The Justice for Rohith movement has faced violence and university crackdowns, and a conspicuous silence from mainstream media – but simultaneously, it has been documented, spoken about, and shared online and even live-streamed by students from the university. It has been a powerful, radical movement that has questioned caste discrimination within universities and colleges, academia and research, and at the hands of those supposed to upholding so-called ‘standards of excellence’ and ‘merit’ in these universities. The five students who were socially boycotted and ostracized from their academic spaces and hostels chose to create a makeshift space and called it the velivada.
Today, months later, after the institutional murder of Rohith Vemula, and the violent arrests of the students and teachers in March, the velivada remains a site for protest, resistance and defiance of a casteist university vice chancellor and administration. It is also a space from which larger questions have been asked of the nation-state, of caste hierarchies, and of not only those who arrested the students, but also those who remained silent when the arrests and blockade happened.
The velivada symbolises the social exclusion that the purportedly ‘inclusive’ public space of the university practises – and the double standards that were in place when the students went to the Vice Chancellor’s lodge to protest his return and were told it was ‘private’ property. Rohith, Dontha Prasanth, Vijay Kumar, Sheshaiah Chemudugunta and Sunkanna Velpula were denied this very public space that the university promises to its citizens (or ‘inmates’ now, as one circular from HCU recently said) by way of explicit casteist social boycott, while Appa Rao continues to hide out on ‘private property’. As Professor Ratnam too has pointed out, Appa Rao never came and paid his respects after Rohith’s death, never entered the velivada, and the only reason why the administration now wants to see, really see the velivada – is to destroy it. Appa Rao has multiple criminal cases against him – and is still free to walk around. The demands of the movement – for a Rohith Act, for the proper implementation of the Thorat Committee Recommendations, a public apology from the university, and others – have not been addressed by the administration.
Photographer Javed Iqbal photographed the velivada over the course of few days – speeches, performances, conversations, and the slogans, photos and quotes that make up this space. This movement may not be televised by corporate owned media, but it has seen an extraordinary depth of self-documentation. Some of the first reports of the blockade, denial of food and the cutting off of the Wi-Fi came from statuses made by students on Facebook, like the ones by Vaikhyari Aryat (compiled here at RoundtableIndia), videos by DalitCamera Ambedkar and photos by Avnish Kumar, a student at HCU who has also made a compilation of videos titled “This Revolution Will Never Be Televised“. For official updates on the current situation, follow the Joint Action Committee for Social Justice’s page.