Meanwhile, IIT-Madras has reportedly called for the installation of ‘anti-suicide’ fans on campus.

Seeking justice for Fathima Latheef IIT Madras students form Joint Action CommitteeFile image
news Protest Friday, November 22, 2019 - 16:57

Students of the Indian Institute of Technology Madras have formed a Joint Action Committee (JAC) demanding Justice for Fathima Latheef, the first-year student who killed herself on campus on November 9. The JAC is the result of the students’ meeting with Bhaskar Ramamurthi, the Director of the Institute on Thursday. The student committee, which will be releasing its agenda soon, is constituted with the aim of taking forward Fathima’s case as well as ensuring that structural issues that students are faced with are addressed so that no other student is driven to suicide. The Kerala-based topper's suicide has sparked anger among family, friends and fellow students, who have slammed IIT for its treatment of Fathima's parents as well as the calls for action by the students.

On November 18, two students of IIT-Madras had launched an indefinite hunger strike putting forth three main demands to the administration. This 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 lead her to suicide.

While the administration of IIT Madras had accepted the first two demands on the second day of the hunger strike, it had promised to review the demand for an internal probe once the Director, who was away, was back on campus.

According to one student who was part of the group that met the Director on Thursday, the administration was still unwilling to launch an internal probe. “They were not ready for an internal probe. Their reason was that there is no requirement for it since the Central Crime Branch investigation is underway already.”

However, the students’ rationale has been to urge IIT to hold itself to account through an internal probe, especially given the suicides on campus over the years, as well as the multiple allegations of casteism and Islamophobia that have emerged in the wake of Fathima’s death. To this end, the students say that the JAC comprises not just independent student bodies on campus— like Chinta Bar and Ambedkar Periyar Study Circle— but also students unaffiliated to any groups.

Meanwhile, the institute has sparked controversy by reportedly calling for the installation of ‘anti-suicide’ fans on campus. A screenshot purportedly sent by the institute’s Personnel & Operations unit under the Office of Hostel Management shows instructions being issued to hostel managers for the fixing of “fan bush protection device” during winter vacation. These springs, installed atop fans, are believed to bring the fan down when it detects a weight of over 40 kg.

One student of the institute, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, questions the logic of installing such a device when the long-pending grievances of students are yet to be addressed. “This move sends the message that IIT doesn’t want to address any of the structural issues that drive students to suicide but merely wants to prevent students from killing themselves on IIT premises. This simply washes off any real responsibility towards students and what they go through at the premier institute,” says the student.

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