Let me make a few things clear at the very beginning.
1. I am not saying that there is no discrimination in the IIT Madras. It is not an island. It fairly represents India.
2. India has its share of persons who believe in their inherent superiority. But it also has many more who despise the prevailing inequality and want to do whatever they can to make the Indian society more equal, just and compassionate. IIT’s professors and students are the crème-de-la-crème of India and they come from every layer of society – except the poor, barring exceptions. They will surely have all the characteristics of the Indian society.
3. IIT Madras is not a small primary school. It is a gargantuan organization with all its attendant complexities. Its professors are not guaranteed to be angels. By the same token, if one of them is found to be not so angelic, others don’t automatically become villains. Also, it has a well- defined set of rules and regulations to follow, which do get continuously revised.
4. It no doubt produces graduates, year after year, who move out to occupy prize positions all over the world. But contrary to what we think, they form a small minority. The median salary of a fresh IIT graduate is between 8 and 10 lakhs per year – nothing to gloat about. About 15% of its graduates do not get recruited at the campus. And this is at the BTech level. The post graduate and humanities courses do not attract eager recruiters, if I am not wrong.
5. Thus, the arena is very competitive. The students are under tremendous pressure to do well. The relative grading system too encourages cutthroat competition.
6. The grading system in the IIT is transparent. Student- representatives are consulted, before grades are given. A student can dispute the marks/grades given to her and go right up to the senate of the IIT. A teacher has to defend the grades he has given.
Now, how does a student, who is achingly young, lonely, inexperienced in the ways of the world and having a high opinion of herself, face the motley crowd of other young achievers and the teachers who are supposed to shepherd them? Human beings are usually resilient and they adapt to the conditions, even when they are very unfamiliar and often harsh. Unfortunately, a few are not resilient. A caring institution should keep in mind those few who are unable to cope. I am not saying that IIT Madras doesn’t not care about its students, but it is obvious that its care is inadequate. Yes, all over the world, bright young persons who have come to learn in institutions of higher learning commit suicide. Every such event is tragic and, maybe, avoidable.
With this background, let me make a brief analysis of the unfortunate death of Ms. Fathima.
1. Ms. Fathima had spent just four months in the IIT before her unfortunate end.
2. She was supposed to have been topping the class though no proof has been given in support of this claim. There are others who say that she was not topping the class.
3. What is certain is that she had sent a mail to Professor Sudarsan Padmanabhan on the 8th of November for re-totalling of her marks and the professor immediately responded to her.
4. There are two versions of his response. One says that he had agreed with her request to add five more marks. The other version, which I have personally heard from a professor of the IIT, is that the professor wrote to her stating that he was out of station and she could meet him on the 11th and discuss the issue.
5. There are eye-witness accounts that Ms. Fathima was very upset on the night she took the extreme step.
6. We have the family’s version of a professor harassing her, based on a screen shot of which was supposedly taken from her cellphone. Later two more professors were added to the list. The police have, however, categorically stated that nobody had an access to the cellphone of the girl.
7. According to one source, Professor Padmanabhan’s response was that his only interaction with the girl outside the classroom was the lone email exchange and in the few months he had taught her there was not a single negative remark from his side, if his memory served him right.
What could be the possibilities?
1. The girl could have had serious psychological problems which got accentuated by her loneliness.
2. She might have had a tiff with a close friend.
3. She might have found the course to be overwhelmingly tough.
4. She might have had problems with her family.
5. She might have had problems in accepting fair criticisms by the professors.
6. Maybe all the three professors are unduly harsh on her.
7. Maybe Professor Padmanabhan was harsh on her.
8. Maybe either of the other two was harsh on her.
9. Maybe both were harsh on her.
10. May be all the three professors were so harsh on her that she was driven to suicide.
11. Maybe Professor Padmanabhan was so harsh on her that she was driven to suicide.
12. Maybe either of the two was so harsh on her that she was driven to suicide.
13. Maybe both of them were so harsh on her that she was driven to suicide.
14. Maybe it was a murder.
In any case, it is for the police to investigate.
