Protests at IIT Kharagpur after the death of Faizan Ahmed, a Mechanical Engineering student
What was initially believed to be a case of death by suicide by one of the students at IIT Kharagpur, due to academic pressure, can now turn into a murder probe, with Calcutta High Court ordering the police to check whether the Supreme Court's anti-ragging guidelines were followed at the premier higher education institute.
In view of the large number of discrepancies pointed out by the parents of Faizan Ahmed, the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Kharagpur student who died last month, the court ordered the police to present the case diary and instructed the district's top police officer to conduct a detailed investigation.
The court said: "From the bare look of the body, it seems to be a clear case of ragging and student enmity taking horrendous proportions."
The semi-decomposed body of the 23-year-old Mechanical Engineering student from Assam's Tinsukia was found in one of the hostel rooms on campus on October 16, 2022.
Faizan's family suspects ragging as the reason behind the death and have described it as "a clear case of murder".
"The SP [Superintendent of Police] shall look into whether anti-ragging guidelines of the Supreme Court were being followed at IIT Kharagpur. The investigating officer will also check whether CCTV cameras were functioning on campus. The police must make an effort to record statements of all those the victim was in touch with and trace the last person who was called by the victim and record that person's statement. Viscera samples must be sent to the Forensic Sciences Laboratory for tests," the court ordered.
Speaking to NDTV, the advocate for the student's family, Ranajit Chatterjee, said: "How could a body remain in a room for more than 60 hours with nobody detecting it?"
Mr Chatterjee added: "There is documentary evidence now of him being ragged over an election being manipulated and him complaining about it. IIT Kharagpur, according to us, did not take timely steps. Otherwise, this tragedy could have been avoided. We are satisfied with the order the honourable judge has passed and look forward to a conclusive investigation."
IIT Kharagpur did not respond to repeated emails and telephone calls from NDTV. A response is awaited to a set of questions sent by NDTV on email to the Registrar and Acting Director.
Questioning the death by suicide theory, Mr Chatterjee argued: "The police have said they have found no evidence to firmly establish the case as death by suicide. No rope, weapon or drugs that could indicate suicide has been recovered."
He further said: "Faizan had performed brilliantly in IIT examinations and there had been no complaint from the authorities about his academic performance."
Further questioning the theory of death by suicide, the advocate for the family told the court: "The door of the room from where the body was recovered (Room 205) was not broken open. If bolted, how could the door be opened without breaking it?"
The advocate added in the petition: "The family does not rule out the possibility of Faizan being killed in some other place and the body being left in the said room to decompose for destruction of evidence."
When the lawyer for IIT Kharagpur told the court that the institute wasn't aware of what had been alleged by the student's parents, the court said: "This speaks volumes of the way the institution is functioning. They may not be responsible, but Supreme Court guidelines on the issue of ragging are very clear."
Faizan's distraught mother told reporters: "You all please be aware. Today my son in gone, tomorrow it could be yours. How can you sleep after leaving your children there? Please awake. It's not only Faizan. I appeal to all parents with folded hands."
NDTV has also accessed a document in which the IIT authorities have admitted to several lapses that took place after Faizan's unfortunate death was discovered. Deputy Director Amit Patra, on a portal for IIT students, issued a statement where he accepted responsibility for the "lapses that occurred in the handling of the situation" and apologised.
NDTV has learnt that the Dean of Student Affairs, Dhrubajyoti Sen, resigned after a backlash from students over lack of empathy and mishandling of the situation.
Pointing at the lapses in handling the case, Mr Chatterjee said: "IIT's timely action could have saved the life of a student who was on a scholarship. For 60 hours, at least, the body was in the room. Even after it was discovered, it was kept at the hospital morgue without any preservation. The motive is clear. It's murder."
He alleged in his petition that IIT Kharagpur was trying to cover up the incident.
While the IIT Kharagpur incident is still under investigation, several other deaths have been reported at IIT campuses across the country in the last couple of months. This year, apart from the IIT Kharagpur incident, there have been reports of at least seven more student deaths at IIT campuses across the country.
IIT authorities say they plan to introduce an exit option with a two-year diploma for BTech students, in order to help them cope better with academic pressure.
This option aims to provide relief to students who are unable to withstand the stress of course work and exams for four years. Students opting for this two-year diploma will get a BSc engineering degree, instead being forced to continue with a four-year BTech course.
The exit option with a diploma is already available for students from academically backward sections. The IIT council, the top decision-making body for all IITs across the country, will discuss the proposal soon, so that it can be applied to all willing students.