a response to the terrifying news of the escalation of violence at HCU on March 22. Comprising senior activists, academicians and lawyers, it has met students, faculty members, police, the state home minister and local civil society organisations. The team will be presenting a detailed report at a later date based on the narratives and testimonies so compiled.

The team made several efforts to fix appointments with HCU officials, in particular the Vice-Chancellor (VC), Dr. Appa Rao, the Registrar and the Chief Security Officer.

In spite of our handing over formal letters, the VC, after taking a lot of time and communicating with the FF team—which was made to sit outside the HCU campus—finally refused to meet the FF team and directed the FF team to communicate with the Professor-in-charge, Public Relations and Official Spokesperson of the HCU that he had appointed the day before.

When this Professor-in-charge, Mr. Vipin Srivastava was contacted he responded stating that he could not meet the FF team but only speak to them on the phone! Mr. Srivastava was appointed VC in charge when Dr. Appa Rao was to proceed on long leave, but could not take charge as he did not enjoy the trust of the faculty and students; Prof. Periasamy had to take charge instead. This was also the result of the FF team's effort to meet the Registrar and the Chief Security Officer, which conveyed clearly that none of the HCU's senior functionaries were in any mood to discuss the happenings on campus under any circumstances.

This also explains why the FF team was not allowed by the HCU security officers, who were manning the main gate of the university, to even enter the university campus.

A sense of fear was amplified with the order passed by the Registrar's office on March 23, preventing the entry of outside persons—the print and electronic media, and political, social and student groups/individuals into the campus—due to the prevailing extraordinary situation on the university campus.

We are of the strong opinion that this was only an effort to try to keep the university a closed 'fortress', with no external visitor allowed to meet faculty or students on campus and see for themselves the place of occurrence of the campus violence let loose on the March 22. This further reveals that the officials of the University of Hyderabad had more to hide than reveal in the violence on its campus on March 22.

The team was able to meet representatives from the student community, the faculty, the police (DCP K. Kartikeyan, ACP and Inspector), and the State Home Minister.

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Key interim findings:

1. The Vice-Chancellor, Mr. Appa Rao, has a registered case pending against him under SC/ST Prevention of Atrocities Act, 1989, in connection with Rohith Vemula's suicide. No action has been taken in this regard.

2. His unexpected re-entry into campus was pre-planned, with details chalked out with student and faculty supporters, which triggered the escalation of violence.

3. It is not transparent what the role of the Ministry of Human Resource Development in his reinstatement and in this process has been.

4. Interim situation: It was established that the University was working smoothly and with regularity in the interim phase, while Professor Periasamy was Vice-Chancellor. The routine at the University was maintained, including proceedings within the University's Academic Council. Students and faculty have confirmed their satisfaction in this regard. Even during the indefinite leave of Mr. Appa Rao, the students' association, faculty members and various political parties continued their struggle within the campus, raising various demands.

5. It has also been observed that the Union Minister, Shri Dattatreya, and student Susheel Kumar have not been arrested after they were booked for non-bailable offences. The inaction of the state and central governments has contributed to this situation.

6. Disruption on campus: The return of the Vice-Chancellor Appa Rao, who had proceeded on indefinite leave, triggered the disruption of peace on campus. According to the home minister, VC Appa Rao expressed a desire to the Minister to return to the campus, but was strongly advised against it by the police commissioner and the home minister, saying that it would cause disruption at the University. In spite of the Home Ministry's advice, Appa Rao chose to return to the university.

7. Police's role: People arrested were not presented before a magistrate within 24 hours as required by law.

8. Women students: Widespread assault of women students, abusive language and threats to rape women students were heard from the police. Statements targeted towards minority students, describing them as 'terrorists', were also heard.

9. The police could have given bail, but instead the students and faculty were remanded in judicial custody.

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The Fact-Finding Team gives the following recommendations to restore normalcy and peace to the University:

1. In the best academic interest, in order to restore a peaceful environment to the University, and to ensure a fair investigation can be completed, Vice-Chancellor Mr. Appa Rao must be suspended pending the outcome of the investigation.

2. Police need to step up their response in dealing with the cases filed with efficiency and due legal process, both in the case of the VC and the arrested students.

3. Normalcy must be restored immediately to the University. Free mobility must be allowed in and out of the University; it must be brought back to regular functioning. This is essential for the academic health of the University, which has suffered significantly.

4. A criminal investigation should immediately be conducted and action taken against the police who have wilfully neglected their duty under Section 4 of the SC/ST Prevention of Atrocities Amendment Act 2016.

5. The State Government should play a facilitating role in bringing back normalcy to the campus.

6. The Central Government must swiftly and efficiently ensure a smooth transition of the leadership of the University in the best interest of the primary objective of the University, that of academic excellence, by replacing the Vice-Chancellor, in close consultation with University students and faculty.

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The team visited HCU on March 24 and 25, 2016.  First published by Round Table India.