“It is unbelievable that she chose suicide. She would never do that,” says Aysha Latheef, unable to find closure about the death of her twin sister Fathima Latheef.
As, Tuesday, 9 November 2021, marks two years since the death, the family is in an abyss with “no progress” in the investigation headed by the Central Bureau of Investigation.
In 2019, Fathima, a first-year student of MA Humanities and Development Studies (integrated) at the Indian Institute of Technology – Madras, was found hanging in her hostel room.
The 18-year-old hails from Kollam, south of Kerala.
“Something terrible happened on the campus [that day]. There are people who might have appeared either as an accomplice or an abettor. We are certain that it was never a suicide and probably be a homicide,” Aysha claimed to Maktoob.
Although a note in Fathima’s mobile phone states Sudarsan Padmanabhan, a faculty of IIT-Madras, “is the cause of my death”, the family is not convinced.
The note states to read the other messages, which the family had accessed, that name several faculty members and classmates for harassing her.
The family was restrained from sharing it due to the ongoing investigation.
Aysha and Fathima Latheef’s father Abdul Latheef met Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan on Tuesday, who promised to put pressure on CBI for a swift investigation. Abdul Latheef told Maktoob that he will meet Tamil Nadu Chief Minister MK Stalin next week to discuss the matter.
“CM has comforted me with a promise to write to Tamil Nadu CM,” Latheef informed. MK Stalin, who was then the opposition leader, protested the death and demanded law enforcement agencies to investigate the case with “time-bound”.
Fathima was a bright student who secured admission emerging first in an entrance test conducted by the premier institute. But since the beginning, she had been complaining about being “ostracised”.
In July this year, Vipin P Veetil, a faculty from the Department of Humanities and Social Sciences resigned alleging caste discrimination at IIT-M.
Many student groups have raised their anger against the slow investigation, commemorating the tragic death.
Name itself a problem
Following the death, A slew of allegations of caste discrimination and Islamophobic conditions were made by alumnus and student groups against IIT-Madras.
Fathima’s case brought out the details of high numbers of students taking their lives in the premier institutions— overwhelmingly students from marginal groups.
The same year, four other students died by suicide in IIT Madras.
“India has always been Brahmanical and benefitted particularly the upper strata of society. A conflict between privileged and underprivileged can be seen in most premier institutions in India,” claims Aysha.
“Muslims, Dalits and women are always questioned in all the circumstances.”
In an interview, Fathima Latheef’s father Abdul Latheef accused that his daughter “faced casteist and religious discrimination” from her faculties, that her name itself is a problem there”
Many political leaders backed the family, including the present Tamil Nadu Chief Minister MK Stalin in pursuing the case against the faculties and the institution. The case was handed over to CBI after a vigorous campaign by Abdul Latheef, backed by all the members of Parliament from Kerala.
But a visit from CBI is the “only development” so far.
“This is unsurprisingly pathetic as justice in current India appears unachievable in most of the cases. But as her family we have nothing left to lose and we’ll fight till we attain justice,” Latheef said.
A shattered family
The death had taken a heavy toll on the family. The pursuit of justice is the hardest.
“We had shared the womb, we entered the world together, we took all our steps together and in a blink of an eye, I am standing all alone with our whole world shattered. I am still processing the loss. Every day I wake up looking at the bed opposite to mine, innocently wishing that I could see her sitting there reading the newspaper. It’s very difficult to put into words,” Aysha shared.
“I honestly wish no other sister and no other family gets to face such a fate in their life. Let Fathima be the last person who had lost her life. I wish no other person who happily enters into such institutions and faces such an ending,” says Aysha.