IIT Madras prof’s resignation over casteism substantiates our claims, says Fathima Latheef’s sister

Ayisha Latheef

“I feel the recent resignation of the Assistant Professor from the same Humanities and Social Sciences department is substantiating our claim of caste and religious discrimination in the campus,” says Ayisha Latheef, twin sister of Fathima Latheef, a first-year Master’s student at Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Madras, who was found dead in her hostel room on 9 November in 2019 following she had faced religious discrimination from her professors.

Ayisha’s comments come a day after Vipin Pudiyath Veetil, an Assistant Professor at IIT Madras resigned alleging caste discrimination from the senior faculties and authorities. In his mail to other faculty members, Vipin who teaches in the Department of Humanities and Social Sciences where Fathima Latheef was a student in 2019, alleged that he had been discriminated against because of his caste ever since he joined the institute in 2019. “The discrimination came from individuals in positions of power irrespective of their claimed political affiliations and gender,” read the letter by Vipin who hails from an OBC community in Kerala. Fathima Latheef was also belonging to the Muslim community in Kerala, an OBC category.

“We had raised the issue of discrimination during the initial investigation itself,” Ayisha said.

Fathima’s family had been alleging that she faced religious discrimination in one of India’s premier institutes.

The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) is now investigating the death of Fathima.

Islamophobia in the institute

Soon after Fathima’s death, her family has alleged that the faculty members taunted her for belonging to the Muslim community. 

”My daughter faced casteist and religious discrimination from her faculties. Earlier she said that her name (Muslim name) itself is a problem there”, Abdul Latheef, Fathima’s father told Kerala media a day after her death.

Details of Fatima Latheef’s purported mobile notes blamed many faculties and students in the institute. “Sudarshan Padmanabhan is the cause of my death,” read one of the notes which was shared by family and friends to the media. Padmanabhan is currently working as an Associate Professor of Philosophy at the Department of Humanities and Social Sciences.

The 19-year-old Fathima had written multiple notes on her mobile phone that detail the motive behind her action. “In the case of my death, This should be considered as my last non-nuncupative statement. I never realised that I would miss my home so much. I abhor this place. How I yearn for my home, to be suspended in that delicious inertia like an interminable sleep from which I can never be roused. In the case of my death, the whole of blame will be unremittingly upon Mr. Hemachandran Karah and Mr. Milind Brahme.” read another note.

Fathima’s death prompted an outpouring of anger against Islamophobia and institutional murders in the Indian campuses, among students, activists, academics, and politicians include Tamil Nadu CM MK Stalin, AIMIM supremo Asaduddin Owaisi, four-time parliamentarian NK Premachandran MP.

“Bayesian prior among many is that caste discrimination is rare occurrence.”

Assistant Professor Vipin said he was leaving the IIT for another institution because of the caste discrimination, and he would “pursue appropriate actions to address the matter.”

His resignation letter also alleges rampant caste discrimination at the institute. “One of the curious phenomena I’ve observed at the institute is that the Bayesian prior among many is that caste discrimination is rare occurrence. My own experience and conversations with members of SC and OBC communities, suggests that the Bayesian prior is far from true,” wrote Vipin.

He has also suggested that the IIT sets up a committee to study the experience of the SC and OBC faculty members. According to the young scholar, such a committee should also have members from the SC/ ST Commission, OBC Commission, and psychologists. 

According to the IIT Madras website, Vipin, a post-doctoral faculty member in the Department of Economics, completed his schooling in China and bachelor’s in economics at Hindu College, Delhi University. He has spent time in institutions in Europe and then earned his Ph.D. at George Mason University in the U.S. Vipin has published several papers in peer-reviewed journals, and three are awaiting release. In 2020, he co-authored an analysis of the economic cost of the COVID-19 lockdown across the world.

21 months on, Fathima’s family still waiting for justice

21 months after their beloved Pattu ( nickname of Fathima), Aisha, her father Abdul Latheef, and mother in Kerala’s Kollam district are still struggling to get justice.

The first investigation by the Tamil Nadu Kotturpuram police was not satisfactory. Following the complaint by Fathima’s father Abdul Latheef, the case was taken over by the Chennai Central Crime Branch. The case was handed over to the CBI after the family approached the New Delhi officials with a petition signed by more than fifty MPs.

“They (CBI) had informed us that they will be communicating with us if they get any update on the case, and so far they have not contacted us. We weren’t able to contact them too. It was when they had visited our home to take the statements, and it was in December 2020,” Ayisha who is a law student at Government Law College Thiruvananthapuram, told Maktoob.

Ayisha said her family would be meeting the Tamil Nadu CM MK Stalin this week, to request all the help he can do for the case.

“The MP of our constituency, N K Premachandran had written a letter to both the PM Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah seeking a fast pace investigation on the case,” she said.

Tweeple against Casteist and Islamophobic institutes

Many took to Twitter to register their protest against the casteist and Islamophobic nature of India’s top educational institutions in the wake of Vipin’s resignation and Fathima’s death.