A research scholar at IIT Madras with an “exemplary academic and research record” was found dead at his home on Friday in a suspected case of suicide, the 11th such instance at the institution in five years.
The death of Sachin Kumar Jain, a PhD student of mechanical engineering, has spread concern among students, academics and activists as incidents of suicides at the premier tech schools, particularly IIT Madras, have been on the rise.
IIT Madras said in a statement: “We are deeply anguished to convey the untimely passing away of a PhD research scholar from the mechanical engineering department on the afternoon of 31st March 2023 at his residence at Velachery, Chennai.
“A student with exemplary academic and research record, it is a big loss to the research community. The institute expresses its heartfelt condolences and shares the grief of the friends and family of the deceased student. The institute requests everyone to respect the privacy of the student’s family at this difficult juncture. May the departed soul rest in peace.”
This is the third instance of suspected suicide by a student at IIT Madras this year and the 11th case since 2018. On Monday, minister of state for education Subhas Sarkar had told the Lok Sabha that 33 students had committed suicide across the IITs since 2018.
“The reasons identified behind such suicides include academic stress, family reasons, personal reasons, mental health issues, etc,” Sarkar said in a written reply.
The minister said the government’s Manodarpan initiative provided psychological support to students, teachers and families for their mental and emotional well-being during after the Covid pandemic.
“Besides this, students’ specialised psychological counselling helplines, students’ wellness centres, buddy-support system and various other measures have been implemented in IITs and other institutions for early detection of cases of psychological stress,” Sarkar said.
Dheeraj Singh, an alumnus of IIT Kanpur, said the government’s reply did not demonstrate any seriousness about tackling suicides.
“I think more than IIT Madras, what is at the heart of the issue is the education ministry’s lack of seriousness in bringing out clear suicide-prevention guidelines for all IITs. There is academic stress at the IITs and the psychological band-aid they are applying is making matters worse,” Singh said.
The measures taken by the government are inadequate, suggested Prof. Rajeev Kumar, a faculty member of computer science at Jawaharlal Nehru University. Kumar has submitted a road map to the education ministry to check student suicides.
Kumar had suggested the setting up of a system under which teaching assistants would alert the institution in the first month about students needing remedial support. Extra classes, tutorials and orientation programmes should be organised for them, he said.
“The pace of the semester should be slowed down for such students. Despite that if they do not improve as expected, they should be allowed a graceful exit and their lateral entry admission in another institution should be arranged by the IIT,” Kumar had said in his report.
“There are many unfortunate incidents, including with bright students, happening and it’s a pathetic situation. The IITs are autonomous and are doing their best to address this issue. However, they may need to listen to third parties and consider proposals such as the one I submitted a few weeks ago, which was based on in-depth research and analysis,” Kumar said.
The Telegraph has sent an email to IIT director V. Kamakoti to understand the reasons for rising cases of suicides at IIT Madras. His response is awaited.