“Ashwin had spoken to our mother just the day before he took his life. He seemed happy and told her how much therapy was helping him get better,” his elder brother Ashish Nambiar told TNM. Twenty-one-year-old Ashwin, who was a final year BSc student at the Azim Premji University (APU) in Bengaluru, died by suicide on November 10. A native of Hyderabad, he was residing in the hostel on the university premises.
More than two weeks since Ashwin’s suicide, APU is yet to reach out to them, the family alleged. Especially after the university had suspended him for being in possession of a pack of cigarettes.
Ashish, who is also an alumnus of APU and is currently pursuing a PhD in Biology at Indiana University, said that Ashwin suffered from clinical depression and was undergoing treatment which had been proving beneficial. But being slapped with a suspension was the final straw, his family believes.
“A few weeks ago there was an incident when cigarette smell was wafting in the hostel’s hallway. This led the hostel staff to conduct inspections in all rooms and cigarette packs were found among my brother’s and other students’ belongings. Even though it was not clear who was smoking, disciplinary action was launched against all of them, yet this was not informed to their families,” said Ashish.
Despite Ashwin’s faculty mentor’s appeal for leniency due to his need for family support during the disciplinary process, it was not approved. Throughout the proceedings, Ashwin was prohibited from discussing the matter with friends and family. At the end of the disciplinary process, he was told that he was suspended. The family alleged that the suspension was handed out without evidence, and it was only a few days after this that Ashwin took his life. “The authorities slapped him with a suspension that we all believe was without evidence because they are unable to furnish anything. He was on the path to getting better but when someone is recovering from severe depression, these kinds of charges can break them… it was the final straw,” Ashish said.
Since then, the family has not received any official communication from the university. They remain unaware of who the disciplinary committee members were or the specifics of the meetings conducted as part of the disciplinary process. They expected APU to extend basic courtesy by providing clarification on the events before his death, but they only know bits and pieces of information that Ashwin had shared with his friends. Ashish also said that there are no recordings of the meetings and no student representative was in attendance.
“What my brother went through and why he did what he did is the symptom of a larger issue. The university does not have a recognised student body, which leads to issues such as the disciplinary committee acting without any accountability. The university as a system is known to be apathetic. What has happened to my brother is not an isolated event… the students have a lot of resentment. Their unions are actively busted which is very bizarre for a university that claims to care about social welfare,” he said.
Previously, through a statement to TNM, the university had said that it had been engaging with the family and that any suggestion to the contrary was regrettable. However, Ashish said that APU has not offered any condolences to the family or interacted with them apart from asking them to complete the formalities regarding Ashwin’s death.
APU students stand by family
In a memorandum submitted to the university by students, they asserted the need for the university management to acknowledge and take responsibility for the adverse impact its actions have had on the overall mental health of the students. The memorandum, signed by 800 students, called out disciplinary committees for considering students guilty until proven otherwise, which continues to alienate and demonise students further.
“We stand by and echo the sentiments expressed by Ashwin’s brother and former APU student, Ashish Nambiar. The only way to prevent such incidents from happening is by having a unified student body,” it said.
The memorandum also said that there have been past instances where the disciplinary committee evicted students from the residential campus based solely on a complaint or grievance, even before a hearing or other due process. They argued against the administration’s authority to carry out such evictions in a mandatory residential programme, considering that many students are not local residents and lack alternative housing options. The students demanded that removal from residences should not be a consequence of any disciplinary committee related grievance.
The students called for the establishment of an elected student council with reserved representations for scholarship and non-scholarship students from SC, ST, OBC, disabled groups, and based on considerations of religion and gendered marginalisation. They also advocated for meaningful devolution of power to this council to ensure transparent decision-making that aligns with student interests.
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 (listed as the sole suicide prevention helpline in Tamil Nadu)
Life Suicide Prevention: 78930 78930
Roshni: 9166202000, 9127848584
Sahai (24-hour): 080 65000111, 080 65000222
Maithri: 0484 2540530
Chaithram: 0484 2361161
Both are 24-hour helpline numbers.
State government's suicide prevention (tollfree): 104
Roshni: 040 66202000, 6620200
SEVA: 09441778290, 040 27504682 (between 9 am and 7 pm)
Aasara offers support to individuals 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.
24x7 Helpline: 9820466726
Click here for working helplines across India.