IIT-M resorts to a technological solution

Institute to fit device in hostel ceiling fans to prevent suicides

November 23, 2019 12:42 am | Updated 04:18 am IST - CHENNAI

CHENNAI, 24/06/2013: View of the IIT Madras entrance in Chennai on June 24, 2013.
Photo: T.E. Raja Simhan

CHENNAI, 24/06/2013: View of the IIT Madras entrance in Chennai on June 24, 2013. Photo: T.E. Raja Simhan

Amid demands from students to address institutional inadequacies to prevent suicides, in the wake of the recent death of first-year student Fathima Latheef, IIT-Madras seems to have resorted to a technological solution, aiming to prevent ceiling fans from being used for such acts.

According to an internal e-mail leaked to the media, the management has called for the installation of a ‘Fan Bush Protection Device’ in all hostel rooms during the ongoing winter vacation.

Students of IIT-M, whom the The Hindu spoke to, said the ‘Fan Bush Protection Device’ is, in fact, a specially designed rod, instead of the normal rods used to suspend ceiling fans. The rod is designed in such a way that a spring inside expands if the downward pull on the fan exceeds a certain weight. If a person attempts to hang from the fan, he will land on the floor, the students explained.

Sharad S. Ashani, a Mumbai-based entrepreneur who holds a patent since 2004 for a very similar technology, said he had supplied the rods to the Indian Institute of Management- Kashipur, and a large number of student hostels in Kota in Rajasthan, a place known for its coaching centres for crack competitive exams. “I approached IIT-M sometime back with my technology, when there were reports of suicides, but I did not hear back from them. I now hear that the one being used in IIT-M works when the weight is above 40 kg. However, my product just takes 20-25 kg for the spring to unlatch,” he said. According to his website, the product, named ‘Smart Fan Down Rod or Anti-Suicide Fan Rod’ costs ₹350.

Chinta Bar, a students’ collective that held a hunger strike following Fathima’s death, demanding measures to address students’ concerns, said the focus on fixing fans gave the impression that the management was not keen on addressing the underlying issues.

“They are focusing on technical solutions, instead of ensuring the well-being of students. It appears as if they just do not want the hostel fans to be used for committing suicides,” a representative speaking on behalf of the collective said. “We have formed a joint action committee to decide on our future course of action,” the representative added.

Declining to comment, M.S. Sivakumar, dean-students, IIT-M, who negotiated with the students recently, suggested contacting the media cell or director’s office. Both could not be reached for comment.

Assistance for overcoming suicidal thoughts is available at 104 — the State’s health helpline — and at 044 2464 0050 — the Sneha suicide prevention helpline.

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