Students at IIT Kharagpur have told the institute director in an overnight open-house session that the campus has witnessed five suicides in the past three years but the authorities have done little to address mental health concerns among the students.
“The campus houses 15,000 students but there are only eight severely overburdened counsellors,” one of the students told IIT Kharagpur director Virendra Kumar Tewari.
Tewari had convened the session on Friday night. He had possibly not expected it to continue from 9pm on Friday to 7am on Saturday.
One after the other, the students expressed their grievances, initially about the IIT administration’s lapses in handling the situation after the death of third-year student Faizan Alam last week.
They accused the director of “failing” them by engaging officials who, they alleged, were “shameless enough to scoff at a family that had lost their child”. They demanded that Tewari resign.
The Scholars’ Avenue, the student-run campus newspaper, posted a Facebook message hours before the session began at the Tagore Open Air Theatre, highlighting the shortage of counsellors on the campus.
A student who attended the open-house session said this was taken up along with a host of other issues.
A video clip purportedly shows a student asking the director how many student deaths would help him realise that he has failed them and that he should resign.
Tewari, rejecting the demand for resignation, told the students that he would take steps internally to redress their grievances, an IIT official said.
Calls and text messages to Tewari remained unanswered.
A research scholar at the institute said the administration seemed unable to understand how serious a concern mental health problems could be on a residential campus where students come from far-off places to pursue a rigorous programme.
“You may undergo a nervous breakdown because of the severe work pressure or the pressure to bag a coveted placement. Mental health experts can play a crucial role in resolving the situation,” a student said.
This newspaper had reported on October 23 last year that IIT Kharagpur authorities had advised teachers to interact with the students frequently, not only about academics but also about their mental health and general well-being.
The then dean of students, Dhrubajyoti Sen, had issued the advisory on October 22, 2021, after two students committed suicide at their homes a few weeks apart.
Sen resigned this week amid an explosion of outrage among students following the discovery of Faizan’s partially decomposed body in his hostel room after the authorities broke open the door on October 14.
“The situation has hardly improved since October last year,” a student said.
The post by The Scholars’ Avenue said: “Scheduling appointments and maintaining records are all done by the counsellors themselves, which significantly increases the load on the already overburdened counsellors. It would be very beneficial to have dedicated people to handle these logistics so that records are adequately maintained and the counsellors can focus on counselling.”
The institute’s deputy director, Amit Patra, had on Thursday night issued a statement saying: “It is acknowledged that multiple unreachable phone calls were made to BC Roy Technology Hospital for medical help and ambulance (after the body was found) despite which the required medical assistance was not provided at hand.”
A student said the developments showed how insensitive the administration had become and that “this has happened under the watch of the director whose resignation we sought”.
(If you are feeling suicidal or have suicidal thoughts, help is at hand: 9152987821)