Death of Fathima Latheef a blatant case of discrimination and Islamophobia, say students


Just five months after Dr. Payal Tadvi, a medical student at Nair Hospital in Mumbai was driven to suicide due to harassment by her seniors, another case of Fathima Latheef has come to light.

An undergraduate student of Philosophy at the Department of Humanities and Social Sciences at the IIT Madras, 19-year-old Fathima Latheef allegedly committed suicide on November 9, 2019, in her hostel room. In her last note, she named three Professors: Hemachandran Karah, Milind Brahme and Sudarshan Padmanabhan.

IIT Madras has had a history of student suicides, with 5 students from different departments having committed suicide in recent years. 

 An ex-student, Ravi(name changed) from the Humanities and Social Sciences department at IIT Madras recalled his experience. He said, “During my time there, I saw that all the faculty, as well as the students, were upper caste. There was not a single faculty who belonged to the SC, ST OBC or minority communities.”

Mariam, a student from IIT Bombay said it was not right to call it a case of suicide as it is a clear murder on the lines or Dr. Payal Tadvi and Rohith Vemula. “In one of the letters, Fathima has written ‘My name and my identity has become a problem for me…’ So clearly this is a case of islamophobia.”

Fahad Ahmed, a student activist from Mumbai said, “Even daily interactions for Muslims have become a problem in this majoritarian atmosphere. At a time when brilliant students are supposed to be encouraged by the faculty, all we are getting is mental torture. When a woman from the Muslim community comes up despite all the odds, and when something like this happens, I feel this is not a suicide of a person but a suicide of the aspirations of a community. Muslim community today lacks two things in my opinion: ideals and aspiration. And the rhetoric surrounding this incident will be held as a precedent for women who would want to enter higher education in future.”

Students said that lack of space and dialogue is one of the major for Muslim students on campus. Mariam added, “Although there are some redressal mechanisms like counselling, they are very insensitive towards the cultural background. You will see that many universities will not have a single Muslim organization which can take up any issue because they are just not allowed to exist. There is no space for interaction and no space for dialogue.”

A statement released by Ambedkarite Students Collective, IIT Bombay, stated that the casteist and communal behaviour of faculty and their discriminatory attitude have led to many institutional murders. There needs to be constant public pressure to make the casteist and Brahmanical academia change its course.

They have also demanded the following course of action

  • Suspend the three accused faculty name by Fathima with immediate effect pending internal and police enquiry. 
  • The Tamilnadu government and police should take cognisance of the notes related to the events that led to Fathima Latheef taking her own life. 
  • Action against Kottopuram Police Officials who were apathetic to her parent’s pleas. The TN Police should respect and hear the case from her parents. 
  • IIT Madras should call for an internal enquiry about the failures of Department and institutional mechanism to prevent reporting of this case. 
  • The Ministry of Minority Affairs should take immediate cognisance of the discrimination due to religion and demand all educational institutions to have a Minority Cell for reporting such incidences of discrimination in future. 
  • Enact Rohith Act to punish caste, religious and gender-based discrimination in Indian varsities. 

Courtesy: Two Circle



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