It was during my 8th standard summer vacation if I remember it right. I along with my uncle went out to walk in the village. After walking few blocks we came across an area which had shoddy tent like structures. You could barely call them houses as they were built with straw, wood and mud. I asked my uncle, “Who lives here, in these ‘houses'”. “This is the place where ‘untouchables’ live, it’s called ‘velivada'” he replied. I not knowing who the ‘untouchables’ were thought they were some kind of ‘diseased’ people forced to live away from the village. It took me many years to realise that the disease which made them live as outcasts is caste. A ‘Velivada’ is a ghetto where the ostracised and socially boycotted dalit masses are forced to live. They are regarded as ‘polluters’ and aren’t allowed to access the roads or the water wells by the upper/dominant castes of the village. Their mere shadow or presence is considered polluting.
In the last week of December 2015, a “punishment order” was issued against five Dalit research scholars was issued by the University of Hyderabad’s administration. It ordered for hostel expulsion order and banned the “entry of students in groups to certain public spaces”. As a protest a ‘Velivada’ in the middle of the Shopping complex on campus. The Shopping complex is a place where formal and informal “intellectual discussions” take place over a cup of tea or juice. The ‘Velivada’ stood there for days unnoticed until the unfortunate day where one of the socially boycotted research scholar Rohith Vemula ended his life. Spontaneous protests erupted allover the campus. All roads led to the ‘Velivada’ which turned into the protest site. Even after the death of their friend many including the remaining four research scholars started living there. Students slept in solidarity fearing that the ‘Velivada’ would be removed and destroyed.
The protests continued on. Both the university administration and the state tried their best to disrupt the protests by resorting to various methods. The ‘Velivada’ witnessed another historical event titled ‘Ekalavya Speaks‘ where students spoke about the discrimination they faced at various points of their lives, in classrooms, in public places, in labs etc. The ‘Velivada’ not just turned into a symbol of resistance but it stood there as a reminder of discrimination and violence carried out on millions of Dalits languishing in countless ‘Velivadas’ across the country. The dominant caste nexus of both the Vice Chancellor and the Registrar couldn’t tolerate such a structure existing on campus. On May 20, an atrocious order was issued which termed the structure and the tents around it to be “illegal” and “unauthorised”.
The Joint Action Committee for Social Justice (JAC) which is leading the protests condemned the order and burnt its copies in protest. In the early hours of May 28, the University security personnel barged into the Velivada, pulled down the protest tent erected by the JAC, tore and vandalised the banners containing photos of Babasaheb Ambedkar. Fresh protests erupted over the desecration of the protest site and stealing of banners and photos. Even after a blockade and constant demand from by the JAC, the material stolen from the protest site wasn’t returned back. As their requests to get back the tent yielded no results, the JAC members gave call to the students on and professors community on campus to donate their old clothes for the preparation of a a new tent. The students gathered around the ‘Velivada’ with the raw material collected and started to stitch the tent. As a reaction to this a huge deployment of security personnel was made around the ‘Velivada’ where the personnel warned the students not to indulge in the preparation of “unauthorised” structures. The students resisted their attempts to confiscate the raw materials.
Never did a structure terrify the ruling establishment as the ‘Velivada’ is to the Bramhanical forces on and off campus. A ‘Velivada’ is a common sight in almost all the villages of India, where dalits live in inhuman conditions with no proper water or electricity. Basic human rights are denied to them almost every day. These countless ‘Velivadas’ tell the story of the centuries old hindu social order i.e. caste. Tales of violence and discrimination emanate from every household. The successive governments have failed to address the issue of caste discrimination and violence prevailing in every sphere of life. Be it the government offices or institutions of higher education, discrimination against the marginalised sections i.e. Dalits, Bahujans, Adivasis and queer community is still prevalent. Each day the newspapers carry a news of an atrocity against these marginalised sections. Those countless ‘Velivadas’ spread across the country are the silent spectators of these atrocities. There is nothing different about this ‘Velivada’ inside the University which has witnessed mindless witch hunt and repression against the students. The only difference is it stands strong in the middle of an elite higher education institute, which is located in a metropolitan city which like any other urban localities chants the cliched phrase, “Caste is invisible”.
The defence of this ‘Velivada’ is the need of the hour when the ruling class is bent on erasing the memory of an atrocity committed right inside this elite institution. It is a democratic space of dissent where a struggle against caste based discrimination is being waged. It is protests rising from this very ‘Velivada’ brought the discussion of caste back to the forefront. Therefore, it becomes the right of progressive forces to defend this space from being demolished and the dissenting voices to be silenced.