Student collectives at IIT-Delhi, the Students’ Federation of India, and the Birsa Ambedkar Phule Students Association of Jawaharlal Nehru University, have decided to hold a demonstration at IIT-Delhi’s main gate on Thursday, seeking concrete measures to make campuses safe for marginalised students.
Ayush Ashna, a final-year B.Tech student in Mathematics and Computer Science at IIT-Delhi, was on Sunday found dead in his hostel room, with the police calling it, prima facie, a suicide and initiating inquest proceedings. The Director of the institute had informed all students and staff about the death in an email, where he spoke of the “sad and untimely demise” of Mr. Ashna.
After students learnt that Mr. Ashna was from a marginalised background, there was a sense of disquiet on campus. One of the students, who attended the condolence meeting organised by the institute on Wednesday, said, “The Director’s communication did not even mention that Ayush was an ST student and that his death was a suicide.” While the students first believed that Mr. Ashna was Adivasi, members of the institute’s official SC/ST Cell late on Wednesday night confirmed to The Hindu that the boy was from a Scheduled Caste family.
At the condolence meet, the Dean of Student Affairs said that the only introspection to be done was that “we have to do more”, and the Director Rangan Banerjee said “we need to have a more humane institute”. However, Shainal Verma, the student representative of the SC/ST Cell, said it was important to examine why students from marginalised backgrounds experience the campus so differently and asked the administration what it was doing to address these concerns.
Students from Ayush’s department later expressed disappointment that the institute had not made more of an effort to let people on campus know about the condolence meeting. “Even from the department, there was only one professor as a representative,” one of them said.
Soon after the condolence meeting, senior faculty, including the Director and the Dean of Academics, initiated talks with representatives of the SC/ST Cell, constituted and given a mandate just three months ago, about measures that could be taken to address the issues of the experience of marginalised students on campus, including possibilities of surveying students on campus.
The Delhi Police have ruled out any foul play in the case, and said “nothing suspicious was found” when their teams inspected the room and initiated the inquest proceedings. A uniformed police officer was present inside the seminar hall during the condolence meeting.
The SC/ST Cell at IIT-Delhi was formally constituted and given its mandate in March this year, weeks after a Dalit B.Tech student at IIT-Bombay had died by suicide, triggering several students from across IITs to come out with their experiences of discrimination on campus and the lack of a mechanism to address it.
IIT-Delhi’s SC/ST/OBC Cell has been mandated to run services like grievance redressal cells. It does not have a physical space to operate from, it has met once a month since it was constituted, and the grievance redressal cell is yet to start functioning.
Students who live in the same hostel as the one Mr. Ashna was staying in, said that the institute was sending counsellors to check in on them. One student who lives on the same floor as Mr. Ashna’s room said, “They are making sure we can deal with going back to the area where his room was. Because there are other students who have rooms near where this happened.”
Those in distress or having suicidal tendencies could seek help and counselling by calling any of the following numbers:
Telangana Roshni - 040-6620 2000
Andhra Pradesh 1Life - 78930-78930; 100 GGH-Kakinada - 98499-03870
Karnataka Arogya Sahayavani - 104
Tamil Nadu Sneha - 044- 24640050 State’s health helpline - 104
Kerala DISHA - 1056, 0471-2552056 State’s health helpline 104 Maithri - 0484-2540530 Thanal Suicide Prevention Centre - 0495-2760000
Delhi Sanjivini, Society for Mental Health - 011-4076 9002, Monday-Saturday, 10 am-7.30 pm
Mumbai BMC Mental Health Helpline: 022-24131212 (24x7) Vandrevala Foundation: 18602662345/18002333330 (24x7) I Call - 022-25521111 (Monday to Saturday, 8 a.m. to 10 p.m.) ASRA - 022 2754 6669 (24x7) The Samaritans Mumbai: 8422984528/842984529/8422984530 ( 5 p.m. -8 p.m., all days)
Bengaluru Sahai - 080-25497777, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Kochi Maitri — 0484-2540530, Chaithram — 0484-2361160
Kolkata Lifeline Foundation - 033-24637401/32