How did the intellectual Nazis and the semi-literate media of Tamil Nadu react to the suicide?
1. They zeroed in on Professor Padmanabhan, only because he had a Brahmin sounding name. The other two professors were severely left alone.
2. They had started calling him names. One contemptible cretin went even to the extent of claiming that the professor went to one of the infamous German gas chambers and took a photograph of himself in front of it.
3. A few fake sociologists stepped in and said pompously that the IIT should be closed down.
4. The ever- present Periyarist Nazi lunatics had a field day. They cited the suicide as proof of Brahmin domination.
5. The Marxists, for their part, suspected of Islamophobia and the hand of the RSS.
Not one of them paused for a moment to consider the myriad possibilities. The most despicable of the lot are the ones who don the professorial cloak. They should use their cloaks to hang themselves, if they have any sense of shame.
Let us assume that one of the professors was indeed responsible for the death of the girl. Does it mean that the entire IIT is a place of attraction for human lemmings? No, it is most decidedly not. IIT is huge and it cannot be judged by stray events that take place in a corner. Only complete idiots or the sociology professors we are saddled with will make such an asinine judgement.
Let us now come to the bigger question of discrimination in the IITs, especially IIT Madras. We have heard many tear-jerking anecdotes about caste discrimination in the IIT Madras. Not one of them is verifiable. We have a professor complaining about Brahminical discrimination. She has proven herself to be one of the biggest fakes of professordom. I too have interacted with many professors of the IIT. I personally found them to be intelligent and totally dedicated to their profession. But my view is as unverifiable as those of others. So, if the Tamil media is able to discard its laziness, which is close to being impossible, it should do the following:
1. In its long years of existence, IIT must have sent out thousands of graduates and post graduates.
2. Many of them belong to the OBC, SC and ST.
3. Choose about a hundred of them in random and make a survey on the discriminatory practices, if any, experienced by them.
4. Analyze them scientifically.
5. Also, IIT Madras is not the lone centre of higher education in Tamil Nadu. There are several other major institutions. They are not exactly exemplars of social justice where the word discrimination is unheard of. Make similar analyses of them.
If the analyses reveal that the Tamil Brahmin is the sole culprit, enact laws which will specifically exclude Tamil Brahmins from places of education. I will fully support such a law in the interest of social justice. If, on the other hand, it turns out that every caste or every religion practices discrimination in one form or another, our putrid sociologists and purveyors of Periyarist idiocy should be asked not to open their mouths again.
In the meanwhile, if we happen to be sane, we must ask for the following from the IIT Madras:
1. IIT Madras should immediately start counselling sessions to all its first- year students and others who think they need counselling. The counsellors should include senior students themselves who have experienced the grind of first year.
2. All first- year students should be asked to write a preliminary assessment test, which will not be counted for grades. The submissions should be carefully evaluated and the professors should individually discuss with the students and point out their strengths and weaknesses and areas of improvement.
3. All its professors too should undergo a counselling session. They should be told that the days of tyrannical, idiosyncratic professors are gone.
4. If an unfortunate event happens, it should handled by professionals trained in grief management. It should be they who should handle the family members. In the same way, the press should also be given all information that could be shared. There is no point in being secretive, when facts could be gathered from other sources.
(These are not my suggestions but of a very senior and respected person who has years of experience in handling sensitive and talented young persons)
To sum up:
1. What had happened in the IIT is unfortunate.
2. Maybe it could have been avoided.
3. It is for the police to do the investigation.
4. The Intellectual Nazis of Tamil Nadu have a different agenda. They are not expected to be sensible.
5. Yes, there could be discrimination in the IIT. But it is not necessary that it is available only in Brahmin-flavour.
6. The IIT Madras should immediately take measures to avoid recurrence such incidents.
7. In the event of such an incident occurring it should be handled professionally and in a humane manner.