IIT-M students demand probe into scholar suicide, suspension of research guide

After the students' nightlong sit-in protest, the institute prohibited the professor from entering the laboratory.

ByVinodh Arulappan

Published Apr 13, 2023 | 3:26 PMUpdatedApr 13, 2023 | 3:28 PM

IIT-M students protesting on the campus on Wednesday night. (Supplied)

Students of IIT-Madras staged a nightlong sit-in protest on the campus demanding the suspension of a professor who, they alleged, abetted the suicide of a research scholar.

The protesters also demanded a probe into recent suicides by students.

They alleged that research scholar Sachin Kumar Jain was under tremendous pressure from his guide, Prof Ashis Sen, forcing the student to take the extreme step.

The body of 31-year-old Jain, from the Mechanical Engineering Department, was found in his rented accommodation at Velachery in South Chennai on 31 March.

The West Bengal native was the third student of the premier institute to die by suicide in two months.

Bereaved brother writes to IIT

Posters put up by protesting students on IIM-M campus. (Supplied)

Posters put up by protesting students on the IIT-M campus. (Supplied)

A research student told South First that Jain was forced to end his life due to the pressure put on him by the professor. He demanded a proper investigation into the matter.

He also stated that in recent months, at least eight students ended their lives at the institute.

The administration was exhibiting a lethargic attitude towards the suicides, the researcher alleged.

The protesters, who began their sit-in on the night of Wednesday, 12 April, raised slogans and held up placards demanding justice for Jain.

After Jain’s death, his elder brother Bhavesh Kumar said in a letter to the director of the institute, Prof V Kamakoti, that the deceased had been under medication for mental issues and was unnecessarily put under pressure.

He also said that his brother had informed him that his PhD would be delayed because of the guide. He was also denied access to the laboratory.

Also read: Suicides by students are becoming common: CJI

Joint action committee formed

The students formed a Joint Action Committee (JAC) and submitted a memorandum to the director, stating the research supervisor was responsible for Jain’s death.

They sought an unbiased inquiry into the circumstances that had led to the suicide, starting from the incidents mentioned in his brother’s complaint.

They also demanded an external expert investigator to be included in the probe team.

The JAC also demanded the suspension of the research and academic activities of the guide during the investigation.

‘Jain treated shabbily’

ChintaBAR, an independent student body recognised by IIT-M, issued a statement accusing the professor. (Supplied)

ChintaBAR, an independent student body recognised by
IIT-M, issued a statement accusing the professor. (Supplied)

Meanwhile, ChintaBAR, a student body recognised by the IIT, said in a statement that the research guide treated Jain in an inhumane manner despite being aware of his mental health issues.

There were several instances in which the guide’s behaviour led to causing mental pressure, the students’ body said.

Once when he had gone to IIT-Roorkee for a conference, he was called back without allowing to attend the conference, it said in its statement.

The guide ordered his return stating that he had gone there two days earlier than he had informed the guide.

“The guide blew this issue out of proportion, which led to severe mental pressure for Sachin,” the statement read.

Prof banned from lab

Meanwhile, IIT-M Director Kamakoti informed the protesters on Thursday that the guide had been prohibited from entering the laboratory.

“Due to recent incidents and protests on campus, Prof Ashis Sen is restrained from visiting the lab till the investigation is complete,” he said in an email.

“The students are advised to contact HoD for any exigencies,” added the director.

Sen was not available for comments.