Mental Health, Student Suicide Chronic Issues In IITs, Students Demand Committee
A sea of Indian Institute of Technology Madras (IIT-M) students protested inside the institute campus on Friday, November 15, over the suicide case of Fathima Latheef.
The students demanded an external probe in the suicide case and a committee on mental health and students suicides within the campus.
Fathima Latheef, a first-year student of MA Humanities and Development Studies at IIT-M from Kollam, Kerala was found hanging in her hostel room on Saturday, November 9. Her family members have found a suicide note in her phone in which the 19-year-old has alleged religious discrimination from faculty members of the institution. The note has been retrieved by the Chennai Police.
According to the suicide note, Fathima mentioned the name of Sudarshan, Hemchandran, and Brahme for pushing her to the edge of committing suicide.
Students protest inside @iitmadras campus seeking full cooperation of the management with police over #FathimaLatheef suicide.
Few students worried that management still not taking issue seriously even after 4 student suicides reported. pic.twitter.com/t3B3qU2FrL
— Pramod Madhav (@madhavpramod1) November 14, 2019
Speaking to The Logical Indian, Azhar, an IIT-M student and one of the protestors said, “I have no information of students getting so overtly discriminated by professor Sudarshan based on their caste or religious identity. I cannot pin down one reason for suicide but since suicide note has been found and family has raised allegation, we want a committee to be formed within IIT-M to conduct an internal probe into the matter.”
He further pointed out that the IIT reflects the same problems as other central universities towards minority students. “There are social biases prevalent in IIT like they are prevalent in other universities across India,” Azhar added.
Suicides Cases Across IITs
An RTI filed by Supreme Court advocate and mental health activist, Gaurav Kumar Bansal, revealed that 52 suicides were reported across eight IITs in the last 10 years. IIT-Madras tops the list with 14 suicides. Fathima’s was the fourth suicide case reported this year from the institute.
The RTI report further disclosed that the last time an IIT Council headed by the Ministry of Human Resource Development Minister discussed mental stress on students was in April 2017. The council identified academic, aspirational, social and lifestyle problems while adopting various additional measures.
According to Azhar, there is an immediate need for implementation of the Student Body Council which will work closely with the Mental Health department across IITs. While there are hardly any cases of religious discrimination at IITs, students committing suicide due to overwhelming pressure of studies is rampant in the deemed institution.
Just a day before Fathima’s death, an 18-year-old IIT-Delhi student had fallen from the fifth floor of her hostel building at the campus on Friday. She succumbed to her injuries at AIIMS Trauma Centre on Wednesday, November 13. Although no suicide note has been found, police said that the girl’s mother has stated that her daughter had called her on the day of the incident and told that she was ‘under stress’ due to her studies.
Every year around two lakh students write the Joint Entrance Exam, one of the toughest competitive examinations in the country with the dream of getting admitted into the reputed IITs. But at the end of the two-stage exam, only 11000 are selected.
The tumultuous journey of getting and maintaining the tag of IIT does not end with admission. It comes with a cost of bearing peer pressure; juggling studies, apathy, and general discrimination all at once.
According to Dhvanil Patel, an IIT Guwahati alumni, peer pressure in the IITs is overwhelming and it gives a blow to the self-confidence and ultimately impedes performance. “Even if you’re ranked 1000 amongst 5,00,000 in JEE, you might have the lowest grades in your batch because 100s of super-intelligent people are perennially around you and that makes you feel like a mediocre,” said Patel.
He also mentioned that during his time availing the mental therapy at IIT was a distant reality as there was only one counsellor for the whole campus.
Patel further told that there is also a lot of pressure (from peers, parents, institute, and yourself) to intern at MNCs abroad and get a job there with a hefty salary. Often students are seen to be running a race to get a job in Silicon Valley. Failing to do so at times even leads to depression in students.