Kerala University Suicide Sparks Mental Health Debate Among PhD Scholars

CUK's Student Council President, Sreehari , shed light on the precarious mental health landscape on campus, citing previous instances of attempted suicides by fellow students. Of particular concern was the absence of a psychiatrist at the campus health center, prompting SFI-affiliated students to demand immediate action.
Central Univeristy of Kerala
Central Univeristy of Kerala

New Delhi - Ruby Patel's tragic passing, found in the confines of Nila Hostel at the Central University of Kerala (CUK), has sent shockwaves through the campus community. Originating from the serene village of Ruchida in Odisha's Bargarh district, Ruby devoted herself to the pursuit of a PhD in Hindi and comparative literature at CUK, nestled in Kasaragod, Kerala's northernmost district.

According to a PhD scholar from the university, it was on 1st April that the unsettling discovery of her body was made. She was found hanging in the hostel's bathroom, prompting the Bekal police to launch an investigation under CrPC 174, classifying the incident as an unnatural death.

The hostel warden made the grim discovery around 11:30 am that day, sending shockwaves across the campus. Ruby's untimely passing has raised concerns about mental health and academic pressure among students.

This sentiment was echoed by student organizations, including the Students' Federation of India (SFI), National Students' Union of India (NSUI), and the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), who staged protests attributing Ruby's death to mental pressure.

CUK's Student Council President, Sreehari A, shed light on the precarious mental health landscape on campus, citing previous instances of attempted suicides by fellow students. Of particular concern was the absence of a psychiatrist at the campus health center, prompting SFI-affiliated students to demand immediate action.

In response to the outcry, students converged at the vice-chancellor's chambers, advocating for the appointment of a psychiatrist on campus. The protest, fueled by anguish and urgency, sought to address systemic gaps in mental health support within the university community.

The vice-chancellor subsequently provided assurance in writing, promising to prioritize the appointment of a psychiatrist and address broader mental health concerns during the upcoming executive meeting on April 16. This offer offered a semblance of solace to the grieving student body.

Photo of Ruby Patel
Photo of Ruby PatelX account (@cukeralatweet)

The Mooknayak spoke to PhD scholars from the university who wished to remain anonymous. One of them alleged that Ruby was under immense stress due to her research and was constantly being belittled by her guide. Demotivated, she had tried giving up on her work in 2023 but returned to continue once again.

He further stated that Ruby was in a doctoral meeting with her guide just a day before, after which she came out crying.

“It is very common for scholars to face mental pressure from the guides,” the scholar added.

The conversation then shifted towards the mental health crisis at the university. “The guides here make us do their work such as taking attendance of the classes they teach,” the anonymous researcher said. “They also force us to attend ‘unnecessary’ doctoral committee meetings where they talk to us rudely.”

He suggested that research students, despite not having regular classes, are required to sign in upon arrival in the morning and sign out in the evening, imposing a rigid attendance system that seems impractical for scholars.

Another scholar alleged that the university provides no flexibility for research students. Many who come from different states are not able to go back home for months at a stretch owing to the strict attendance and pressure from their guides.

Response from the University:

According to multiple scholars, the university has not officially made any statements, even though student bodies have declared that the VC has decided on appointing a psychologist for the campus.

On 2nd April, the official Twitter handle of the university posted: “We are deeply saddened to announce the passing of Ms. Ruby Patel, a PhD Scholar from Odisha, in the Dept. of Hindi. Our heartfelt condolences go out to her family, friends, and colleagues during this difficult time. May her soul rest in peace” along with a picture of the deceased.

The Mooknayak has also reached out to the Vice-Chancellor and Section Officer of the university through email but has not received any statement yet.  

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