Fathima Latheef’s suicide: Police chief visits IIT Madras

Fathima Latheef’s suicide: Police chief visits IIT Madras

S Murari

Chennai Police Commissioner A K Viswanathan on Thursday visited the IIT Madras and conducted an enquiry into the suicide by first year student Fathima Latheef, aged 19 on Nov 9 after alleged harassment on religious grounds by a professor.

Fathima Latheef from Kollam who was doing a five-year integrated MA programme in the Humanities and Development Studies Department,  hanged herself from a ceiling fan in her hostel room on Nov 9.

According to Fathima’s family, she last spoke to her mother on Nov 8 when she told her that she would be switching off her phone to prepare for semester examinations. Her phone remained switched off the next day and frantic calls to her and her friends went unanswered.  The family received a call from the hostel warden who informed them of Fathima's death.

The issue gathered momentum after her father Abdul Latheef represented to Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan. The Chennai Police chief visited the IIT campus on Thursday after students held a demonstration demanding action against Professor Sudarsan Pathmanabhan whom Fathima in her suicide note accused of having driven her to take the extreme step.

Members of the left-leaning Student Federation of India carrying  placards demanding justice for Fathima held a similar demonstration in front of the IIT gate. One of the demonstrators said that Latheef was a brilliant student and she was forced to end her life because of harassment by RSS sympathizer Pathmanabhan on religious grounds.

Immediate after the suicide, the Kotturpuram police enquired with Pathmanabhan who said that he had friction with Fathima only once over assessment of one of her papers and he later revised her marks. He of course denied systematic harassment of Fathima.

Professor and Head of HSS Department Umakant Dash said that they were unaware of Fathima’s suicide note. “We are cooperating with the police investigations and the police have not discussed about any suicide note. We only get to know information based on what the police are telling us,” he said.

He said: “She was among the brightest students of her year, topping all subjects. Academically, she had no problems. Had she raised any concerns, we would have taken it seriously”.

However, Kottupuram police on Wednesday claimed that no one has access to the Kollam girl’s phone, which contained the alleged note. Police said Fathima’s mobile phone was in their custody and it would be opened and its contents checked only after her parents reached Chennai. The phone would also be given for forensic tests, theypolice said.

The police version, however, contradicts the statements of Abdul Latheef that Fathima’s sister Aysha saw the suicide note in her mobile when she reached Chennai to receive the body on Saturday. He said when Aysha switched it on, she found two notes mentioning the names of three professors, whom she blamed for her taking the extreme step. Latheef said Aysha had seen the text: “(Prof’s name) is the cause of my death. PS: Check samsung notes”.

The police have held enquiries with 20 persons from the IIT but no arrests have been made so far.