On Wednesday evening, Campus Front of India (CFI), a student organisation of People Front of India, conducted a protest outside the gates of IIT Madras, demanding justice for Fathima Latheef, a 19-year-old student who killed herself on campus last week. Raising slogans calling for the arrest of the professors named in her suicide note, the protestors lead by Mohammad Asraf, CFI state General Secretary also demanded swift action by the police. The protesting group ended their march upon reaching the gates of the institute. On Tuesday, Abdul Latheef, the father of the first year student, held a press conference and sought a fair probe, expressing concerns over the alleged influence of IIT authorities. The father told TNM that he had evidence to prove that his daughter had been harassed by the Department of Humanities and Social Sciences (HSS) where she was studying.
According to Fathima’s family, she last spoke to her mother on November 8 when she told her that she would be switching off her phone to prepare for semester examinations. Fathima's phone continued to be switched off the next day as well and frantic attempts by her mother to contact her daughter's friends were also unanswered. The family received a call from the hostel warden who informed them of Fathima's death.
When TNM reached out to Umakant Dash, Professor and Head of HSS Department, he said that they were unaware of Fathima’s suicide note. “We are cooperating with the police investigations and the police have not discussed about any suicide note. We only get to know information based on what the police are telling us,” he said.
He also added that regular classes are being held and that an off has been declared only for the first year students. “They (the first year students) have requested us to consider postponing semester exams which we are currently deliberating. Apart from that, exams will be conducted as planned for the other students,” he said.
Adding that Fathima was an excellent student, the HOD said that he could not imagine any reason for her suicide. “She was among the brightest students of her year, topping all subjects. Academically she had no problems. Had she raised any concerns, we would have taken it seriously. We do not treat such matters lightly, myself being a parent,” he explained.
A student of Humanities Department, on the condition of anonymity, told TNM that during a town hall meeting that was held this week by the Department, following Fathima’s death, students were asked to share their grievances. This was before Fathima’s suicide note became public. “Students were asked to discuss any kind of concerns, academic and otherwise, they might have,” the student said.
While most discussed academic issues, the student also adds that a couple of PhD students spoke about anti-minority sentiments among the faculty.