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“Ashwin was struggling academically. He was severely depressed. Add to that the action of the disciplinary committee. Of course he crumbled,” said Ashish Nambiar, brother of 21-year-old student Ashwin Nambiar who died by suicide on 10 November.
A native of Hyderabad, Ashwin was pursuing B.Sc in Mathematics from the prestigious Azim Premji University (APU) in Karnataka's Bengaluru. He was allegedly suspended by the university's disciplinary committee a couple of weeks back after a cigarette packet was found in his hostel room.
Seventeen days after his brother’s death, 25-year-old Ashish, who is also an APU alumnus, told The Quint that the alleged action could have been the “tipping point" for Ashwin.
On 27 November, Ashish took to microblogging platform X (formerly Twitter) and accused the university of “absolute apathy.”
In a statement to The Quint, the spokesperson of the Azim Premji University said, "We are deeply distressed by the unfortunate demise of one of our students. We have extended all possible support to his family as they cope with this devastating loss. We have been engaging with the family members, including working with both the hospital and investigating authorities to complete all necessary procedural formalities. The university will continue to extend all assistance. Any suggestion to the contrary is regrettable."
‘Disciplinary Committee Took Action Against Ashwin Without Evidence’
Ashwin was interested in a lot of things – basketball, arts, culture, fitness and cooking, his older brother Ashish, who is currently pursuing his PhD in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology from Indiana University in the US, recalled.
“He used to love to cook. But around a year ago, he started getting depressed. He stopped pursuing any of these interests which made him happy."
Ashish told The Quint that Ashwin was struggling academically with a few subjects and had to repeat a year. He added that while that was a “significant contributor” to his weakening mental health, he was seeking professional help in the form of therapy sessions.
However, Ashish alleged, it was the action by the disciplinary committee that worsened his state, further adding that even their parents were not informed about the incident or the action taken.
Their father Commodore Manohar Nambiar is a retired officer of the Indian Navy, and their mother Pradita Nambiar is an elementary school teacher. They currently reside in Hyderabad.
According to Ashish, someone who lived on the same hostel floor as Ashwin reported cigarette smoke from the corridor, which allegedly resulted in the authorities making a random inspection in the hostel.
“During these raids, a cigarette packet was found in my brother’s room, due to which he was called in by the disciplinary committee,” Ashish told The Quint.
He added that while Ashwin smoked cigarettes casually, he had not smoked in the hostel that day, and hence, was confident that there would be no action against him. But during the committee’s proceedings, charges were allegedly levelled against him – and he was allegedly suspended.
“Just because a pack of cigarettes was found on Ashwin doesn’t prove without a doubt that he was smoking in the hostel that day. If he was, the university should share CCTV footage. Besides, it's not illegal for an adult to possess a pack of cigarettes. On what basis was he suspended?” Ashish asked.
In their statement, APU told The Quint that the university "has a detailed campus code of conduct that lays out the rules and regulations to be followed by the members of the university. This document details the dos and don’ts, specifies major and minor violations, disciplinary procedures including action that repeat violations could invite and the appeal process."
"The document is signed by each student at the beginning of the semester. This is apart from the detailed orientation that is provided to the students at the time of their joining the university. The university is committed to conducting a fair process while implementing the code of conduct."Azim Premji University to The Quint
‘Ashwin Was Quite Hestitant to Discuss His Condition’
“He must have been struck by this deep sense of shame; he never told us anything. We are only finding out now after talking to his friends, other students and faculty members,” Ashish told The Quint.
He recalled that Ashwin was “quite hesitant” to discuss his mental health condition until about three months ago when he told his mother. After this, he started seeking therapy. Even though the first therapist did not work out, he sought help from another and had started feeling better, Ashish claimed.
“He had started getting back to his interests. He was committed to passing the course this year,” Ashish stated.
But the incident presumably fazed him.
Ashish said that he was “very disappointed” with the circumstances and questioned the accountability of the university and accused the disciplinary committee proceedings to be “shrouded in secrecy.”
“Who constitutes the disciplinary committee? How are its members chosen? What happened during the proceedings after which action was taken against my little brother?” Ashish asked.
In their response, APU said, "In the interest of privacy, the university does not discuss internal matters pertaining to individuals in public. The university has been actively engaging with the students on their suggestions. Student volunteers have been contributing significantly towards this effort."
'Demand Recognised Student Body At APU’
Ashish told The Quint that his parents are struck with deep grief at the loss of their younger son.
“We are in a desperate situation. It was only after I took to social media on 27 November that my parents got a call from APU’s registrar regarding some documents for Ashwin. They only care about their image. There is no humanity.”Ashish Nambiar
He added that what happened with his brother was “a symptom of a larger disease,” which is the absence of a recognised student body on campus.
In February this year, a controversy surfaced at APU after a first-year MA Development student Abhijit Shinde reportedly suffered a cardiac arrest on campus – and passed away. While students claimed that Shinde died after participating in a hunger strike, the university’s management asserted that he collapsed while participating in the college fest, Hindustan Times reported.
The students were reportedly protesting against shuttle fees of Rs 8,500 levied on students for ferrying them from the hostel to their college.
“We did not know what happened with Ashwin during the proceedings of the disciplinary committee or after its verdict. In the absence of a recognised student body, there is no student representative in any committee,” Ashish said.
He told The Quint that he is having to undergo a “traumatic” experience to go back to campus where his younger brother died and talk to students and faculty members to get an “objective perspective” of what might have happened with Ashwin.
“I used to be so proud to be an alumnus of APU. I studied here from 2016-19. It was one of the first batches. We built the bare bones of the constitution of a student council here for credible (and not just rubberstamp) student representation here. But no progress has been made till now.”Ashish Nambiar