After 4 suicides in a year — 3 by hanging — IISc begins removing ceiling fans in hostel rooms

After 4 suicides in a year — 3 by hanging — IISc begins removing ceiling fans in hostel rooms

The Indian Institute of Science, the country’s premier institute for scientific research, is removing ceiling fans from the institute’s hostel rooms, apparently in a bid to prevent student suicides. The move comes after four students of the institute allegedly committed suicide in their hostel rooms since March this year — three of them by hanging.

While the ceiling fans are currently being removed, the plan is to replace them with table or wall-mounted fans.

In two email responses to ThePrint Friday, the IISc confirmed that ceiling fans were being removed from hostel rooms, and claimed it was done “to restrict access to any means of self-harm on the campus, which includes changing the current ceiling fans in hostel rooms”. The institute added that it was doing its best “to promote the psychological well-being of the IISc community”.

One of the emails added: “The measures that we have been taking are based on recommendations that have been made to us by mental health experts.”

Referring to other measures taken by the institute, the email added that another “initiative was to have counsellors call individual students on campus to inquire about their well-being and this exercise has already been completed”.

“We would like to emphasise, however, that these are only a few of the many measures that we have taken in recent times,” it said.

ThePrint reached the chairman of the students council at IISc over phone for a comment on the removal of ceiling fans from the hostel rooms.

While he refrained from commenting on the issue, a report published in Deccan Herald Thursday claimed it had accessed a poll conducted within campus, “which found that 90 per cent of 305 respondents did not want ceiling fans to be replaced by wall-mounted fans, while 6 per cent said that they do not care”.

Students had previously alleged that the institute didn’t pay heed to the mental health of the students who had to stay back at the hostel during the months of pandemic-induced lockdown.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, a student had told ThePrint in September, “Since science students need to be in the laboratory as experiments cannot be done online, several students stayed back in the institute. Those who stayed back were only permitted to go to class and come back (to the hostel).”

She said: “We would collect our food from the cafeteria in tiffin boxes and eat it in our rooms. A ‘Covid brigade’ was set up. It monitored what students were doing and who they interacted with. We were not allowed to even speak with our batchmates on open grounds. It was extremely unnerving and the act of living there in isolation took a toll on our mental health.”

Mental health initiatives at IISc

The institute also set up a wellness centre sometime during the pandemic, to address the mental health issues of students.

In its email response to ThePrint, the institute claimed that other measures undertaken to ensure the mental wellbeing of students included “increasing access to wellness resources for the institute community: a 24X7 emergency call service, 24X7 online counselling and support via the YourDost platform, and counselling”.

It added: “Apart from the on-campus counsellors, a panel of external consultants is also made available to the students for online or in-person appointments. The wellness centre has also been organising many awareness sessions, invited talks, workshops and seminars related to mental health and wellness.

“Information about mental health resources, as well as events organised by the wellness centre, are publicised to all the campus community members via institute-wide emails. Each department/centre at IISc also has a wellness committee — consisting of two faculty members and two students — whom students can reach out to in case of any issues or concerns. The wellness centre facilities are being utilised by many students.”

Students who spoke to ThePrint in September, however, claimed the wellness centre has just two consulting therapists, who are only available on the weekends.

A PhD student in the biology department of the institute had said that despite the setting up of a mental health service, the funds provided by the institute for its operation were not enough. “I take sessions with the counsellor and psychiatrist provided by the institute, but they are available for sessions only two days of the week for three hours a day,” the student said, on condition of anonymity. “There are only so many students these mental health experts can talk to in such a short time period.”