Late on Thursday night, dejected students of Amrita School of Engineering in Bengaluru rolled up posters and put down the placards they had held as they sat in protest demanding justice for the death of a fellow student – Sri Harsha. Harsha had killed himself in the campus on Monday after walking out of an inquiry conducted by the college’s 10-member disciplinary committee.
Students began protesting soon after Harsha’s death and demanded that members of the disciplinary committee be removed immediately. After four days of protests, the Dean of Engineering, Amrita University – Dr Sasangan Ramanathan, and two other members of the college’s management arrived in Bengaluru to conduct talks with the students.
Student representatives told TNM that the talks were inconclusive and they were informed that the college would be shut till November 4. Those living in hostels were asked to leave.
Sri Harsha was accused of vandalizing a CCTV camera on the night of September 23, when protests broke out in the campus. Students, who were angered by Director Dhanaraj Swamy’s alleged apathy towards their demands for their basic right to food and water, had vandalized seven buses, a window of a provision shop and one CCTV camera.
What happened inside the disciplinary committee meeting on October 21
On October 21, Sri Harsha was called in for inquiry the second time. The disciplinary committee reportedly had screenshot of a picture Harsha had allegedly put up on Snapchat. “When the vandalism occurred, Harsha had taken a picture of the CCTV camera and had put it up on Snapchat. The committee learnt of this somehow and that’s why he was called for an inquiry. He told the committee that another student had informed him the name of the person who had vandalized the camera. Harsha strongly denied damaging college property,” one of the students, who was present at the inquiry on October 21 with Harsha told TNM.
The student says that the faculty members threatened to stop Harsha from attending placements and also suspend him for a year if he did not reveal the name of the person who vandalised the camera.
“There were so many rumors and so many names were being taken. Harsha had informed them that I had spoken to them about one such rumor. But the management wanted me to give the person's name in writing. They threatened to rusticate me and I was forced to name the student we had heard rumors about. Though I was not sure of it," the student added.
It is after this meeting that Harsha killed himself even as his father was waiting at the college's gate for him.
Protests erupted soon after and students demanded that the Chancellor Amritanandamayi address the issue personally.
What happened in the negotiation meeting
Hopeful that their demands would be met, 10 student representatives met faculty members of the Bengaluru campus and the three-member management team at around 7.30 pm on Thursday. Emotions ran high after the meeting was over as dejected student representatives walked out with tears in their eyes.
The students’ primary demand was the removal of members of the disciplinary committee. This was allegedly met with stiff resistance from the college management.
“We told them that students feel threatened to walk into a class room and know that those faculty members would target them for speaking up. But the Dean told us that he cannot infringe on employee rights and that no action could be taken against the DISCO until they are proven guilty. We tried to negotiate by saying that the 10 accused must not be allowed inside the campus until the investigation is over but the management did not agree to that either,” one of the students, who attended the meeting told TNM.
Another demand was for a new disciplinary committee with students representatives and a counsellor to ensure that the committee does not mentally harass students. Students also demanded that the minutes of the discipinary committee meeting be recorded in addition to video-taping each meeting. They also demanded that these minutes and videos must be made accessible to students in question and their parents or guardians on request.
“They did not agree to this either. When we read out our demands, our last demand was that good quality food be provided and that those living in hostels must get 24 hour water supply. They agreed to give us proper food and water and also to form a student body and a committee with four student representatives to decide the new menu for the mess. Apart from this, nothing much was agreed on," another student, who was present at the meeting said.
The Dean Sasangan Ramanathan addressed the protesting students after the meeting and informed them that the college would be shut until November 4.
"We are calling off the protest until November 4. If any of the accused enter college when we come back, we will protest again,” the student said.
By 11 pm, the protestors had dispersed. The Mathura Block, where students had protested for four days was finally empty. “We all shed tears. We are all very emotional right now. We feel helpless and hopeless. What is the guarantee that anything will change? We will keep fighting,” the student added.