For the second time in a span of approximately one year, another student of National Law University Odisha (NLU Odisha) has died by suicide.
The student is identified as one Aniraj Mansa Tudu, a fourth year student who belonged to the Scheduled Tribe community.
On the condition of anonymity, a student of NLU Odisha claimed that the University administration "are very adamant and harsh and create unnecessary issues for students in the name of discipline".
It was also stated that the student body has been at loggerheads with both the Vice-Chancellor and the Registrar owing to their insensitive conduct while dealing with students, especially in times of crisis.
In communication with Bar & Bench, Vice-Chancellor Prof Ved Kumari expressed her condolences for the tragic death of the student.
"He died at an apartment building in Bhubaneswar which is about 32 Kms away from the NLUO Campus. The reasons for the same are not known."
On the allegations of insensitive conduct and harassment by the administration, Prof Kumari said,
"Any allegation of harassment and mental stress of any student in the name of discipline are baseless as neither the student who committed suicide earlier or this student was under any disciplinary action by the University. All disciplinary norms in force in the University have been formulated in consultation with the Student Council and no such rules are imposed without a consultative process and any disciplinary actions , if imposed is only after due inquiry and giving them an opportunity of being heard."
On the measures taken by the administration to curb similar incidents in the future and to alleviate stress experienced by students, Prof Kumari mentioned a list of 11 mental health-related initiatives run by the University.
These include 24x7 emotional wellness counseling of the students through an MoU signed with online counselling platform YourDOST; a physical wellness counselling with YourDOST; sessions conducted on stress management, suicide prevention and early intervention; mental health programs; a psychology clinic; and the University's collaboration with Art of Living, Sri Sri University Cuttack for enhancing the students’ mental and physical health among other similar initiatives.
"The Health and Wellness Committee of the University has been regularly holding workshops to train students in identifying students with Red Flags indicating mental health issues or needing support...Our teachers residing in the hostels and the hostel staff also keep an extra vigil on students showing signs of distress. Recognising the increase in the mental health issues across the world due to COVID, NLUO did not permit any first year student to stay alone to ensure regular vigil on fresh students," the reply stated.
Negating the allegations of a tiff between the administration and the student body, Prof Kumari said,
"There is no chasm between the Administration and students and all activities of the University are conducted after consultation with the Student Council. The Student Council is an elected body comprising of student representatives and consultation with the student council is an institutionalized practice in the University."
The students also reported on mail about a recent incident of rape that took place on campus and claimed that the same was being deliberately hushed up by the administration. To this, the Vice-Chancellor responded,
"It is completely false that an incident of rape has happened on campus. Hence, there is no question of the University hushing up the matter. When the University comes to know that any of its students has become victim of such a heinous offence, the University takes every step to protect their identity and provides full support to them as needed."
On the steps taken by the University to make the campus a safe place for its students, Prof Kumari said,
"NLUO has 24x7 security guards on campus. The University premises is not open to the general public except on special occasions. Entry and exit of every outsider is recorded and only parents are allowed to visit the students in their hostel rooms. NLUO conducts regular awareness programmes and workshops to emphasise the importance of inclusiveness keeping in view the wide spread geological, language, community, gender and sexual identities of its students.
The University has Anti-ragging Committee, Proctorial Board, Anti-Discrimination Committee, Hostel Wardens, Internal Complaints Committee, Gender Sensitization Committee, etc., and all of them strive to ensure safety of its students on its campus through vigil, conversations, discussions and workshops."
If you or anyone else you know are facing mental health issues or having suicidal thoughts, please access the helpline numbers given below:
Odisha (Health Helpline) - 104
Aasra offers support to individuals and families during an emotional crisis, for those dealing with mental health issues and suicidal ideation, and to those undergoing trauma after the suicide of a loved one.
24x7 Helpline: 9820466726