Chennai: Ten days after Fathima Latheef, a Kerala native and first year student of the five-year integrated MA Humanities stream at Indian Institute of Technology (IIT Madras) was found dead in her hostel room, the national institution continues to remain in the eye of a storm.
The teenaged girl's death has snowballed into a national political issue following allegations by her family members and a section of fellow students that Fathima was a victim of religious discrimination on the campus.
Her father Latheef, who has separately met Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami and Opposition leader MK Stalin, has alleged that she had named a professor in a digital suicide note and demanded his arrest.
DMK MP Kanimozhi even raised the issue in Lok Sabha questioning why the professor was being “protected” and not named in the police First Information Report.
Opinion on whether religious discrimination prevailed on the IIT Madras campus is divided. The institute has faced strong allegations of caste-based discrimination in the past but religious discrimination is a charge of recent origin.
“The campus has become politicised in the last few years with the right wing affiliated students and those belonging to the Ambedkar Periyar Study Circle often clashing ideologically.
It even turned physical in May 2017 when a Kerala based student was attacked for eating beef. We had never seen such sharp divisions on extreme religious ideological grounds about five years ago,” said a professor and former dean.
Soon after Fathima's death, Ajmal Hussain of IIT Madras had tweeted saying there was no Islamophobia on the campus. “As a Muslim student studying in IIT Madras my campus is not Islamophobic,” he said.
However, Alfiya Jose, who is pursuing Humanities, declared on her Facebook page, “…my campus is a violent space that stinks of elitism, casteism, classism and most importantly Islamophobia.”
Substantiating her charge, she said, “This campus, particularly the department of Humanities and Social Sciences, is ridden of anti-Muslim and anti-caste sentiments. Every academic discussion in our classrooms ends up with a reference to Pakistan and questioning of Muslim women's agency.
'Why are Muslims and Christians called minority when their population is large in number while Brahmins are just two per cent of the entire Indian population.' This was a statement made by one of our staff to a Muslim women scholar.”
Meanwhile, the Crime Branch of Chennai police have questioned Fathima's faculty members and also recorded her father's statement assuring the latter that “the case would be handled well, treating Fathima as a Tamil Nadu girl.”
On Tuesday, a few students who went on a fast under the aegis of body called 'ChintaBar' withdrew it after the institute assured that demands made by the Students Legislative Council to constitute an external committee to study issues affecting students would be set up.
A grievance redressal mechanism would also be put in place in every department to deal with complaints of discrimination and harassment.