I haven’t posted about the events on campus before now, because I don’t have the words to describe them. I thought this was not the space for it and I was not the person to say it. But after watching videos of the events that occurred this week, I can’t, in good conscience, continue to ignore them. I thought I was being respectful by not commenting on something that I was not directly involved in. I thought I did not know enough to make a sound judgement or provide a coherent response. But by editing my experience here I did a disservice to all of you reading my blog, and I sincerely apologize. I want to preface this by saying I am a visitor to this community, and I can’t pretend to understand everything that is involved or pretend that my voice makes a difference. All I can do is to help share the voices of those who can make a difference, so their efforts do not remain invisible.
When I first came to campus, I was aware of the controversy surrounding the expulsion of five Dalit students that occurred last semester. This past January, one of the students, Rohith Vemula, committed suicide in one of the hostels on campus. This led to student protests demanding the resignation of the Vice Chancellor, who the students held as responsible for Rohith’s death. These protests resulted in the cancellation of classes for two weeks, and the Vice Chancellor taking a leave of absence. This week, he returned to campus, which led to more protests that were violently disbanded by police. The administration shut off internet, water, and electricity, and the non-teaching staff refused to serve food in the hostels. Many protesters were arrested, and some hospitalized after being beaten by police. Today, those students who were arrested have been granted bail, and it was announced that a panel will be set up to discuss students’ concerns. This issue is far from resolved, however, and I’m sure it will continue to evolve as time goes on. If you would like to read more about these incidents, I have included links to news articles that I have read as these events unfolded, and virtually every Indian news source has covered this story.
What happened is truly tragic, and my heart goes out to everyone affected by these events. I cannot describe the atmosphere of this campus during the last few months, and I am truly sorry for what everyone has been through. But I also am sincerely impressed by the activism that I have seen on this campus. The level of participation and dedication that the students here have demonstrated in the face of opposition is truly inspiring. I am deeply sorry that these events have taken place, but I am proud of everyone here who refuses to let them be meaningless. The nation has taken notice of their outcry, and hopefully the world will too. It frustrates me that my friends back home have only heard of this from me, when my friends here know a great deal about news in the US. What is happening in Hyderabad is something that people should be talking about.
It also frustrates me that many people who I have discussed these events with do not see the side of the story I see. It plays into misguided notions of India as corrupt, violent, and backwards, which is simply not true. Yes there is corruption here, as there is corruption everywhere. Yes there is violence and police brutality here, as there is violence and police brutality everywhere. But of all of the many diverse characteristics of India, I would not chose those two to describe my experience here. India is no worse or better than any other country; it faces its own struggles and has its own strengths, but often people see the struggles of another country and focus only on those weaknesses. But after actually being here it’s hard to see anything but its strengths. If these past few months have taught me anything, they’ve taught me about the passion and activism that exists on this campus, and the students’ determination to persevere in spite of extreme circumstances. They’ve taught me about compassion and how to sympathize with the pain of a community you have only just joined. The students here have reminded me of how important it is to stand up for what you believe in, and to not back down no matter what opposition you face. I am deeply saddened that such action is required of the activists here, but they have responded courageously to this tragedy. India is not backward, far from it, and I am proud to study here and in awe of the amazing work that is being done on this campus.