Students point out structural issues; apathetic substance ab-

The recent student death at Azim Premji University, Bengaluru, has sparked a conversation among the student community about the functioning of several institutional bodies on campus, ineffective student support at the institute, and the absence of any elected student body.

M Ashwin Nambiar, a 21-year-old final-year student at the Azim Premji University, who was pursuing a BSc in Mathematics, was found dead on November 10. The student allegedly died by suicide after jumping from the 16th floor of the university in Sarjapur early in the morning. 

One of Ashwin’s batchmates from Azim Premji University told EdexLive, on request of anonymity, that the deceased was under immense academic and institutional pressure.

“We still do not know the reason behind Ashwin’s death but he was under a lot of stress. He also had issues with different institutional bodies on campus. His death has highlighted many structural problems in the functioning of these bodies. For example, the mental health support system for students on campus is not very effective and there is no elected student council on campus,” the student said.

“The University will continue to extend all assistance. Any suggestion to the contrary is regrettable,” shared the institute spokesperson with EdexLive.

The full statement, here

Memorandum and demands
Following the unfortunate incident, a group of students from the university submitted a memorandum to the registrar of Azim Premji University, highlighting their needs and demands for a more student-friendly campus.

“The recent death of our friend and peer, Ashwin Nambiar has left us in a state of sadness and anxiety. The events following up to Ashwin’s death reflect a profound failure on behalf of the university and its many structures. The recent events have thrown light on the deeply flawed and fractured workings of many institutional bodies on campus. We recognise how the oppressive inner workings of the disciplinary committee, the strain of academic pressure and the inadequate mental health provisions on campus have contributed to the tragic loss of our friend,” the memorandum submitted on Friday, November 24, read.

While the university, in its statement to EdexLive, shared that they are continuously engaging with the students regarding their demands. 

Apathetic substance abuse policies
Ashwin’s peers and family members have informed that the deceased was accused of smoking on campus, leading to threats of suspension by the disciplinary committee just a few days prior to his death.

The students of the university stress that there is a need for more policies that are more empathetic and considerate in their approach.

“The current policy that deals with cases of substance use is extremely harmful. To reiterate, arbitrarily derailing and unhousing students who have been found using or have been in possession of narcotics causes serious damage to students already in strenuous situations. There is a desperate need for an alternative that approaches the problem of substance use with more empathy and care than shame and punishment,” the memorandum said.

Need for elected student council
In their memorandum, the students of Azim Premji University have highlighted a pressing need for an elected student body on campus in order to better represent the shared struggle and needs of the students.

“We strongly believe that the establishment of a student body, one that speaks for the students, is the way forward in ensuring that our rights and demands are duly considered and met. An elected student council to uphold student interests through transparent decision making. We believe this would further ensure fair student representation in every decision making body in the university,” the memorandum by the students said.

The students have demanded an elected student council with reserved representations (scholarship and non-scholarship students from SC, ST, OBC, disabled groups, and on the lines of religion and gendered marginalisation) on campus.

Student representation in committees
It was further added that none of the many committees present on campus like the Disciplinary Committee (DC), the Food Committee, Finance Committee, Student Affairs, and academic-related committees do not have any student representation. The students also alleged that on several occasions, these bodies have made harsh and unjust decisions that have had an immensely negative impact on students’ lives.

The memorandum highlighted that several policies of the disciplinary committee on campus “villainize” the students. Moreover, the students stressed the importance of transparency in the proceeding and functioning of these committees.

It was also added that the committee often takes extreme decisions like evicting the students from the institute’s residences or revocation of scholarships as a consequence of transgression. Students stressed that the presence of a mental health professional on the Disciplinary Committee is a necessity considering the sensitive nature of the investigation process.

Other issues
The students added that there are several other systemic issues on campus such like increasing food prices, ineffective Prevention of Sexual Harassment (PoSH) committee, absence of anti-discrimination cell on campus for minority students and lack of mental health support on campus.

The memorandum has been signed by around 800 students. Along with this, the students have also given an ultimatum to the management, demanding necessary action before the beginning of next semester in January or the students will take more “extreme measures”.

Varsity responds
“The University has been engaging with the students on their demands and suggestions. Several student volunteers have been contributing significantly towards this effort. We are confident that these should be in place in the coming months,” assured the varsity.

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