(Trigger warning: Description of suicide. If you feel suicidal or know someone in distress, please reach out to them with kindness and call these numbers of local emergency services, helplines, and mental health NGOs)
“Neenu ee thara badukiruva badalu sattu hoguvude vaas (You’d much rather die than live like this…)” is what a faculty member of Bengaluru-based People's Education Society (PES) University allegedly told a first-year BTech student, accused of cheating during an exam on Monday, 17 July.
Within an hour , 19-year-old Aditya Prabhu, a native of Karnataka's Mangaluru died, allegedly by suicide.
According to the Bengaluru police, the incident took place around 11.30 am on 17 July when Aditya, a computer science engineering student, was allegedly caught cheating almost at the end of an exam. After this, his phone was confiscated and his parents were informed about the incident, they said.
In a complaint filed with the Girinagar police station in Bengaluru, Aditya’s father, 50-year-old Girish Prabhu, alleged "mental harassment" of his son and accused the college authorities of "abetment to suicide."
The police have registered an FIR against the invigilators, staff and management of PES University under IPC section 306 (abetment to suicide).
Meanwhile, PES University’s chancellor Prof Jawahar Doreswamy refuted the allegations made by the family to The Quint.
“My son had carried his mobile phone without knowledge, which was kept on airplane mode… But the invigilator blamed him for malpractice and did not allow him to give an explanation to prove his innocence,” the father said in the complaint accessed by The Quint.
‘Want to Tell Our Side of the Story’
Meanwhile, Aditya’s mother Asha Prabhu created a Twitter and Instagram account called ‘justiceforadityaprabhu’ and shared a series of posts with the timeline of events that took place on 17 July.
Asha claimed that her son had briefed her about the incident in a call at 11.45 am. “He told me that he forgot to put the phone back in his bag and the phone remained in his pant's pocket. He remembered it halfway thru (through) the exam and himself took it and kept it away from him either on the bench or the floor (I can’t remember his exact words).”
“Aditya also said that they are harassing him, they told him it’s better to die than to do such things and asked me to come to college. After some time, I got a call from his mentor in college asking me to come. Later I got to know from students in the class that the invigilators saw the mobile at 11.26 am with only 4 minutes remaining for the end of the exam. When I reached there, no one was in the office and I was told to wait. I waited for nearly 1 hour. Then the mentor and the COE arrived,” she said in the Instagram post.
After being called into the office, the staff allegedly told Asha that they couldn’t find Aditya and were trying to locate him “They told me he must be roaming around with his friends. I said it’s impossible that he will go out with friends when such serious charges are lodged against him. I started demanding that they look in CCTV cameras for him and that he might be in danger if he wasn’t sitting there… After some time, they started making calls. And then they rushed out…" her post read.
Once she saw an ambulance and police presence, Asha said she started shouting which is when the management informed her that her son is no more.
Aditya's body was found on the ground outside a building in the campus.
“I asked them to take him to a hospital and revive him. What I was told next is unbelievable… I was told that I need to recognise him first and sign a statement and then they will take him to hospital and try to revive him…”-- Aditya Prabhu's mother
Asha alleged that the college authorities had claimed that the deceased was not their student and was “rather some unknown person who had walked into the campus."
In the FIR accessed by The Quint, Aditya’s father Girish claimed, “The management of PES college is responsible for the death of Aditya... The staff members who were present during the incident were mentioning that the invigilator was blaming and harassing my son…”
According to him, the harsh words of the invigilator on dying “impacted” his son, who was his only child, to take the extreme step.
PES University Refutes Family's Allegations
A senior investigation officer told The Quint, “The investigation is underway. We have filed an FIR and served a notice to the university, however, there has been no response from their side as yet. They have not yet come forward to offer a statement or clarification."
PES University's chancellor Prof Jawahar Doreswamy told The Quint, "We have nothing to hide and we have everything captured on our CCTV cameras. We are extremely saddened by the death of Aditya. He had a grade point average of 8.55 which is extremely good and not easy. Expecting a boy with that kind of ability to have yielded to some kind of pressure like this is surprising to us and we too want to know what happened".
On Asha's allegations that she was asked to sign a statement, Doreswamy said, "The police had come to the site of the incident. They had informed us to stay away from the scene. We are not heartless and insensitive... We too have lost a bright student of ours. I can understand the pain of the parents and why they are reacting the way they are... But it is made to seem like the institution is not concerned about the student's welfare".
Doreswamy also refuted the claims made by the father that an invigilator told Aditya "You'd rather die than live like this". "I can tell you with confidence that none of our staff members would've spoken like that. If by chance, there is proof they did, we will take appropriate action and make sure they are not part of our institution," he told The Quint.
He also said that if the police investigation finds lapses on the part of the college management, the institution will take measures to address them.
‘Not the first time…’: PES University Alumni
"I had the worst time ever while staying at the hostel" described an alumna of PES University, who did not wish to be identified.
“My hostel warden was a nightmare and used to call my parents for the silliest of things. People were also sent to the hostel head with apology letters where we were always threatened to be thrown out of the hostel with our luggage and we had to beg them not to. He was even mean to parents ... And this was during masters... We were adults"-- Alumnus of PES University
In the days following Aditya’s death, several social media users shared the post of his mother and sought justice.
Shruti Nayak, an alumna of the college, alleged that many students over the years have faced a similar situation of harassment by college authorities.
Nayak told The Quint, “When I came to college, I realised that the faculty was very strict. We were not allowed to use our phones on campus and if we did, they would confiscate it and call our parents”.
An alumnus told The Quint, “The management was known for being extremely strict with rules, While this is not a bad thing in itself, some of the faculty who were responsible for enforcing the rules were harsh towards us students and lacked empathy”.
‘We Need Justice’
Demanding justice for her son, Aditya’s mother has requested the college to acknowledge its mistake and revise its Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) to ensure the safety and well-being of students.
“My poor boy just panicked that his reputation is destroyed and took this extreme step. I agree carrying the mobile inside the examination hall, even when done unintentionally, was wrong. But he didn’t deserve the harassment that pushed him to take this extreme step. He didn’t deserve to be left alone either. After his death, he deserved the respect that his body be identified instead of hushing it up and just moving it as an unidentified body to a morgue,” she wrote.
Meanwhile, Nayak and other students said that the university must accept their mistake, and be accountable and work towards rectifying the problem.
“The college needs to comprehend that enforcing rules and showing empathy can go hand in hand. Given that students at that young age have very impressionable minds, the college should prioritise having a substantial number of well-trained counselors who know how to effectively handle young minds,” a student said.