On January 23, Tamilarasan was having a relaxed Saturday afternoon in Chennai when he got a call asking for his 19-yearl-old daughter Monisha. The caller,according to Monisha’s cousin Anbazhagan who narrated the events to TNM, was Vasuki Subramaniam, the principal of the college where Monisha studied. “Where is your daughter?” she reportedly asked. When she was told she was at the college in Villupuram, Vasuki asked Tamilarasan to come to the Sri Ramachandra hospital in Chennai to meet her.
Monisha had been studying at the SVS Medical College of Yoga and Naturopathy and Research Institute at Bangaram in Villupuram district, and for several months, the students have been protesting against the college administration due to poor facilities and absent teachers. Fearing that his daughter might be in trouble, he took his nephew Anbazhagan and rushed to the hospital. Monisha was not reachable on her phone now. Monisha had called them earlier in the evening, and had told them that she will call back later in the night.
As they were nearing the Chennai hospital, a parent of another student called and informed them that three girls had been found dead and Monisha was one of them. At first, Anbazhagan says they were in utter disbelief, and confused. They called the phone number from which Vasuki called, and there was no response from her. The phone numbers of the three girls reportedly dead were also not reachable.
With their hearts racing, Tamilarasan and Anbazhagan rushed back home, and took a bus to Villupuram in the night. They were told at the Villupuram government hospital that three girls, 18-year old students Saranya and Priyanka, and Monisha, had committed suicide by jumping into a well near the college.
According to students at the college, the three girls had told the college officials in the evening that they had permission from a lecturer to step out, and left the campus. They are believed to have walked across the highway to a small banana plantation on the other side and jumped into the well.
The family of Monisha however cannot accept this as just a suicide. “They have injuries on the face, it was bloodied. Their heads have injuries, but they say they fell into the well,” says an angry Anbzhagan, speaking to TNM from the Villupuram GH. Monisha’s father and mother were in no position to talk and simply too stunned that such a tragedy had befallen them.
As one might suspect, the “college” is alleged to be almost just a paper-entity, one of the several private colleges across the country which run the ‘education scam’ fuelled by colluding government officials. There seems to be no infrastructure and students complain of repeated harassment for money without any accountability.
“The college is not functional. Nobody teaches us anything. There is one Yoga teacher, Dharma, who teaches us physiology and anatomy. That’s the only class we have all day. Very rarely another lecturer called Acthunandam comes to teach us,” says Pavithra, “it’s not like a medical college at all.” Pavithra is a first-year student at the college and has since returned home to Coimbatore. She says there are 36 students in her batch. The older batches have only 15 or 20, and students desert the college as they move ahead. “There are still students who come here to get their TC, they have been waiting to get it for 5 years but the college refuses to give it to them,” says Pavithra. All of them got admitted to the college through the state government’s yearly counselling process.
“We have spent more than Rs. 6 lakh till now, but they have given us a receipt of just Rs, 55,000,” says Anbazhagan.
“My parents have paid nearly Rs. 1,58,000, but we have been receipt only for Rs. 86,000,” says Pavithra.
“The college is just like a house. Tens of people live in each room in the hostel and there is only one toilet and bathroom,” says Anbazhagan. In reality, the college is much bigger than a house, but is more of a primary school going by its infrastructure. There are no proper facilities for the students – even for sanitation – and most of the students in the college are girls. “We don’t even get proper food, and we have complained several times,” Pavithra.
But if the problem has been going on for a while, why didn’t the parents and students do something?
For one, they have been trying. Just last year, there was a protest by some students outside the District Collector’s office, when some students even reportedly tried to kill themselves. But no decisive action was taken against the college.
Even so, not all students were brave enough. “When one of our senior complained repeatedly, they threatened to fail her, so not many would complain out of fear,” says Pavithra. Anbazhagan says that Monisha too was reticent, “She knew that her parents were poor and taking loans to give her an education. So she would a hide a lot of things, although we knew things were wrong at the college. She was home for Pongal, I wish she had not gone back.”