Published: 14th November 2019
#JusticeForFathima: Does IIT Madras really have an Islamophobia problem?
One of the students on campus said on her FB page that the campus was a 'violent space that stinks of elitism, casteism, classism and Islamophobia — but is this the view of only a few?
About her harassment at IIT Madras, Fathima Latheef apparently said — 'Even my name is a problem for them'. While the veracity of this statement is unconfirmed, it has opened up a can of worms and has fed the rumour mills in and around IIT Madras. It has also emerged that Fathima in her suicide note accused several professors of discriminating against her and harassing her.
It is only now after her death, that the word Islamophobia is being used openly on social media — it has even been reported that Fathima's father said that his daughter had said that 'they' (administration) were not happy with the fact that a Muslim name was topping every test.
But is it necessarily true?
The victim's twin sister found Fathima's notes on her phone that had remained switched off the entire time. But with the suicide note going viral, hundreds have taken to social media to demand action against the professor Fathima has named in her suicide note. But the wheels of justice move slowly — Chennai Police Commissioner A K Viswanathan visited the campus and told the media that the case would be handled by experienced sleuths from the Central Crime Branch (CCB).
Let's talk about Islamophobia — and discrimination
One of the students on campus said on her FB page that the campus was a 'violent space that stinks of elitism, casteism, classism and Islamophobia.' She also added that the normalcy and indifference of the campus scared her. Criticising the fact that people are discussing mental health issues instead of the root cause of suicide, the student said that suicides are 'never personal but are rather social and political.' "The students have not just to perform well academically but constantly prove their ‘merit’ to even occupy the space of this higher education institution. The irony here is that everything has been minimalised to a ‘certain group’s agenda of making this a religious issue’ and ‘the allegations Fathima made in her suicide note is not valid’ and so on. Let a proper, unbiased investigation take place and that is what we should all urge for at this point of time," the student wrote.
According to her, the department is allegedly ridden with anti-Muslim sentiments. "Every academic discussion in our classrooms ends up with a reference to Pakistan and questioning of Muslim women’s agency. 'Why are Muslims and Christians called minorities when their population is large in number while Brahmins are just two percent of the entire Indian population?' this was a statement made by one of our staff to a Muslim woman scholar," she explained in her post.
She also narrated other instances where Muslims students were made to feel targetted — "Another Muslim scholar expressed “being a Muslim student my research topic was constantly interrogated at multiple stages, I had to make it sound “academically validated” - at a point, a senior official asked me; “you are getting good funds, find a better topic”. How many more examples do you need to prove that this campus is Islamophobic and casteist?"
As a muslim student studying in IIT Madras, my campus is not islamophobic. Please keep yourself away from the propaganda. Let them investigate and let the truth come out. Do not try to jump to communally motivated conclusions without concrete proof. #IITisNOTislamophobic— Ajmal Hussain A (@ajmalhussain12a) November 13, 2019
Was it just one professor who's against our Muslim brethren?
One of the Muslim students we reached out to on-campus said that he himself had a run-in with the professor who has been accused in the letter. "I was travelling to my department one day and there is a right that we take on the route. Once, this professor was coming in the opposite direction and we both stopped and he started telling me that I was in the wrong direction, so I immediately apologised. I repeatedly apologised but he began to yell, he went on and on," the student said.
The student said that the professor had another professor riding pillion who tried to calm him down and said it was no big deal, "But he would not stop yelling at me. That's when I knew this was not about the road, it was about my beard and my skull cap. So I gave up on apologising and went away."
What about all the other allegations of discrimination?
But that's not to say there's no discrimination. another student we reached out to says that the campus is definitely dominated by a lot of right-wing propaganda. The student, a resident of Jammu and Kashmir said he got the first taste of it about four years ago. "The floods had just happened and I was wondering how to help. The previous year the Kedarnath floods had occurred and I like several others had volunteered and had contributed funds. So this time, I asked some friends of mine to also start a similar initiative," he said. But a lot of his friends asked him to take the initiative himself and so he did, "I found an organisation that was helping out there and I knew volunteers as well. So I figured we could contribute to them. Initially, people were very helpful and vouched their support. But a few days later, things began to change," the Kashmiri student said.
Apparently some 'right-wing' students began to call the initiative an attempt to fund 'terrorists and separatists'. "They said the organisation I wanted to contribute to was only focused on helping minorities. Instead, they asked me to contribute to Bharat Sena, I didn't know much then so I said that's okay. But soon, on the group we were all on, many students began to start saying things like 'don't contribute because the money will go to terrorists," he recalled. He then decided it was best to call the whole thing off.
Do not jump to religious conclusions without concrete proof.— Ajmal Hussain A (@ajmalhussain12a) November 13, 2019
It's a humanitarian issue and we must ensure the investigation is done properly from institute and police sides.#IITisNOTislamophobic
While he himself is not from the humanities department, the student said that it was easy to notice the rising intolerance by just taking into account the kind of events and speakers, the University was invited on campus. "Some of the speakers who are invited so openly talk against minorities and the events that are organised are very disturbing," he said.
Wait, whoever said that's Islamophobia?
However, some students took to social media to defend the campus and claimed that the incident is being given a false angle. Some claimed to know that professors personally and refused to accept that they could have indulged in any sort of discrimination. "I know Muslim students who have done very well in the same course," another student said.
On the one hand, the hashtag #JusticeforFathima is trending while the hashtags like #IITisnotIslamaphobic is also finding retweeters. Some have also claimed that the parents have clarified the Islamaphobia angle and allegedly stated that the daughter did not explicitly say anything about facing any sort of discrimination. However, only time will reveal the cause of Fathima's death, but is it time for a mechanism to check Islamophobia on campus?