Striking similarities to Rohith Vemula’s case at the Central University of Kerala

18 October 2018
On 9 October, after Akhil Thazhath, a former student of the Central University of Kerala, attempted suicide, around 300 students of the institute staged a protest outside the administrative block.
Subramanian N

On the morning of 9 October, Akhil Thazhath, a former student of the Central University of Kerala, in the state’s northernmost district of Kasaragod, cut his wrists at the institute’s helipad grounds. “I cannot express the pain, cruelty and neglect that I have experienced,” he had written in a suicide note discovered in his pocket, with a blood stain on one corner. “Vice Chancellor Gopakumar, Registrar Radhakarishnan Nair, Pro-Vice Chancellor K Jayaprasad, Dr Mohan Kunder, are not people who only harassed me as an individual. They are anti-social elements as well.”

Three days later, the university filed a petition in the Kerala High Court stating that the police had failed to provide protection to the administration from student protests. The petition accused several students, including Thazhath, of a “wilful attempt to cause bodily harm” to Jayaprasad, the pro-vice chancellor of the university. It also stated that Thazhath had “created a small wound on his hand,” which his friends dubbed as a suicide attempt. Thazhath’s discharge report, which was issued by the psychiatric department of District Hospital, Kanhangad, in Kasaragod, records that he was admitted with a “wrist slash.”

His friends told me that Thazhath was driven to attempting suicide due to sustained harassment by the university administration. It began on 25 June, when the CUK issued a suspension order against him, claiming that he had written “abusive and filthy words” about the administration on Facebook at 3.46 pm on 22 June. In the petition, the university attached a screenshot of the first few lines of a post by Thazhath, which contained expletives against members of the administration. Thazhath, however, denied making any such post at the specified time and date. The screenshot in the petition is undated.

Thazhath was dismissed from the university in September. According to Subramanian N, a student pursuing a master’s in international relations at the CUK and Thazhath’s friend, he had been morose since then and unsure of how to move on from the CUK. After his dismissal, Thazhath was prohibited from entering the university premises—effectively preventing him from collecting the certificates for completing his bachelor’s degree. A day before his suicide attempt, Thazhath had talked about Rohith Vemula, a PhD scholar at the University of Hyderabad whose suicide in January 2016 had led to protests against caste discrimination erupting across the country. That day, Thazhath shared a poem on Facebook:

The ones who fought for a day are good people
The ones who fought for several days are very good people
The ones who protested all their life...they are the essence and the substance of the fight.
The ones who fought even in death...they are the time and the vision of the fight.

Aathira Konikkara is a reporting fellow at The Caravan.

Keywords: Rohith Vemula caste University of Hyderabad caste discrimination student politics Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh All India Students' Federation