Wednesday, November 21, 2007

A sad loss

We were all stunned to learn yesterday that R. Chitra, a doctoral student in our Department, took her own life the previous night.

Chitra was someone who always presented a cheerful smile to the rest of the world. This smile seems to have prevented even her close friends from suspecting that she was contemplating such a drastic step. In fact, a student recalls that, just a few hours before Chitra took that step, she talked about an upcoming exam and about her preparations for it ...

There have been a few press reports (here, here, here, here), and they raise questions, particularly about the ethics of private hospitals that turn away people -- like Chitra -- in need of emergency care.

But, those questions will have to wait for later. This is the time for mourning.

* * *

Arati has a sensitive post. And, so does Ranjani.


  1. pradeepkumar pi said...

    Very sad and unfortunate incident. Wonder whether it has any thing common with the Harvard incident described here:

  2. Anonymous said...

    its very sad...also iisc has a very unhealthy atmosphere for students...theres too much emphasis on academics and hardly any community event other than the weekly movie (even thats useless in bringing ppl together)...hardly any interaction possible outside one's dept...ppl end up isolated

  3. Blue said...

    Very sad news. You are all in my thoughts. Take care.

  4. Wavefunction said...

    As usual, the only fact more saddening than her suicide is the fact that the nursing home turned her away by citing "lack of facilities". Exactly what facilities do you need to flush the digestive system of a person who has consumed poison? Administering charcoal, polyethylene glycol or gastric lavage are relatively simple techniques that every such place should have. The fact is, nobody cares.

  5. Anonymous said...

    I had spent four years in IISc from 1994-1998. Initially, new experience, especially moving from a gang of friends, during my under graduation, to be among people who were keen to pursue only their career and nothing else. I soon learnt to be one among them. And learnt ``not to bother about anything else other than your own interests”

    If my memory serves correct between 1994-1998 there were at least 4 suicide cases.

    1) An ME student who was unable to fathom the fact that he was not the topper any more. Sadly, this boy, I was told, was son of a daily wage laborer from Andhra.

    2) A PhD student in Chemistry. Whose research, I was told, was not going anywhere, and had consumed a deadly chemical from his lab. In this case again this boy was from a poor family from a remote village in TN. Many of us cannot forget this incident due to the drama surrounding it. When the boy collapsed, students carried him to the health center, it was raining hard that day, the ambulance driver refused to take the patient to Ramiah hospitical, saying that this was his way of protesting and highlighting his poor plight. And he had a right to strike. Tempers flared and fearing violence, the driver relented and the patient was taken to the Ramaih, where he was declared dead. . The drama did not end there. The news could not be conveyed to the parents directly, a shop in the neighborhood was called and asked to inform the boy’s parents that their son has committed suicide and the body was on its way.

    3) Another PhD student, some how linked to JNC, committed suicide, by hanging himself.

    4) A girl from Engineering, and MSc (Engg) student, attempted suicide by consuming Baygon. However, she was saved, but not before developing serious medical complications and slipping to coma and finally getting back.

    Barring the fourth case, the respective Depts took no interest in these happenings. In the fourth case the Dept was really supportive. In fact the credit for her survival must go her advisor. Barring the first, all the other three had the ``Love factor” associated with it, I mean, the person was in love with some one, but that person was either not interested or was interested once but not anymore. Infact the final jolt appears to have come when their respective love interests had found a different partner.

    I have met many depressed souls in IISc. Their research not going anywhere. The coldness in the working environment makes them feel useless and miserable. Infact, the behavior of their colleagues (both faculty and fellow students) makes these students feel that they are no longer needed any more. I feel here is where some counseling is needed, on how to handle such people. The ``better and the settled ones” have show this broadside. This perhaps is what pradeep wants to say.

    One thing that is common in all these cases were lot was discussed after these deaths, for a few days, after that people go back their work, as they cannot spend more time these things, which would prove costly to their career. Unit the next suicide happens.

