Suicide in Kerala college hostel pits students against administration; government steps in as protests gather steam

Students of Amal Jyothi College of Engineering have been staying put on campus, demanding justice for Sradha Satheesh, who died by suicide.

BySreerag PS

Published Jun 06, 2023 | 6:09 PMUpdatedJun 06, 2023 | 11:23 PM

Sradha Satheesh, a second-year student of Amal Jyothi College of Engineering, was found hanging in her hostel room on Friday, 2 June. (Supplied)

Sradha Satheesh was a bubbly 20-year-old student until the head of the Department of Food Technology at her college summoned her to his chamber.

“I can’t take this anymore, I am going to die,” she told classmates after meeting senior faculty member Anoop of the Amal Jyothi College of Engineering at Kanjirappally in Kerala’s Kottayam district.

The starry-eyed student was too young to die. But she did. On Friday, 2 June, the second-year student was found dead.

The college attempted to conduct regular classes on Monday, 5 June, ignoring the sorrow and rising anger among students.

They, in turn, posed pointed questions to the management. No answers were offered, but attempts were allegedly made to silence the students.

Sradha Satheesh. (Amal Jyothi website)

Sradha Satheesh. (Amal Jyothi website)

The police were called in, and a lathi-charge followed on the campus, nestled amidst Koovappally village’s greenery.

Sensing the unrest among students and the unwanted media attention it had started receiving, the college shut down indefinitely by Monday evening.

The management also asked the resident students to vacate the hostel.

The students rejected the directive. They felt the indefinite closure was a bid to pour cold water on dissent, on their demand for justice for Sradha.

At the time of filing this report on Tuesday, several students were still inside the campus — behind locked gates.

After declaring the college closed, the management locked the gates, even as the students stood firm on their demands.

Students South First spoke to alleged that teachers and the hostel warden harassed Sradha, forcing her to take the extreme step.

Also read: CJI highlights suicides by students from marginalised sections

The chamber of secrets

Sradha’s classmate Jhanak Mathew said she was happy and confident until the meeting with the HoD.

Joselyn, a faculty member, allegedly seized Sradha’s mobile phone and took her to the department head’s chamber.

No one seemed to be sure of what transpired there, except that Sradha was downcast after the meeting.

“Sradha had missed some papers in the previous semester. However, she was confident of clearing those papers, and even the result would be different after reevaluation,” said Jhanak.

He felt that more than Anoop, Joselyn might have harassed his friend more.

Also read: IIT-M students demand probe into scholar suicide

Doctors kept in the dark?

Jhanak further alleged that there was a delay in shifting Sradha to the hospital. She was alive when she was taken to the hospital, he claimed.

However, hostel warden Sister Maya, who took her to the hospital, said the student had fainted. She hid the fact about the condition in which Sradha was found, he said.

“She was taken to the hospital after a long time, and even then she had a pulse. When the doctors in the causality enquired about the issue, the nun told them that she had fainted in her room,” Jhanak alleged.

“Had the doctors been informed of the truth, her life could have been saved,” he opined.

Mathew said doctors understood the issue after noticing a mark around her neck. “By then, the pulse has stopped,” he claimed.

The protesting students have demanded — among other things — a meeting with Sister Maya. The college authorities have not accepted the demand. Sister Maya has not yet made a statement.

Also read: Kerala government lifts curfew clamped on women MBBS students

Serious allegations

One of Sradha’s hostel mates spoke to South First requesting anonymity for fear of reprisals.

Amal Jyothi College of Engineering at Kanjirapally. (Supplied)

Amal Jyothi College of Engineering at Kanjirapally. (Supplied)

The student said Sradha had a difference of opinion with Sister Maya over the attire she had worn to the hostel mess. Since then, she did not have a cordial relationship with the warden.

Sradha’s hostel mate was unsure of what had happened in the hostel that pushed her over the edge. But she alleged that the college authorities threatened Sradha’s roommate into silence.

She added that the hostel rules and the attitude of the nuns were unbearable for students.

“Ideally, hostels should be our second home, right? But here, it is a torture camp. I believe jails in our country would allow more rights and freedom,” the student said.

Incidentally, at a time when government colleges have been ending curfew times for female students, Amal Jyothi College had imposed a curfew of 5.45 pm for women.

The student alleged that nuns used to spread canards about those failing to abide by the curfew timing.

She said the warden and others seldom tolerated the students’ wearing comfortable dresses in the hostel.

“They said we would wear those dresses inside our rooms but not when we step out of the room. The reason they said that was sometimes priests who have access to the CCTV of the hostel premises would see us wearing such dresses,” the student said.

She added that one priest, who is a part of the college administration, had complained to the warden about hostelers wearing “indecent” dresses.

Also read: Southern states saw 2,900 student suicides every year since 2014

Ineffective students’ council?

The college has a students’ council, but it apparently seldom reflects the students’ views.

“The college authorities selected the council. Those students who approve whatever the management decides are in the committee,” Jhanak said.

The students also alleged that the college authorities contacted the parents of some of the protesting students on Monday evening.

The management allegedly urged the parents to make their wards vacate the campus. Several students were thus forced to leave.

The students wanted to put up a flex board on the campus condoling Sradha’s death. They were denied permission.

“The college authorities said such a flex board would affect the admissions to the institute,” Mathew said.

However, the college has added a condolence slide to its website.

Also read: Why is NIT Calicut director accused of saffronising it?

Minister weighs in

The Kerala Higher Education Department was quick to interfere in the issue. It ordered a probe into the allegations raised by the students.

On Monday, Higher Education Minister R Bindu — formerly a college teacher — said that the principal secretary of her department had been tasked with submitting a detailed report about the incident.

The inquiry was ordered after considering the allegations levelled by Sradha’s father Satheesh.

“The reasons behind the death of a student who did well in her studies have to be found. The government insists that institutions of higher education should not, under any circumstances, become torture chambers for students,” the minister said.

“A report has been requested from the principal secretary, considering the allegation that the student’s death was caused by those who caused mental distress to the student,” she added.

Also read: FTII Pune students clash with pro-Hindutva group

Students’ organisations extend support

The Amal Jyothi College of Engineering does not have any students’ organisations affiliated with political parties.

Ever since the college’s students began the protest, student organisations of mainstream political parties have risen in solidarity with them.

SFI activists took out a march to the campus on Monday and extended unconditional support to the students.

On Tuesday, the Congress’ student wing, the Kerala Students Union (KSU), and the BJP’s ABVP announced protest rallies at the college.

Speaking to South First, SFI district secretary Melbin Joseph said that his organisation had extended unconditional support to the protesting students. He said the allegations made were serious.

The SFI also observed 6 June as a protest day in all educational institutions across the state.

The college did not respond to repeated calls South First made for comments.