The students of IIT Madras, demanding justice for Fathima Latheef, called off their hunger strike on the second day after the administration responded to two out of three demands of the Student Legislative Council.
At 10 am on Monday, two students, Azhar Moideen and Justin Joseph, began protesting near the gate to the main entrance of the campus. More students joined the protest in solidarity as they called for an end to suicides at the premier institute. This was in response to the alleged suicide of Fathima Latheef, discovered on November 9. She was a first year student of the Humanities and Social Sciences Department.
The students’ main demands included the constitution of an external expert panel to survey the overall mental well-being of students and the setting up of a Grievance Redressal Cell for each department, in addition to an internal probe into the allegations made by Fathima’s family. The family had alleged that the professors named in the 19-year-old's suicide note had harassed her, and led her to suicide. The administration of IIT Madras has accepted the first two demands and has promised to review the demand for an internal probe.
Speaking to TNM on Tuesday, one student protestor said, "We just called off the strike after the Dean gave an assurance to the entire student body that two of our demands will be accepted at the earliest. He has also said that the third demand, which is an internal inquiry into the conduct of faculty, as demanded by Fathima's parents, can be discussed. He said that it is being considered and can be discussed with the Director when he returns on Thursday. We thought the assurances were satisfactory for now and so we've called off the hunger strike."
In a series of tweets, Chinta Bar, an independent student body recognised by IIT Madras, posted screenshots of the email received from the Dean, Sivakumar M Srinivasan.
In his email to the SLC Speaker, Sivakumar wrote that the mental health study was already in its second phase. He added that while a grievance redressal mechanism already exists within departments, and that they would “work together” to disseminate information about it to students. “I also assure that I will work with the Director to make sure that the grievance redressal mechanism against harassment, discrimination, etc. is also available within the departments,” the email said.
On Day 2 of the hunger strike, the Student Legislative Council and the General Student Body have received assurances from the @iitmadras administration regarding 2 of the 3 demands we had raised with the director. pic.twitter.com/iF7ACDeoXG— ChintaBAR (@ChintaBAR) November 19, 2019
Following a 200-strong protest on November 14, the students, affiliated to Chinta Bar said on their Facebook page on Sunday that they would be forced to begin a hunger strike by 10 am on Monday if the their long-pending demands were not met.
The students had argued that ample time had been given to the administration to implement the resolutions that were passed during the Student Legislative Council meeting last semester.
When the students demanded to meet the Director, Bhaskar Ramamurthi, or the Registrar on Monday, no response was forthcoming. Prohibited from speaking to the media, students set up a candlelight vigil for Fathima on Monday evening. While they received a response from the Director on Monday afternoon, the students found the response unsatisfactory. The Director, though he ‘expressed a willingness’ to meet the protesting students, did not give them an appointment. Students are now hoping to meet him on Thursday to review the demand for an internal probe.
Meanwhile student groups of various political parties staged a protest demanding justice for Fathima Latheef in Valluvar Kottam on Tuesday.