Photo of Vinod Kumar, working in the Hindi department, and Kichala Praveen, a Safai Karmchari posted in the Lake View Guest House.
Photo of Vinod Kumar, working in the Hindi department, and Kichala Praveen, a Safai Karmchari posted in the Lake View Guest House.Pic- The Mooknayak

University of Hyderabad Faces Backlash Over Caste-Based Workplace Deaths

Students, the student union, and employees from the Hindi department have collectively called for the dismissal of both supervisors and demanded appropriate compensation for the families of the deceased.

New Delhi- The recent workplace deaths of two employees—one Dalit and one Christian—at the University of Hyderabad in the last five days have once again brought to light the deeply rooted caste oppression within the university. Vinod Kumar, an employee in the Hindi department from a Christian background, is reported to have died due to a heart attack and delayed provision of medical facilities. In contrast, Kichala Praveen, a Dalit sanitation worker at Lake View Guest House, committed suicide by consuming pesticide.

Both employees had reportedly been distressed by their supervisor for an extended period. Students, the student union, and employees from the Hindi department have collectively called for the dismissal of both supervisors and demanded appropriate compensation for the families of the deceased.

On December 15, a substantial number of employees and students met with the Registrar to report these incidents. Students revealed that, when they demanded the immediate dismissal of the sanitation supervisor, the registrar entered the office without responding. Frustrated by this irresponsive behaviour, students protested in the admin building around 6 pm.

The entire University of Hyderabad, bearing the title of Institute of Eminence, is reeling from the on-duty deaths of two employees within a week, both of whom had been working on a contract basis for an extended period.

Sources suggest that Vinod Kumar, the office employee, had been distressed since the appointment of the new head of the Hindi department, Alok Pandey, a month ago. It is alleged that Vinod Kumar, overwhelmed by extra work pressure, scolding, insulting behavior, and abusive language from Alok Pandey, had applied for a transfer within a month. The insensitivity towards the employee working under him was so profound that on the day of the incident, even when Vinod Kumar showed symptoms of a heart attack, Alok Pandey did not take necessary steps in time.

A student in the Hindi Department stated, "I had gone to the department to get the signature of the Head of the Department on a form. There in the office, I saw that Vinod Sir was unwell and still he was forced to work. I told the Head of the Department several times that his health had deteriorated, take him to the health center, but he did not listen to me and started scolding me. When his condition worsened, he came out of the office and quickly signed our form. He was nervous. After some time it came to light that Vinod sir is no more."

On the other hand, the head of the department told the students that when Vinod's health deteriorated, he gave him his pillow and asked him to lie down on the office table. A female professor also gave him a medicine called Diazine. Vinod was feeling uncomfortable, and in the same pain, he went towards the toilet and was found fallen there. He died there.

In the second incident, sanitization worker Kichala Praveen had reportedly been harassed by his supervisor Basanti Mallesh for a long time. It is alleged that the supervisor did not provide gloves, etc., to the workers for cleaning and assigned extra work. If any worker tried to complain, Basanti Mallesh would threaten to fire him. Fellow workers have testified to this.

This is not the first time that a student or employee has died at Hyderabad University. In 2016, Rohit Vemula, a student of the same university, committed suicide, shocking the entire nation. According to sources, the head of the Hindi department, Alok Pandey, was also implicated as the main accused in Rohit's suicide case. He was the Chief Proctor at that time.

The student organization at Hyderabad University wrote a letter to the Vice Chancellor and Registrar on December 15, demanding a fair investigation into the entire matter and action against the accused. In the letter, the students' organization outlined their 7-point demands:

1. A thorough and independent enquiry into the two deaths has to be initiated. The enquiry should also probe into the rampant caste discrimination faced by contractual workers.

2. Prof Alok Pandey, who serves as the Head of the Hindi Department, Mr Srinivas Rao, who serves as the Deputy Registrar (Sanitation) and Mr Basanthi Mallesh, who serves as the Section Officer (Sanitation), have to be removed from their position to ensure a free and fair enquiry.

3. Fair compensation has to be provided to the families of both workers who died at work. A permanent job has to be allocated to a member of both families.

4. Workers' salaries have to be paid on time, An accountability mechanism has to be framed to ensure the same.

5. The extraordinary pressure on sanitation workers and office staff is precipitated by the acute shortage of workers, which is prevalent across various departments. More workers have to be employed immediately, proportional to the work burden.

6. Dignified and safe working conditions have to be ensured for sanitation workers. The safety standards and the penalties have to be consistent with the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Senvengers & their Rehabilitation Act 2013 and Solid Waste Management (SWM) Rules 2016. The violation of the above constitutes a non- bailable offence cognizable under the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973.

7. Regularise all contractual workers

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