13 Reasons Why IIT Madras needs to change its ‘toxic’ culture to check institutional murders

IIT Madras
Image Courtesy: The Hindu

It has been over a week since Fatima Latheef, a student of IIT Madras was found dead in her hostel room in an alleged suicide that has been dubbed ‘institutional murder’ by her fellow students, especially those belonging to subaltern communities. Yet, no one has been arrested so far, despite Fatima allegedly naming three professors in her suicide note. 

Now, members of the Ambedkar Periyar Study Circle, a students study group, have come up with shocking revelations about the culture on campus, alleging that it is not only tilted disproportionately in favour of students from privileged backgrounds, but also tightly controlled by teachers who allegedly expect nothing short of near subservient compliance from students.

According to APSC:

1.      6 other suicides had taken place at IIT M since 2018

2.      The myth of meritocracy is perpetuated, completely disregarding the economic disparities of those who are able to send their children to expensive coaching classes from as early as when they are in standard 8

3.      It is an environment that promotes cut-throat competition instead of a healthy, ardent pursuit for knowledge and all-around development of the students

4.      Students struggle to get PoR positions in various clubs and organizations within campus, to build their CV to fetch ‘better’ placements

5.      A student’s success is measured in the CTC that s/he is offered in the placement sessions

6.      Actual subjects have limited impact on final job offers, the highest paying of which are usually from data analytics companies

7.      Casteism and socio-cultural hegemony allegedly exist on campus with many students, faculty members and staff allegedly asserting their so-called upper caste status through various symbols

8.      Several offices in the administration block and other departmental offices blatantly display religious symbols, allegedly making makes IIT spaces far from secular

9.      Students from economically week backgrounds are allegedly ‘otherised’ and alienated

10.   IIT M allegedly makes no efforts to make spaces inclusive

11.   Students who approach the administration with grievances about this and their inability to cope are allegedly advised to quit the course

12.   Over 2400 students have allegedly dropped out of IITs in the last two years and 120 are from IIT M

13.   This takes a toll on the mental health of students, especially those from socio-economically weak backgrounds who face the stigma to returning home without a degree despite previously making it out of their difficult situations. However, the institution allegedly pays scant regard to this

In a statement released recently, the APSC said, “The entire power structure at IIT Madras itself is ridden with feudal values. The professors enjoy unrestrained power, especially when it comes to guide-scholar relationships. The system rewards subservient scholars. While professors/guides feel entitled to complete subordination from the student, scholars themselves believe that they ought to obey their professors unquestioningly. And the teachers are very much a part of the larger system in India that is casteist, patriarchal, brahminical and feudal. They bring along with them their own prejudices, which could in turn lead into explicit or implicit discrimination against the students.”

The APSC statement further alleges, “That the institute does not treat a student as a respectable individual with dignity is evident from the ridiculous vigilance that exists at IIT Madras. With scant regard to the fact that privacy is a basic right guaranteed to an Indian citizen, the vigilance officers barge into the hostel rooms of students. They audaciously, unabashedly go through his/her personal belongings. The recent incident in which hostel authorities tried to name shame and penalize a student after having found used condoms in his waste basket clearly shows the mindset behind the vigilance system. The ridiculous rule here states that a student is allowed to visit his friend in another hostel, only for ‘academic purposes’! The general rule is that you are guilty until proven innocent, whatever ‘innocence’ means here. How then can a student feel a sense of belonging to this institute?”

The statement finally makes a case for taking mental health matters on campus more seriously saying, Suicides are institutional murders. Mental health issues and depression are systemic problems. They have to be addressed that way. The community at IIT Madras is largely complacent and does not question the status quo. This should change.”

Fresh developments in the case

After a professor allegedly named by Fatima Latheef in her suicide note was forced to step down, the APSC released another statement listing a set of demands for a thorough enquiry into the circumstances that led to Latheef’s death. The statement may be read here:




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