“Whenever death may surprise us, let it be welcome if our battle cry has reached even one receptive ear and another hand reaches out to take up our arms.”
The quote by Argentinian revolutionary Che Guevara on Jishnu Pranoy’s Facebook page assumes significance when students across Kerala take to the streets demanding justice for the engineering student who committed suicide in his hostel room on Friday.
A first year student of the Nehru Engineering College at Pambady near Thrissur, Jishnu was last seen by his hostel-mates around 6 pm. The 18-year-old was definitely in trauma. An hour earlier, he was summoned to the room of vice-principal Sakthivel. No one knows what happened in that room.
The chain of events that drove the teenager to death started in the afternoon when he was writing an examination. The invigilator, Praveen C.P., accused the student of cheating in the exam, Jishnu’s classmates told Onmanorama. None of them, however, would reveal their identity and for good reason.
The person who they hold partly accountable for their classmate’s death is their own teacher. Praveen, a teacher in the mechanical engineering department, even insulted and abused Jishnu in full view of the students in the hall. Jishnu was taken to the room of the vice-principal around 4:15 pm. That was the last time his classmates saw him.
APJ Abdul Kalam Technological University rules stipulate that the principal is in charge of the examinations in an affiliated college. Then why was Jishnu taken to the office of the vice-principal and why was he held up there for an-hour-and-a-half, his classmates ask.
The exam got over at 5 pm and the hostel is only a 10-minute walk from the college. But Jishnu reached hostel only by 6 pm.
He was silent when he reached the hostel. Other students at the hostel could sense something was wrong but no one dared to ask. There were no visible signs of physical torture but the teenager looked shattered.
Inmates of the hostel started to worry when Jishnu did not turn up for the daily evening roll call. They said they called out to him but there was no answer from his room. They then broke open the door and found him hanging inside the washroom. He had also slashed a vein on his wrist, as if to ensure his death. He was still alive though. They could find his pulse.
They rushed to their teacher Praveen, who happened to be in the hostel at the time. He, however, refused to help or take the dying student to the hospital, the students said. Perhaps he did not want to be held responsible for the tragedy, they added. One of the students volunteered to take their friend to the hospital in his own vehicle. But, it was too late.
Torture chamber in college?
The students who spoke to Onmanorama confirmed the legend that the college had what they called an 'idi muri' (torture chamber). The room of the public relations officer, the son of a former minister, doubled up as the feared place, they said.
“We do not know if Jishnu was taken there,” they added.
“We were afraid of the officer. That is why we did not raise our voice when we had bad experiences in the past,” they said.
The students also hinted at many other malpractices by the college. For one, the authorities used to herd the students and the teachers to the hospital its management owns whenever there was an inspection by the Indian Medical Association. They were assured of attendance for the day and free food for acting as patients.
“This college does not have anything called a parent teacher association. They do not encourage any association among parents of the students. Many of the parents have no idea what their wards go through in the college,” a student said.
Jishnu’s death points to an ominous tendency where the needle of suspicion turns to the teachers. The college authorities who are duty-bound to protect freshers from the tortures of sadistic senior students are themselves being accused here.
Jishnu was driven to suicide by the humiliation he suffered at the hands of his teacher, his classmates allege.
The student’s suicide has raised a storm, with all students joining the protest irrespective of their political affiliation. Jishnu’s parents expected a medal on his neck, not a noose. We can expect that the public outcry would not die down until the perpetrators are brought to justice.
(The students spoke to Onmanorama on condition of anonymity because they still fear retribution from the college authorities. We also contacted a teacher in the college but he refused to speak. However, he did not reject the students’ version or said it was wrong.)