Even as anger surrounding the death of Fathima Latheef, a first year student at IIT Madras, has been growing over the past week, IIT Madras has issued a statement saying the reputation of the institute was getting tarnished due to social media trolling.
"The social media trolling of the Institute, faculty members and students and trial by the media, even before the conclusion of the police investigation, is gravely demoralizing the students, faculty members and staff as well as their families, and tarnishing the reputation of one of the finest Institutes in the Country. Our faculty is known for its high quality, integrity and fairness,” IIT said, adding that the institute was cooperating with the authorities investigating Fathima’s death.
The premier institute had come under much criticism, especially from the parents of the young woman. They alleged that the institute had been non-responsive to the suicide and feared no action would be taken against professors who harassed Fathima. Meanwhile, students of the institute staged a protest on campus on Thursday in front of the Central Lecture Theatre. The students demanded an external expert body to carry out a mental health study among students on campus. On Thursday, AK Viswanathan, Commissioner of Police, Chennai, announced that the case has been transferred to the Central Crime Branch. The students asked the institute to fully cooperate with the investigation and stand by Fathima’s parents.
According to a submission made by the students to the Director, “The tragic death of Fathima Lathief has come as a shock to the student community in IIT Madras. However, the inaction of the administration regarding the structural issues that have led to more and more suicides is appalling and must be protested against.”
Seeking a safer academic space for the students, they asked that the Student Legislative Council resolution from last semester be implemented. “Implementation in full of the SLC resolution from last semester which asked the IIT Madras administration to set up a body of outside experts to study the overall mental wellbeing of the students in the institute and on the effectiveness of the existing platforms and mechanisms to tackle all the issues faced by students in the campus. The said body should include psychologists, mental health experts, sociologists, educationists, faculty of IITM and other professional stakeholders and must look into the pressures faced by students, especially those from marginalised social backgrounds including SC/ST, women, and queer communities. The recommendations of the body should be acted upon.” it said.
Further, called for the setting up of a Complaints and Grievances Redressal Committee in all departments at the earliest to provide any needed assistance to the friends and classmates of Fathima.
Meanwhile, a Facebook post by Alfiya Jose, a student of the same Department has drawn attention to the Islamophobia experienced by Muslim students on campus.
“The entire discussion in the campus is moving towards mental health issues and trauma and angst of a teenager. Sadly, the point they fail to understand (I doubt whether it is their safe play) is the root cause for such a mental agony is not personal, rather structural and functional. We have failed to address the question of why suicides are so common in this campus and accept the fact that suicides are never personal rather social and political. The students have not just to perform well academically but constantly prove their ‘merit’ to even occupy the space of this higher education institution. The irony here is that everything has been minimalised to ‘certain group’s agenda of making this a religious issue’ and ‘the allegations Fathima made in her suicide note is not valid’ and so on. Let a proper, unbiased investigation take place and that is what we should all urge for at this point of time,” the student wrote.
Meanwhile, Fathima’s parents met Tamil Nadu DGP JK Tripathy on Friday. They have demanded a fair probe into her death. Her family had found Fathima’s suicide notes on her mobile phone. She had allegedly named professors from her department in the notes she wrote before her death in her mobile phone. Following the death, the Kotturpuram police had registered an FIR under section 174 of CrPC (Police to enquire and report on suicide, etc).