UoH students protest destruction of portraits of Dalit icons at Rohith Vemula's 'Velivada' memorial

The portraits had been set up at 'Velivada', a space on the campus dedicated to Rohit Vemula, which students have been using as a stage for protest and dissent
The before and after pictures of Velivada
The before and after pictures of Velivada

Students from the University of Hyderabad were shocked to find the portraits of many prominent leaders who have contributed to the Dalit movement had been pulled down. These leaders include Dr BR Ambedkar, Jyothirao Phule, Periyar, Manyavar Kanshi Ram and others. The portraits were installed in 2016 in 'Velivada' in memory of Rohith Vemula, the Dalit scholar who protested in that space and chose to call his protest by that name. Vemula eventually committed suicide — an event that kept the varsity at the precipice of chaos for months.

The word 'Velivada' is a Telugu term that literally translates to Dalit ghetto where the population is usually pushed to live in the outskirts of the towns. In 2016, during his protest, Vemula held a sign with the name. After his passing, the students have continued to hold the space dear and have maintained it. Vemula's statue was also erected in the same space after his death while the portraits of the other leaders remained. After three years, the portraits had become quite weathered which is why the students had replaced it on January 3 in preparation for Vemula's memorial event. But on January 5, they were shocked to find that the posters had been pulled out.

Unfair move: How Velivada looked after the portraits were pulled down 

"Velivada was set up on January 4, 2016 — the day that Vemula started his protests. So we noticed the posters were in a bad condition, so we replaced them so it would be ready for the memorial we have planned for this year," said Samson Gidla, president, Ambedkar Students Association. Samson and a few other members of the ASA had received notices about the posters, "The security guards handed it to us but we refused to accept it because it was not from the dean but the registrar, which is not the procedure here."

Samson said that the day they were installing the posters, security guards arrived at the spot and took some pictures. "The next day, everything was completely destroyed. The security guards are saying the administration did not do it but we're convinced it's the doing of the administration," he said. The students have launched a protest and will march to the administrative building and demand an explanation as well as the reinstallation of the posters, Samson said. 

Not giving-up: The students have placed the portraits again and are demanding that the administration 'rebuild' Velivada

'Velivada' is very close to the hearts of the students, "It holds great significance to us. It is here that we remember Vemula and it is here that we hold our student meetings and our demonstrations. It brings us together and now we will ensure that the posters are out back in their rightful place. The administration should apologise for this act," Samson said.

When asked if they suspect students with opposing ideas could have done so instead of the administration, they said they had no such suspicion. "The students in the student union currently are those with opposing ideologies but we don't believe they've done it," Samson said.

The students are currently protesting in front of the administrative office. 

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