At the Indian Institute of Technology Madras (IIT-M), where Kerala student Fathima Latheef allegedly committed suicide, protests against the administration by political parties and students' organisations continue unabated. They demand the institution's powers-that-be should address the problems that have been leading to students' suicides.
Fathima, who hailed from Kollam in Kerala, allegedly committed suicide by hanging herself in her hostel room on November 9. This was the fifth student suicide on the IIT-M campus in the past two years. Fathima’s parents and siblings met Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami on Friday pleading for a fair investigation into the incident. They also demanded the arrest of her professor Sudarshan Padmanabhan, who, they alleged, was responsible for her death.
Two students – Azhar Moideen, who pursues MA English Studies and Justin Joseph, a research scholar in International Affairs, on Monday began a hunger strike on the campus. Both Moideen and Joseph represent ChintaBAR, an informal students’ body recognised by the IIT-M.
The hunger strike began after the administration failed to act on ChintaBAR's ultimatum to conduct a fair, transparent and time-bound internal investigation into the issues plaguing the campus by 10am on Monday. Fathima's parents too had demanded, in their letter to the IIT-M director, an internal probe into the behaviour of the faculty.
ChintaBAR also sought a survey by an external agency on the issues faced by the students and formation of complaints and grievances cell in all departments. The official students' body – Students' Legislative Council – had raised these demands several months ago.
Why hunger strike
What angered the students was IIT administration's offer of looking at only one of their demands. "The dean had reportedly told the ChintaBAR leaders that the demand for an external probe was under consideration. He did not respond to other demands. We launched the hunger strike since all our demands have not been met,” said Moideen. “We will call off the strike only if the IIT-M gives assurance to students that all their demands will be met,” he adedd.
Meanwhile, the letters written by the IIT-M director to Fathima's family in Kerala and police in Chennai were said to be contradictory in nature.
While the director reportedly apologised to Fathima’s family, he accused her family of tarnishing the image of the institution in his letter to the police.
Fathima’s brother Shameer S on Monday confirmed that his family had received a letter from the IIT-M director. “In the letter, the director apologised for the family’s loss and mentioned that the family need not hesitate to seek an inquiry from the institution,” said Shameer. “We also heard that he sent another letter to the police from the institution. We heard in that letter he accused the family of deviating the investigation. How can the institute issue such contradictory statements?”
Onmanorama could not independently verify the letters sent to the family or the police. When contacted the Kotturpuram police station where the case was registered, the police said the case has been transferred to the Crime Branch and that they did not receive any letter from the institution.
(S Senthalir is an independent journalist based in Chennai)