Transfer of Fathima Lateef case to CBI: Madras High Court reserves order

The said student was found dead on November 9, 2019, by hanging from a ceiling fan in her hostel room.

Chennai: The Madras high court has reserved orders on a public interest litigation, which sought to transfer from the Special Team, Central Crime Branch, to CBI, the investigation into the suicide of a girl student at IIT Madras on November 9, 2019.

A division bench comprising Justices M.Sathyanarayanan and N.Seshasayee reserved orders after hearing arguments from both sides on the PIL filed by National Student Union of India represented by its president N.Aswathaman.

When the petition came up for hearing, government advocate submitted that the investigation was done by an officer in the rank of Additional Superintendent of Police and it is monitored by the Additional Commissioner of Police, Central Crime Branch, who has served in CBI. Moreover, the petition is premature, he added.

According to petitioner, student Fathima Lateef from Kollam, Kerala, was admitted to IIT Madras in MA Humanities and Development studies department in the month of July 2019. The said student was found dead on November 9, 2019, by hanging from a ceiling fan in her hostel room. It was also informed that the said student was class topper. Her death had shaken the entire student community across this country, he added.

He said in respect of the death of student on the complaint by Lalitha Devi, warden of IIT campus, FIR was registered under section 174 Cr.P.C by the Kotturpuram police station. In the said complaint, it was stated that when she enquired the friends of Fathima Lateef, they informed that since she was staying away from her house she use to cry thinking of separation. The complaint itself given as if she was very homesick hence she may have committed suicide. The said complaint was transferred to the Special Team under Additional Commissioner of Police, CCB for investigation. From the month of April 2018 to November 2019 totally five students committed suicide in the IIT, Madras campus. He came to know through the media that the father of the student given statement stating that he suspects foul play since there was a suicide note on cell phone and the room of her daughter was tampered. The Institute had not taken any effective steps in respect of continuation of students’ suicide which was still a mystery and further they have no faith in the state police. Hence, it was necessary for the CBI to investigate this case, he added.

JAC formed for IIT students’ welfare

In their quest for justice for fellow student Fathima Latheef, the first-year MA Humanities topper who hung herself to death on the campus on November 9, students of IIT-M have now formed a Joint Action Committee (JAC). The committee's conception comes after the students' meeting with Bhaskar Ramamurthi, the Director of the institute. While the JAC is yet to announce its agenda, it will aim to ensure student welfare by addressing the various issues faced by the students inside campus, including mental stress, religious and caste discrimination.

Fathima Latheef, originally from Kollam, Kerala, ended her life on November 9 by hanging from the ceiling fan of her hostel room. In her suicide note she had singled out a professor’s name along with a few other names.

Meanwhile, Fathima’s parents have alleged foul play in her death, even terming her death as ‘institutional murder’. They have alleged that the institute has tampered with crucial evidence, including the note on her phone. Claiming that their daughter was harassed in the name of ‘religion’, the parents had called for a special team to investigate the matter.

On November 18, two students of IIT-Madras went indefinite hunger strike demanding justice for Fathima and put forth three demands to the administration, including by establishing a complaints committee, appointing counselors and inviting independent experts to review students’ psychological well-being and formation of an internal committee to probe into the matter. While the institute has accepted the first two demands, it has refused to accept the demand for an internal committee.

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