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Sunday, July 17, 2016

Four suicides in a year: What is wrong with IIT Madras? - Financial Express

Four people including two students and a research scholar have committed suicide on IIT Madras campus since September last year. The latest deaths took place within three hours on Wednesday, raising serious questions over the premier institute's functioning

By: Rajeev Kumar | New Delhi | Published: July 14, 2016 1:25 PM

The institute this year was ranked first among several other similar research and teaching institutions in engineering.

Four people including two students and a research scholar have committed suicide on IIT Madras campus since September last year. The latest deaths took place within three hours on Wednesday, raising serious questions over the premier institute’s functioning

Police suspected “family issues” could have forced two women — a 34-year-old post-doctoral scholar, P Maheswari, and Vijaya Lakshmi (47) — to commit suicide on Wednesday. Earlier, two B Tech students — Rahul G Prasad (22) and N Nagendra Kumar Reddy (21) — had killed themselves in October and September 2015 respectively.

Police sources reportedly said that Laxshmi, wife of a teacher on the campus, was depressed and she had tried to kill herself earlier also. But not much was clear about Maheshwari, who was married and had a son.

In a statement, the institute said, “IIT Madras reports with deep sadness the death of a post-doctoral research scholar in the campus. The scholar’s family has been informed. The institute extends its deep felt condolences to the family and the near and dear ones of the scholar for the unfortunate, untimely and devastating loss.”

However, one cannot stop oneself from wondering if there is something wrong with the institute. In past, there has been several reports claiming that multiple stresses on the campus lead students to commit suicide.

Among the reasons floated for Rahul’s suicide last year were a failed relationship and anxiety about placement, Indian Express reported in September last.

Antariksh Bothale, an IIT Bangalore graduate points out in a Quora post: “Suicide is a complicated thing. It looks like a random incident to an outsider, but it is usually the denouement of a long and complicated story.”

The institute this year was ranked first among several other similar research and teaching institutions in engineering.

Among several pointers including “competitive atmosphere”, “veneer of apathy and general indifference and financial issues”, he says, “There’s the additional complication of the skewed gender ratio. As a freshman you joke about it until it stops being funny, and as a senior you just resign to your fate, but the truth remains that lack of sufficient interaction with the opposite gender can contribute to overall stress.”

Writing about the various reasons leading students to commit suicide, IIT Madras alumni Dileep Patchigolla says on Quora: “The expectations could be quite high when one enters an IIT.”
While there is a “peer pressure” what adds more pressure, he says, is the “the sheer number of talented guys around you. Other top colleges too have quite bright students, but the number of such students is higher in IITs. So the chance of failure is higher in IITs compared to other top colleges.”

Police detain protesters outside IIT-Madras on Tuesday. (Source: PTI photo)

Sharing his experience on the campus, Dileep writes, “…during my stay in IITM, I saw several people getting project extensions at the end of their final year. So they couldn’t finish their graduation in the stipulated time and had to stay longer. This would mean they lose their jobs they got in campus placements. This has infact resulted in the suicide of a person I knew.”
Apart from the multiple stress, some students also get alienated during their stay on the campus due to change in character of students and the entry of first generation learners.
Quoting an MA student, Indian Express said, ” “Even professors who would stand for rights and equality conveniently avoid Dalit students or those who come from poor backgrounds as a delay in completing a thesis or projects would affect their careers too. So many teachers don’t think it is useful to help these students; instead they prefer the best ones. All these realities strengthen the alienation of a section of students who eventually fail to convince themselves about their goals and purpose of life.”

Central Lecture Theatre at IIT-M. (Source: Facebook)

Not only the suicides, the institute has been embroiled in several controversies since the last year.

Here are some of them:
  • In May last year, IIT Madras was in the news for for banning Ambedkar Periyar Study Circle (APSC), an independent student body, which triggered a social media campaign and widespread protests. The decision was taken following an anonymous complaint that the student’s body was trying to spread “hatred” against Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
  • More recently the institute was again in the middle of a controversy for organising a closed-door conference on ”Swadesi Indology” led by NRI writer Rajiv Malhotra.
  • On Ambedkar Day celebrations this year, the institute had enforced strict rules.
  • In February this year, the institute reportedly issued a circular banning all kinds of “political activity” because that is “against the apolitical nature of the institute”.