Days after his 19-year-old daughter, a class topper at the prestigious Indian Institute of Technology-Madras, killed herself in her hostel room in Chennai, Abdul Latheef has demanded a fair probe into the death of his eldest daughter. At a press conference on Tuesday, the distraught father expressed fears that his daughter Fathima's mobile phone containing her suicide note would be tampered with, under 'undue influence' of IIT authorities. The allegation comes even as the family has undergone a harrowing ordeal, attempting to coordinate with what they describe to be a complacent IIT-M management.
On November 10, a day after Fathima’s death, her sister Aysha and Kollam Mayor Rajendra Babu (Abdul Latheef’s friend) reached Chennai. Latheef was still on his way from Saudi Arabia after hearing the news of his daughter’s death.
“As per the request made by the police, when the phone of my daughter was switched on by my daughter Aysha, the screen read that she is holding a professor responsible for her death. Another note mentioned two other professors,” Latheef said.
Fathima’s sister Aysha told TNM that the family was asked to come to the police station as the inquest report was being prepared. “The phone was just lying there, they had not even switched it on. I took it and when I removed the lock screen, I saw this note on the screensaver,” she said.
Speaking to TNM, the father said, "This is a repeat of Rohith Vemula. I possess all records to prove that my daughter was being harassed by the department for the past 28 days. She has named faculty members in her notes. I do not know what sort of harassment she was facing there. Whether it was mental, or otherwise, I will fight till my last breath to bring those who harassed her to justice."
Kotturpuram Assistant Commissioner KN Sudarshan told TNM on Wednesday that an investigation was underway and 11 witnesses have been questioned. An FIR has been registered under Section 174 of the Criminal Procedure Code (Police to enquire and report on suicide, etc.). “All allegations are being considered,” said the officer. When asked if the professors would be questioned, he said that ‘everyone concerned would be questioned’. The officer added that they were looking into various aspects of the case and said that the police had not inspected the suicide note as the phone has been sent for forensic examination.
Kollam Mayor Rajendra Babu however minces no words about the police. “They made us sit in a corner and did not care about the death. The phone was just lying there, anyone could have taken it. How can the police not have checked the screen? Why have they not taken any action till now? She died on Saturday.”
According to Abdul, his daughter returned to Chennai from Kollam on October 8. Exactly a month later, the first year student had told her mother that she was going to switch off her phone since she was studying for her semester examinations. “The next day (November 9) my daughter's phone was switched off. My wife contacted a fellow student staying in the adjacent room in the hostel and requested her to check up on my daughter as her phone was switched off. Thereafter on trying different numbers, none of my daughter's friends attended my wife's phone call. My wife was contacted by the hostel warden Prof Lalitha Devi to enquire whether my daughter was facing any problems at the hostel or college, and to the shock of my wife, she was informed that my daughter had killed herself,” the father said in his statement.
Though the police have questioned witnesses, it is unclear if the professors were among them.
"The mayor of Kollam was my daughter’s guardian while she studied in IIT. This is a man in the rank of Deputy Speaker and a lawyer. Despite him personally visiting the station to enquire about the suicide, the officers took no interest. They did not take anybody’s statement or enquire about the incident. We are yet to receive the post-mortem report,” the father said.
According to sources at the institute, the first year students of the Department of Humanities and Social Sciences have been asked to go home following the developments. The end semester examinations due on Wednesday have been postponed to next semester. "Three exams have been converted to assignments, and two are rescheduled to be held in the next semester when they return from their semester break," said the source.
(With inputs from Sreedevi Jayarajan)