A 19-year-old Dalit student of Sir Issac Newton College of Physiotherapy, Anthanapettai, in the Nagapattinam district of Tamil Nadu died by suicide on Wednesday, March 30, after the college management allegedly banned her from attending classes due to a backlog of fees. The family of the deceased, Subashini, alleges that she was abused with casteist slurs, made to stand outside the classroom for three days, and threatened with further humiliation if she attempted to attend classes before the fees were paid. Subashiniâ€™s relatives are staging protests outside the Nagapattinam General Hospital and have refused to grant permission for the postmortem examination until those responsible from the college management are arrested.
A case has been registered at the Nagore Police Station under CrPC Section 174 (unnatural death) and the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act. However, no arrests have been made yet, Nagapattinam Deputy Superintendent of Police P Saravanan said.
Arivazhagan, a relative of Subashini, told TNM that the annual fee at the college was Rs 65,000. "The family had paid Rs 15,000 and informed the management that they would pay the remaining amount as soon as possible. But still, Subashini was made to stand outside the classroom for three days last week. They asked her if someone from her caste even needed this kind of higher education. The management also told her that if she came back to attend classes before the full fees were paid, she would be further humiliated. She was very distressed by all this.â€ť
Arivazhagan added that one of Subhashini's uncles, who teaches at the college, had attempted to intervene on her behalf. â€śHe asked the management why they did not approach him regarding the matter of the fees instead of publicly humiliating her.â€ť The studentâ€™s parents are daily wage labourers. Her father works as a plumber and her mother is a sanitation worker at the local municipality.
DSP Saravanan said that an investigation is in progress and that they are waiting for witness statements and the postmortem report before making arrests. TNM was unable to reach Sir Issac Newton Collegeâ€™s management for comments. This article will be updated if and when they respond.
The numerous cases of institutional discrimination
Subashiniâ€™s death, is yet another reminder of widespread institutional discrimination leading to the deaths of students across the country. Following the death by suicide of Fathima Latheef, a first-year student of IIT Madrasâ€™ Department of Humanities and Social Sciences (HSS) in 2019, protests raged in Tamil Nadu. TNM had reported on how the collective anger at a protest site in Chennaiâ€™s Valluvar Kottam served as a stark reminder of the number of institutional deaths that had occurred in the recent years. Pictures of numerous such students who lost their lives had been pinned up as a grim reminder of an issue for which justice still seems elusive. Some of the students memorialised at this demonstration in solidarity with Fathima, were Chuni Kotal, Senthil Kumar, Rohith Vermula, Dr Sarvanan Ganesan, Muthukrishnan and Anitha. 2019 also saw the death of Dr Payal Tadvi, a resident doctor at BYL Nair Hospital in Mumbai. Dr Payal had been a first-generation learner from the Maharashtraâ€™s Bhil community, as many will remember. The three accused had been her seniors from the Topiwala National Medical College.
In recalling, Fathima Latheefâ€™s case, it must be noted, that the same HSS department at IIT-Madras is also, incidentally, accused of caste-based discriminatory behaviour against a faculty member, Dr Vipin Veetil who is from an Other Backward Class (OBC) community. He has been fighting his case with the institution since 2020, despite multiple allegations of apathy from the institution. TNM had also reported on the rape and sexual assault of a Dalit PhD scholar at IIT-Madras, earlier in March. In her case, despite her filing a police complaint on March 2021, a year later an there been little progress in the case. The FIR had only been filed in June 2021 and even then, the police had omitted to mention rape charges and had failed to register the case under the Prevention of Scheduled Castes/Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act.
If you are aware of anyone facing mental health issues or feeling suicidal, please provide help. Here are some helpline numbers of suicide-prevention organisations that can offer emotional support to individuals and families.
State health department's suicide helpline: 104
Sneha Suicide Prevention Centre - 044-24640050
Life Suicide Prevention: 78930 78930
Roshni: 9166202000, 9127848584
Sahai (24-hour): 080 65000111, 080 65000222
Maithri: 0484 2540530
Chaithram: 0484 236116
Both are 24-hour helpline numbers.
State government's suicide prevention (tollfree): 104
Roshni: 040 66202000, 6620200
Aasara offers support to inidviduals and families during an emotional crisis, for those dealing with mental health issues and suicidal ideation, and to those undergoing trauma after the suicide of a loved one.
Click here for working helplines across India.