Statement from Sri Lanka in solidarity with protesting students of India

We, the undersigned organizations, civil society activists, academics and students from Sri Lanka vehemently condemn the institutional murder on 17th January 2015 of Dalit research scholar and activist Rohith Vemula of the Ambedkar Students Association (ASA) of the University of Hyderabad (UoH), India and the violence meted out against those seeking justice for Rohith’s death.

Earlier this year, five (5) Dalit students — Rohith Vemula, Dontha Prashanth, Vijay Kumar, Seshaiah Chemudugunta and V. Sunkanna — had their entry into hostels, administration buildings and public areas restricted by the administration of the University of Hyderabad and later expelled after sustained pressure from local politicians and the Ministry of Human Resource Development, over what appear to be clearly trumped up charges relating to an incident that occurred in August 2015[1][2][3][4]. After a prolonged sleep- in strike protesting against unjust actions by the University and condemning casteist discrimination and harassment, Rohith Vemula died by suicide on January 17th. However, Rohith was not the first Dalit student to die by suicide as a result of systematic caste discrimination at the University of Hyderabad, or at a higher education institution in India[5]. Since 2008, as many as 12 Dalit students, including Dalit scholars Senthil Kumar and Madari Venkatesh[6], have reportedly[7] died by suicide at the University of Hyderabad alone. Further, the harassment of organizations such as the Ambedkar Students Association (ASA) and Ambedkar- Periyar Study Circle (APSC) in recent years, and the ostracization of Dalit scholars[8] bring into sharp focus the systematic nature of caste oppression. We condemn discrimination of students and staff based on caste, ethnicity, religion, gender and sexual orientation in higher educational institutions in India, and abhor the majoritarian imposition of Hindutva hegemony on Dalits and other numerical minorities.

For decades Sri Lanka has witnessed persecution, oppression and violence borne from a hierarchical State structure, built to consolidate a dominant ethno- religious community’s domination. As people who have shouldered the cost of majoritarian political ideologies we stand in solidarity with our brothers and sisters protesting the most visible rise of majoritarian politics in India in recent times.

While acknowledging that Rohith was not the first to fall victim to Hindutva tyranny, we hope that the struggle that he was part of, would now gain national importance and not be subdued by the narrative of the State and criminalized by the establishment, or be appropriated by vested interests pursuing their own ends.

Further, we stand in solidarity with protesting students and staff of the UoH, the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), Delhi and other higher educational institutions around India. Freedom of speech and dissent must be at the vanguard of any democratic society and must be cherished and nurtured for a democratic society to flourish. We condemn the arrest, on sedition charges, of Kanhaiya Kumar (President, JNU Students Union) and the violent assault on him and media personnel recently. We are outraged by the hounding of other members of the JNUSU, including Umar Khalid and Anirban Bhattacharya (General-Secretary, JNUSU).

We also note, with sadness, the role of certain media organizations in suffocating debate and inciting violence against protesting students. We recognize all too well the stifling of dissent through criminalization, under the guise of ‘patriotism’ and ‘treason’, and condemn the politically motivated witch hunt to which student leaders, staff of the JNU and other institutions, and journalists have now been subjected to.

We are also able to draw eerie parallels to the criminalization of groups, individuals and opinions related to, but not limited to, the Dalit struggle and Kashmiri self- determination to events in this island where Tamils, journalists, activists and academics have been branded and continue to be labelled as “terrorists”, “traitors” and “extremists”. Thus, we believe that it is no coincidence that Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), Delhi, its scholars, and alumni — many of whom have constantly and peacefully advocated for Kashmiri self- determination and continue to condemn State violence there — have come under renewed attack by the State, establishment and media organs.

Finally, we wish to state that it would be futile and counterproductive to frame the current protest movement as one concerning only freedom of speech or dissent. We believe that deep seated democratic reform, honest debate and, vitally, the recognition of collective rights, socially and politically, of its various marginalized peoples would be essential first steps in dismantling Hindutva hegemony, caste oppression, and discrimination based on gender and sexual orientation. These, we should remind ourselves, are the collective lessons of oppressed and marginalised people all over the world and in particular in the South Asian communities.

Signatories,

Individuals:

1. Alesha Fonseka — The Grassrooted Trust

2. Anberiya Hanifa

3. Arun Rodrigo- York University

4. B. Gowthaman

5. Balasingham Skanthakumar — Social Scientists Association (Colombo, Sri Lanka)

6. Bhoomi Harendran — The Grassrooted Trust

7. Christine Perera

8. D. H. S. Maithripala, Ph. D — Faculty of Engineering, University of Peradeniya, Sri Lanka

9. Dhammika De Silva — United Socialist Party

10. Dinesha Samararatne

11. Dr. Janaki Jayawardena — Department of History, University of Colombo

12. Dr. Muzzammil Cader — Executive Director, SAMADANA/M, Centre for Promotion of Nonviolence

13. Dr. Nirmal Ranjith Dewasiri — Department of History, University of Colombo, Sri Lanka

14. Dr. Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu — Executive Director, Centre for Policy Alternatives, Colombo, Sri Lanka

