Bangalore: May is celebrated as National Mental Health Awareness Month in India and June is regarded as the international LGBT Pride Month.
Between these two pages of the calendar, a petition was circulated by the students of Azim Premji University(APU) to protest against a recent decision taken by the institution that mandated the deferment of a student called Max, who is in the first year of the MA Development program.
Max had been asked to not attend college for the next 6-12 months by the University. The decision was allegedly passed in an illegal manner and he was not informed about the proceedings that led to this call.
The Change.org petition stated:
‘The University administration has relied on the following allegedly disruptive grounds across both the semesters of the academic year 2021-22 to impose this decision without any investigation, due diligence, or warning:
Mental Health condition
Expression of Alleged disruptive and monopolizing opinions in classes
Alleged negative impact on the learning environment of the peer group
Alleged hostility towards teaching and non-teaching staff
Refusal to continue with the medical treatment advised by medical professionals.'
“I started feeling unwell on the campus one day, and I sought help from the mental health team at the college. It backfired because I was coerced to go to a hospital against my will where I was asked to stay,” said Max.
Speaking about confidentiality breaching, he said, “Whenever I was speaking with a doctor at the hospital, there was a third person in the room who would constantly update the college admin. I believe that they have circulated my medical reports amongst a faculty team.”
Max has also filed PoSH(Prevention of Sexual Harassment) complaints against two faculty members within the Azim Premji University earlier this month. He was informed through an email that the presiding officer was on leave and could only meet him once they were back.
“The guidelines set for PoSH proceedings are not very clear. We do not know in which stage the proceedings are and the stakeholders of such processes are unclear. The university has limited redressal measures,” added another Master’s student from the university.
The Azim Premji University gave a statement to the Free Press Journal, regarding the mandated deferment..
'Azim Premji University is committed to providing an environment free of harassment and discrimination where the dignity of every individual is respected. We have a zero-tolerance policy on sexual harassment, and we strive to ensure everyone feels welcome. The University’s Committee for Prevention of Sexual Harassment is investigating the said complaints and will take appropriate action after completing the due process. As per law, we are bound by confidentiality in such matters, and we will not be able to provide any further comments,’ it said.
The Azim Premji University has written that they are ‘committed to building an inclusive and diverse environment for students' on the college website. Students, however, disagreed with this sentiment presented by the university.
“I was present in the room when Max was speaking with a Department Head,” said KK, another student from the MA Development program.
“The Head went on to say that Max’s problems arose because they were mentally incapable and not because of their gender identity,” they added.
KK, who was registered as Max’s emergency contact, was not informed when Max was taken to the hospital. Speaking about the student sentiment around the campus, KK explained, “Though a lot of them have signed the petition, not many want to take a vocal stand. They seem to distance themselves from the issue, but that is how it has always been with queer problems.”