My daughter didn’t wear a headscarf out of fear, says Fathima’s mother, family will seek legal help

By Staff Reporter

The family of Fathima Latheef, the 19-year-old who committed suicide in IIT Madras after religious discrimination, said they will seek legal routes for justice. The Chennai police have, meanwhile, transferred the case related to the suicide to the Central Crime Branch. A special team under the Additional Commissioner would probe into the case, according to reports. 

Support TwoCircles

The girl’s family alleged that members of the faculty were the reason for their daughter’s death and she had to face religious discrimination at the institution. Latheef, a first-year student of Integrated MA programme in Humanities and Social Science at the IIT Madras, was found dead in her hostel room on Saturday, November 9.

The police have reportedly interrogated 24 people including teachers and students at the IIT Madras in connection with the case.

Alleging that faculty members were responsible for the death of their daughter, Latheef’s parents have decided to move legally to get justice. While talking to media, the parents said that Latheef had accused faculty member Sudarshan Padmanabhan, associate professor of Philosophy, for her death in the suicide note on her phone. 

In another note on the phone, the names of two more faculty members were present. The parents said that their daughter had told them earlier of her difficulties at the institute, including discrimination in the name of her religion. While speaking to a news channel, her mother Sajitha said that Fathima didn’t wear a headscarf out of fear and that they opted South India for education thinking it would be safer than other places. She recalled her earlier conversation with her daughter in which Fathima said that ‘her name itself was a problem there’. After she complained regarding low internal marks, Fathima reportedly had to face strong discrimination from the faculty member. The girl had written in one her notes that ‘they were disgusted to see a Muslim name topping every test’.

The family, along with the mayor of Kollam, had met the Chief Minister of Kerala demanding an independent and immediate probe into the matter and the CM reportedly assured them all support in their fight for justice.  

Hailing from Kollam, Fathima had secured the first rank in the entrance test conducted by the centre last year and secured admission at the IIT-Madras. She was a bright student since school days and topped most exams at the institute. The body of the girl was brought back to hometown in Kollam district and buried on Sunday.

Days after the incident, the students of the IIT M protested on Thursday in front of the administrative block of the institution demanding justice and action against the guilty. More than 100 students participated in the protest. A video of the protest march was uploaded on the Facebook page ‘Chintha Bar’. 

The Facebook post of research scholar Alfiya Jose, who has signed this letter, about the silence of the institution ‘that stinks of elitism, casteism, classism and most importantly Islamophobia’ had gone viral.



Meanwhile, a group of research scholars and alumni of the IIT Madras have come up in solidarity with the family’s demand for justice. The open letter by the group demands ‘the MHRD and Minority Commission to set up an independent enquiry into possibilities of academic harassment, religious, caste or ethnicity-based discrimination in the campus’, ‘the implementation of a functional SC/ST/OBC/Minority Students’ grievance and welfare cell at the IITM’, among others. 

“Muslim students do face such issues here,” said a research scholar in IIT M to TwoCircles.Net, though he added that “but we don’t know for sure what has happened in this particular case”. Meanwhile, a Muslim student of second-year Integrated MA program at the institution said that he had studied a semester under the supervision of Prof Sudarshan and never had any Islamophobic experiences. 

Rasiya, a lecturer at a college in Kozhikode and mother of two children, said that there is no gender sensitivity in colleges. “No campus sees things from the perspective of students and campuses are not at all democratic. After this incident, as a mother, I feel insecure about sending my children to campuses outside. But then I cannot keep my kids at home always and spoil their future. As a teacher I would like very much to teach students to fight back”, she added.

Different organisations have spoken on this issue and demanded justice and asked for action against those responsible for the death. 

The Youth Congress, the SFI, the Muslim Students Federation and the Campus Front held protests in front of the IIT Madras demanding justice. The MSF national committee has written to Mr Ramesh Pokhriyal Nishank, Central Minister of Human Resources Development, demanding impartial probe into the death (suicide) of five students who had died at the institution since last December. Protest programmes were organized in different parts of Kerala today demanding justice for Fathima by the Fraternity Movement and others. Programmes expressing solidarity were organized in different education institutions also, such as the AMU and the JNU.

Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam chief MK Stalin, AIMIM chief Asadudhin Owaisi, Kerala Opposition leader Ramesh Chennithala etc have demanded justice for Fathima. Owaisi, in his social media post, mentioned the institutional murders of Rohith Vemula and Dr Payal Tadwi while talking about the religious discrimination that Fathima had to face.