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Communal Hatred or Pressure from Prof? Protests & Debates Grow As Cops Probe IIT-Madras Student's Death

Union HRD Ramesh Pokriyal promised a thorough probe into Fathima Lateef's alleged suicide after DMK MP Kanimozhi raised the matter in the Lok Sabha on the first day of the Winter Session of Parliament.

Poornima Murali | CNN-News18

Updated:November 18, 2019, 8:16 PM IST
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Communal Hatred or Pressure from Prof? Protests & Debates Grow As Cops Probe IIT-Madras Student's Death
Despite the IIT-M authorities repeatedly expressing grief over the incident, Fathima’s family claims the institute as well as students are holding something back.

Chennai: Fathima Lateef, the humanities student at Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Madras, who reportedly committed suicide 10 days ago, had begun showing signs of stress due to events on the campus before taking the extreme step, said her twin sister Aysha Lateef who is studying law in Kerala.

“I asked her if she was homesick when I spoke to her on a video call on November 7,” Aysha told News18, adding that Fathima had not responded to the question. She finally evaded further enquiring and said she had exams and needed to study, Aysha added.

The insight into Fathima’s mind is crucial for investigators to arrive at what compelled the student to choose the path of suicide.

According to the FIR filed by police, Fathima’s body was found by her hostel mate, Aleema Santhosh, on November 9 around noon after her parents called up her friends to check on her.

“Fathima’s friends have informed that she was homesick and that she had broken down a few times over it,” the FIR said.

The alleged suicide led to a controversy after her family members sought a thorough probe and talked about a suicide note that named a humanities professor.

Aysha said she was the first person to find out about the note naming the professor when she switched on her late sister’s mobile phone for clues. However, Aysha believes more than one professor and a few students could be responsible for her sister’s death.

"There are other professors as well as students. She had mentioned about one professor whom she had described as 'rude and egoistic'. Fathima had come for Dussehra holidays. She came home on October 1 and went back on October 8. She said she had to go back to college early because she had to work on a presentation on logics, a subject taught by the same faculty member whose name was mentioned by Fathima in the suicide note. After her presentation, she told us that her group's presentation went off well, but the professor had made many others cry whose presentations were bad. This means he used to harass people," Aysha added.

Fathima’s death has brought up the issue of communal hatred, though there is no evidence so far that point at its effect on the girl. Even for Aysha, the angle of Islamaphobia is only a possibility though she doesn't do away with it completely.

"We cannot just totally exclude the matter. There are minority-based issues. We don’t know what had happened, but Fathima was harassed. In what way or why she was harassed... was it religious harassment or was it something else, that needs to come out soon,” she added.

According to police officers looking into the case, even after questioning many students, no link to communal hatred has been found.

The issue has sparked fierce debates on social media and prime-time shows on local news channels. Soon after, the authorities of IIT-Madras issued a statement and warned against trial by media or any form of trolling.

On and off, small groups of students are seen protesting outside the institute’s campus.

The case has now been taken over by the state’s Central Crime Branch. Fathima's father has given an ultimatum to the police to speed up the investigation failing which he would release all that he has to prove that his daughter faced harassment for 28 days before she took the extreme step.

Despite the IIT-M authorities repeatedly expressing grief over the incident, Fathima’s family is unconvinced and claims the institute as well as students are holding something back.

“All of them are covering up something. All of them have more or less said the same thing. I spoke to six or seven of her classmates, but all of them were very cold towards me,” Aysha said.

On Monday, some students held a hunger protest inside the campus even as the professor named by Fathima’s family members met police officers along with two of his colleagues.

Union Human Resources Minister Ramesh Pokriyal promised a thorough probe into the case after DMK MP Kanimozhi raised the matter in the Lok Sabha on the first day of the Winter Session of Parliament.

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| Edited by: Sohini Goswami
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