  6. Rahul Siddharthan said...

    anonymous 1 and anonymous 2:
    I was in IISc during the period mentioned by anonymous 2, and remember 3 of the 4 cases mentioned. In addition I remember a case from the biological sciences, but perhaps that is the one "somehow linked to JNC" that I don't remember.

    I disagree that IISc was so one-dimensional that students want to pursue "only their career and nothing else". On the contrary, I remember an extraordinarily diverse student body there, with several students participating in activities ranging from drama to music to regional literature to sport to photography to all kinds of other things. But I also know that many students (particularly in engineering) had a sort of "culture shock" when they realised that they were no longer at the top of their classes, and many research students were stuck with impossible advisors and hated their research.

    I would not blame the one-dimensional student community. But I would say the institute must recognise the sorts of pressures students face and have a proper counselling scheme in place. It is particularly important that the institute have an ongoing "evaluation" of its professors and their suitability as advisors.

    In many places, including my institute and TIFR, students only select advisors after their first year. I think this is an excellent idea, because students will get to know about the "avoid-at-all-costs" advisors during that time. I understand this has been discussed at various departments in IISc, and opposed by precisely the sort of advisors who fear they will be avoided if they don't "trap" students early. But it needs to be done urgently.

    It is true also that there were many cases of failed love lives, and occasionally also of harassment of female students. I think that is a reflection of our society rather than of IISc -- I see much worse things in the "real world", and IISc mostly had, by Indian standards, fairly healthy relations between the sexes.

    One of the media reports says that Chitra was being forced into a marriage against her will. If true, it makes me very angry; but again, one sees this all the time in the "real world". Parents in this country see their childrens' (particularly daughters') marriage not as something that should be in the childrens' interest but as some misguided indicator of their social status, or something. What the daughter wants literally does not matter at all. For the most part, I think places like IISc help the situation by supplying a sheltered environment and some level of financial independence, and I don't think there should be active institutional interference in family affairs, but it is a serious problem in this country and has nothing to do with IISc.

  7. Anonymous said...

    Strange, how I read this post about anti depressants and how one needs more counselling and less medication just before reading the post on the suicide of a young woman. Timely counselling might have helped chitra- it is time for IISc to add trained personnel to its health center for psychological help atleast on a part time basis.

  8. Abi said...

    Thank you all for your comments. As many of you have suggested, the need for counselling by trained professionals has been identified by our Institute as the way to go (I read it a newspaper, which also quoted our chief medical officer, but I can't find the link ... ). I just hope that we'll have this mechanism in place soon.

    Pradeep: Thanks for that link.

    Anon: I am with Rahul here. I am totally at a loss as to why you think there's very little for students to do outside of academics. Even as a non-student, I can cite so many student groups: Gymkhana, Concern, Greengang, Photography club, Voices, Trekking club, Rhythmica, and all the language associations.

    Ashutosh: I agree. It appears to me that private hospitals just don't want to handle medico-legal cases. So, they just trot out vague but reasonable-sounding excuses for passing patients on to government hospitals.

    Anon 2: I agree with you that a credible, privacy-respecting mechanism is needed where students in distress can get some help. We do have two mechanisms (a counselling group, and a consultant psychiatrist) right now, but I am not sure how useful they are to the students. If they are not all that useful, we certainly need to create something that'll win students' acceptance.

    Unlike the past instances you recounted, I hope this tragic event will spur our Institute into doing something credible towards addressing students' concerns.

    Rahul: I am with you on pretty much everything you have said. In particular, I am with you on the periodic evaluation of faculty from the point of view of their suitability to advise.

    Revathi: Yes, I too saw the irony (though I did not mention it) in seeing that article on anti-depressants within a day of the suicide.

  9. Anonymous said...

    this is anon1
    i am sorry to say this but its sad that u dont see...i suggest you hark back to your own undergraduate days and you will see the most ppl dont know their hostel neighbours too

  10. Doctor Bruno said...

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    I started a comment here, but it became too large and I have posted it at

    Related posts about College Life are given at