The 18th convocation of University of Hyderabad witnessed a rare happening when Sunkanna Velpula, a PhD holder of the varsity refused to receive the degree from Vice-Chancellor P. Appa Rao. The gesture was made in solidarity with Rohith Vemula, a Dalit student who committed suicide in the varsity on January 17 this year. Mr. Velpula was one among the four Dalit research scholars who were expelled from the varsity hostel along with Rohith Vemula. The move , which shocked not just the V-C, but also most people in the audience, was made when P. Mohanty, dean, School of Humanities called all five PhD holders in Philosophy to receive their degrees. Mr. Velpula who promptly walked on to the dais expressed his dissent only after he came face to face with the Vice Chancellor. While Mr. Rao who was apparently taken aback and tried to convince Mr. Velpula to accept the certificate, the latter stood with his hands folded, refusing to budge. Mr. Velpula accepted the certificate only after the vice-chancellor summoned Pro-Vice Chancellor Vipin Srivastava to do the honours. Speaking to The Hindu, Mr. Velpula said he did not receive the certificate from the V-C as it would be an injustice to Rohith Vemula’s family who are still demanding the arrest of all the culprits who drove him to suicide.
The Vice-Chancellor who still has cases including the abetment of suicide and Prevention of SC/ST Atrocities Act slapped on him “does not have the moral right to grant degrees to students,” Mr. Velpula added. “Besides, students of UoH are still fighting for justice. I decided not to take the certificate from the V-C to express my dissent against an academic system which is oppressive towards the marginalised,” said Mr. Velpula, who recently joined for post-doctoral studies in the Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay. Students who are part of justice for Rohith Vemula campaign welcomed the doctorate holder’s decision with cheers. The 36-year- old Sunkanna Velpula is a native of Kurnool who has been student of UoH since 2008 (MA and PhD). Meanwhile, the video and pictures of Mr. Velpula’s refusal
went viral on social media by Saturday evening as thousands of students across the country shared the same.