Death of a third year mechanical engineering student, Faizan Ahmed, has rocked the Indian Institute of Technology, Kharagpur ( IIT-KGP) for almost a month now. On November 10, nearly 26 days after the body of the student was recovered from one of the hostels, the Calcutta High Court has raised questions on the role of IIT-KGP in the alleged case of “ragging”.
“The Director of IIT Kharagpur shall file a report before this court on the adjourned date. The students involved in the ‘ragging’ shall be named by the Director in his report,” the order by Justice Rajasekhar Mantha of the High Court said. The court also directed the Additional Superintendent of Police, Paschim Medinipur, to explore every avenue to ascertain the truth behind the death of Faizan.
Even before the court took note of the matter, Faizan’s death had rocked the country’s oldest IIT. After the body of the student, hailing from Assam, was recovered on October 14, Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma took to social media to express his condolences over the unfortunate death. Days later Mr. Sarma wrote to West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee urging for a “thorough investigation’ into the death. When the parents and family members visited the institute, they had refuted claims that Faizan died by suicide. It was only after they approached the Calcutta High Court, did the court on November 3 direct the police to probe the matter.
Open house meet
The IIT-KGP campus has been on the boil over the death of Faizan since October 14. On October 21, the students had called for an open house session with Director V.K. Tewari which started at 9 p.m. and continued well into the morning of the next day. The students had told the authorities that despite repeated instances of suicides, the authorities have done little to address the mental health concerns of thousands of students. Thousands of students had gathered at the open house session and demanded the resignation of the Director.
The view of the students was captured by The Scholars Avenue, an independent newspaper run by the students of IIT-KGP. “For a campus that houses over 15,000 students, there are no more than eight severely overburdened counsellors,” a Facebook post from The Scholars Avenue said. The students also raised the issue of “glaring lack of empathy towards a grieving family from certain faculty members of the administration”, and added that the student representatives had to compensate for such an attitude of the authorities.
Speaking to The Hindu, Rehana Ahmed, mother of the deceased student, said when she along with other family members arrived on the campus on October 14, not only was there non-cooperation from the authorities but one of the faculty members even threatened a student representative with lodging a police complaint.
A press statement signed by IIT-KGP Deputy Director Amit Patra dated October 20 highlighted loopholes such as “gap in communication between the authorities and the parents of the deceased student”. The press note added that multiple phone calls were made to the B.C. Roy Technology Hospital (located in the institute) for medical help and ambulance despite which help was not provided.
The note also raised questions on the role of the DOSA (Dean of Student Affairs) and added that the official behaved “insensitively with the student representatives, threatening them with police cases and disciplinary action” while the students were trying to handle the situation. Dean of Student Affairs Dhrubajyoti Sen had resigned from his post following the issues raised by students. The director had informed this to students during the open house session on October 21. In the past, similar incidents involving unnatural death of students had triggered outrage among the student community of the institute.
Ms. Ahmed said the recent development had revealed that Faizan had not died by suicide and there was some element of ragging that was reason for her son’s death. She said the last time she spoke to Faizan was on October 11, when she was very happy. “We received neither any cooperation from the institute nor from the police. The High Court order on November 10 gives us some hope that we will get justice,” she said. The institute authorities have not reacted after the High Court order. The matter will come up for hearing again on November 22.
(Those in distress or having suicidal tendencies could seek help and counselling by calling suicide prevention helpline numbers in Kolkata: 033-24637401, 033-24637432.)