Interview with the Director, Part 4: Curbing Drug Abuse, Freedom of Speech and Lack of Communication


In the final part of this four-part Interview with the Director, Prof. Bhaskar explains why there was no official communication to the students from the Administration regarding the recent unfortunate events and his opinion on the subsequent fallout between students in the mainstream press. He also outlines admin’s views on drug abuse and ways to curtail it.

You can look through the other parts here: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3.




Why didn’t the Administration inform the General Student Body about the recent suicides through a formal e-mail?

A formal communication is not possible unless the police give us the cause of death. We cannot officially provide all the information the media is providing. It may appear like a suicide, but the administration cannot say so till it is confirmed by the police – the FIR usually states unnatural death and not suicide as the cause of the death can only be established after the post-mortem.

So, my statement which was released to the press within 3 hours was that we have unfortunately lost a student in the hostel, he passed away, the police are investigating, we are cooperating, and we requested them not to reveal the personal details of the student. This is why there were few photographs of the student, I think. Next time, I will also release the same internally – my concern then was that this statement would look like a partial statement compared to what the media is already putting out – this was the only issue, and this is unavoidable.


But this has led to a feeling among the students that the admin has failed to inform them, and is instead trying to suppress the news…

Not at all — it is the admin that calls the police and the parents, spends time with the parents until the whole thing is done, takes them to the mortuary and arranges for the vehicle and for whatever arrangements the parents require. We comply at every point. A condolence meeting was also organized in the hostel and the department of the student, as the department and the hostel will have the people who are closest to the deceased. These measures were taken for the previous incident too, as they are, every time we lose a student.




What is your opinion on students approaching the media to voice issues about the institute?

I think it is the right of every student to state his/her opinion and this must be respected. At the end of the day, it is upto the publishing platform to verify the facts and IIT Madras will not interfere in this unless it is absolutely necessary.

On the other hand, campus news bodies like T5E must be factually accurate as, for the external world, it represents IIT Madras. It doesn’t matter whether T5E runs from the institute servers or not.* Of course, again, the freedom of expression and opinion must be respected and protected and students are free to express their opinions, remaining factually accurate.

* T5E is currently hosted on an external server.  




Substance abuse is prevalent in the campus to a large  extent. What measures is the administration taking to curb drug abuse?

See, again, it’s not just drug abuse – as per the law, you can’t even drink in the hostel. So what we try to do is to keep a watch in the hostels — we have also our squads which do surprise checks. What else can we do? There is a very thin line separating such measures and some kind of police state – checking everybody, frisking everybody… We don’t want to do that because the number of people who are doing this isn’t that large; a large number of our students are going about doing their own work. So we have to balance freedom with intrusion.


What action is taken against the offenders?

We usually give them a warning and one punishment. The action, I would say, that seems to be logical in such circumstances is, if you don’t follow the rules of the hostel, don’t stay in the hostel. We don’t see any logic in punishing them academically — giving them a bad grade doesn’t make any sense. If you can’t abide by the rules of a system, don’t stay there, and that’s what we are trying to do. Many students don’t prefer this, and so the punitive action has some power of deterrence. Of course, they try to come back with friends — we are very familiar with these issues. This is one of those things that you can’t curb by any stringent action. You have to keep acting, you can sort of prevent it from exploding, but you can’t bring it to zero — it’s very difficult.


Does the admin take measures to ensure that students are aware of the possibility of surprise checks?

Yes, we put up notices in the hostels, every time a student is caught.


Are there provisions to help somebody stay away from drugs or get de-addicted?

Of course. Cases of substance abuse brought to the counsellors usually get recommended to the hospital, and there are well-known protocols for de-addiction — even for our employees. We send them for Alcoholics Anonymous or refer them to organizations in the city whose help they can take — there are employees who have been rehabilitated. It’s easier for students, actually — it isn’t a bad addiction. We don’t have too many students who are addicts. Usage, yes, but not addiction. The problem isn’t how much addiction – it’s about abuse and this is one of those things where we have to balance the amount of intrusive action that you take. You have to keep doing it so that it doesn’t explode but you can’t also put up such a regime which will hurt the normal life of others – this is a balance you have to strike.


Townhall with the Director, Prof Bhaskar Ramamurthi, is being organized by MiTr, SAC and T5E for students to voice their concerns on, and provide suggestions to improve, the condition of mental wellness within the Institute.

Date: Thursday, 12/11/15
Time: 6 to 8 PM
Venue: Central Lecture Theater

Don’t miss it!

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