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On January 17, 2016, Rohith Chakravarathi Vemula, a Dalit research scholar at the University of Hyderabad in southern India hung himself from a ceiling fan in his friend’s hostel room. Two weeks earlier, Rohith and four of his friends, all Dalits and associated with a campus political group called the Ambedkar Students’ Association (ASA), moved out of their hostel rooms after being suspended by the university administration.

They were allowed to attend classes and other academic sessions, but were barred from entering the hostels and common areas in groups and participating in the students’ union elections. Lacking the means to afford private housing, they pitched a camp in front of the university shopping centre and sat on a relay hunger strike protesting their ‘social boycott’. They named their camp ‘Velivada’ or Dalit Ghetto.

The ASA and the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), the student wing of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and ASA’s main rival on the campus, have had frequent clashes including when ASA supported the Kiss of Love protest and condemned the ABVP’s disruption of a documentary screening in Delhi University.

But the entire sequence of events that led up to Rohith’s suicide was set in motion after ASA organized protests in August 2015 against the hanging of Yakub Memon, who was convicted of being a conspirator in the Mumbai bomb blasts of 1993.

Susheel Kumar Nandanam, an ABVP leader, had accused the five suspended students of assaulting him following which the Vice-Chancellor constituted an inquiry committee. Students allege that the university’s final decision to bar the students from hostels and public spaces on January 03, 2015 was heavily influenced by a series of letters written by union ministers Bandaru Dattatreya and Smriti Irani describing the ASA students as “anti-national” and “casteist”.

The university was rocked by protests soon after Rohith’s suicide, with angry students terming it yet another case of discrimination against Dalits in the campus.

January 2016.