A postgraduate dalit student of TISS Mumbai, Sanket Thambe, committed suicide by jumping from his 14 storey Powai building in the early hours of 10th December. As per media reports, Sanket, an engineering graduate who was pursuing masters in Organisational Development, Change and Leadership at TISS had named professor P Vijayakumar, Chairperson of Centre for Social and Organisational Leadership of School of Management and Labour Studies, in the suicide note which was retrieved from his first floor flat. The professor allegedly humiliated him and called him a ‘jobless engineering graduate’. Vijayakumar is now charged under abetment to suicide but no arrests have been made thus far.
According to student union president, “As of now, we have not got a response that suggests the nature of action that the institute would initiate to look into the matter. We have already requested the director to take cognisance of the incident and look into it. Because the note had mentioned the Professor, we are not sure about the kind of influence the Professor might have exerted which led to the suicide. We have already placed the demand of suspending the professor pending investigation and have approached the director’ office, the registrar’s office and the dean of student affairs.”
Last month, Prof. Vijayakumar was accused by an alumnus of exploiting his power and position to sexually harass her in a social media post, as part of the #MeToo campaign. “That case is going on. They have initiated the hearing and the enquiry process has begun. It’s close to a month now. There has been couple of interactions, mostly online with the complainant and she has presented the case in front of the ICC. Within 90 days, they should be completing the enquiry and coming out with a report,” adds Jit.
TISS has also seen other controversies in the past few weeks. On November 30th, TISS Mumbai imposed a fine of Rs 1000 each on 18 students for blocking the administrative wing and protesting against the varsity’s decision to withdraw the fee waiver for SC, ST and OBC students. The student union raised the amount through collections from the entire student body and the alumni and had submitted the same to the office. “I personally received a mail today from the director regarding this penalisation in which they have reiterated that it would not create further problems and they have also mentioned that the students have given an unconditional apology letter which proves their guilt. I just want to mention that we intend to take this up with the director too since the unconditional apology letter was coerced,” says Jit.
As of now, The director is currently not in campus and is said to return by 21st. Though promises have been made, the status of the accused professor is still unknown. “We have been informed that he is currently on leave. Whether this leave is voluntary or the institute has asked him to take a leave, this needs to be formally communicated to the student body. That is what we are seeking. But as of now, nothing has happened. Nothing has been initiated,” adds Jit. According to Alpha, the general secretary of the student union, newspaper reports had revealed that Sanket had informed his parents of the ordeal he was undergoing at the university. “Reports say that his parents had informed the admin but there was no action taken from the administration. We have asked the administration to look into that as well.”
However, some students have expressed their suspicion regarding the involvement of Prof. Vijayakumar in the suicide. “ODCL is a recent course in TISS. While 30 students are enrolled for the course in Mumbai, including Sanket, 13 are enrolled for it in Hyderabad. Of the combined 43, more than 20 are engineering graduates,” explains a student of the batch in TISS Mumbai. “Mr Kumar was also a part of the selection panel when the students were chosen. The media reports are one sided,” says the student who wishes to stay anonymous.