15. Dr. Primal Fernando — Former President (2015), Federation of University Teachers’ Associations (FUTA)

16. Dr. Rohini Hensman — Writer and Independent scholar

17. Dr. S. Arivalzahan- University of Jaffna, Sri Lanka

18. Dr. S. Kumaravel

19. Dr. Sunil Wijesiriwardena

20. Dr. T. Balamurukan — Jaffna

21. Dr. Zulfika Ismail — Toronto, Canada

22. Emil van der Poorten — Community Organizer in support of Human Rights

23. Faizun Zackariya — Citizens’ Voice for Justice and Peace

24. Gajen Mahendra

25. Gajendrakumar Ponnambalam — President, Tamil National People’s Front (TNPF) & General Secretary, All Ceylon Tamil Congress (ACTC)

26. Gayathri Gamage

27. Gowri Koneswaran

28. Hans Billimoria — The Grassrooted Trust

29. Harean Hettiarachchi

30. Harini Amarasuriya — Department of Social Studies, Open University of Sri Lanka

31. Herman Kumara

32. Ian Ferdinands

33. K. S. Ratnavale — Attorney at Law

34. Kamani Jinadasa — Consultant — Gender, Child Protection and Rights of PLHIV

35. Kanarupan Kularatnarajah

36. Kumaran Nadesan

37. Kumaravadivel Guruparan — University of Jaffna, Sri Lanka

38. Kumari Kumaragamage

39. Kusal Perera — Journalist and political critic

40. Marisa De Silva

41. Melisha Yapa

42. Mohammed Mahuruf — Chairman, PEaCE

43. Navaranjini Nadarajah

44. Nicola Perera

45. Nidharshana. T

46. Nila Loganathan

47. Nimmi Gowrinathan

48. Nirmalani Perera — The Grassrooted Trust

49. Nishan de Mel — Director, Verité Research, Sri Lanka, and friend of JNU

50. P. N. Singham

51. P. Selvaratnam

52. Paba Deshapriya — The Grassrooted Trust

53. Prabu Deepan

54. Prof. Jayadeva Uyangoda — University of Colombo, Sri Lanka

55. Prof. Jayantha Seneviratne

56. R.M.B Senanayake (Retired C.C.S)

57. Rakshitha Hitibandara — University of Sri Jayawardenepura, Sri Lanka & University of Glasgow

58. Rev. Fr. Elil Rajendram

59. Rev. Fr. Jeyabalan Croos

60. Rev. Fr. M. V. E. Ravichandran

61. Rev. Fr. S. D. P. Selvan

62. Rev. Thirunavukarau Dixon

63. Rev. Thurairatnam Jeyanesan

64. Rev. V. David Nirushikan

65. Riza Yehiya

66. Ruhanie Perera — Performer and Lecturer

67. Ruki Fernando

68. S. Sunthareswaran

69. Sampath Samarakoon

70. Sanjana Hattotuwa

71. Selvarajah Rajasegar — Activist

72. Shehan de Alwis​

73. Sheila Richards

74. Sherine Xavier

75. Sithumini Rathnamalala

76. Srinath Perera

77. Sujeetha Selvakkumaran Ph. D.

78. T. Mathuri — Attorney at Law

79. Thiagi Piyadasa

80. Thiyagaraja Waradas — Lecturer in International Relations, University of Colombo, Sri Lanka

81. Uda Deshapriya — The Grassrooted Trust

82. Udaya Kalupathirana

83. Upul Kumara Wickramasinghe — Researcher and Social Activist

84. V. Puvitharan — Attorney at Law

85. V.V. Ganeshananthan

Organizations:

86. Centre for Human Rights and Development (CHRD)

87. INFORM Human Rights Documentation Centre

88. People’s Movement for Nonviolence

89. Sri Lankan National Fisheries Solidarity Movement (NAFSO)

90. Tamil Civil Society Forum (TCSF)

91. Vadamaradchy Christian Union

[1] “Injustice In University of Hyderabad: Social Boycott of 5 Dalit Research Scholars”. http://roundtableindia.co.in/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=8419:injustice-and-social-boycott-against-5-dalit-research-scholars-at-university-of-hyderabad&catid=129:events-and-activism&Itemid=195

[2] “Social Boycott Of Dalit Scholars: Locating Caste In Modern Context”. http://www.countercurrents.org/amala080116.htm

[3] “Violation of Constitutional Rights of 5 Dalit scholars By University of Hyderabad administration: Fact Finding Report”. http://roundtableindia.co.in/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=8432:violation-of-constitutional-rights-of-5-dalit-scholars-by-university-of-hyderabad-administration-fact-finding-report&catid=119&Itemid=132

[4] “The Suicide Of Dalit Scholar Rohith Vemula: A Caste Instigated Political Murder”. http://www.countercurrents.org/samar180116.htm

[5] “List of Dalit students committing suicide in last four years in India’s premier institutions”. https://thedeathofmeritinindia.wordpress.com/2011/04/25/list-of-dalit-students-committing-suicide-in-last-four-years-in-indias-premier-institutions/

[6] “Report on Recent Dalit Student Suicides at University of Hyderabad”. http://roundtableindia.co.in/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=7079:report-on-recent-dalit-student-suicides-at-university-of-hyderabad&catid=122:atrocities&Itemid=138

[7] “Suicides of Dalit students not new in Hyderabad University”. http://www.hindustantimes.com/india/suicides-of-dalit-students-not-new-in-hyderabad-university/story-cbPCCWPAF98q22uDihzb9L.html

[8] “Ancient prejudice, modern inequality”. http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/lead/dalit-student-rohith-vemula-suicide-ancient-prejudice-modern-inequality/article8124315.ece