Jumping to Conclusions: MIT student death4 min read
The death of Neham Agrawal, a 2nd year Manipal Institute of Technology (MIT) student, who succumbed to severe burn injuries here on Thursday, has left the student populace of Manipal in a state of paranoia.
The circumstances that led to the death of the 19 year old is yet to be made official but within hours of the death, a WhatsApp message was being circulated, inciting people to stand up and take action.
“A devastating accident took place last night at 10th block and it is wrongfully being portrayed as suicide by falsifying evidence. It is high time the students of the college take up a stand and I urge everyone to come near 10th block basketball ground at 7 to take up some action. Please be there and send this message to as many as possible. Remember today it’s him tomorrow it could be any of you”
The message was doing the rounds as early as 5:30 pm on the day of the tragedy, barely three hours after the victim was declared dead. It claimed that the devastating accident was being wrongfully portrayed as a suicide. But by who exactly? The incident was not even portrayed then. The media had not reported it. The administration was yet to comment on it meaning the apparent wrongful portrayal was based on hearsay.
It is understandable that tensions were invariably running high and the student community was itching for clarification on what had transpired at Hostel Block X on that fateful night. There were multiple theories trying to explain the incident, including absurd speculations inspired from television crime shows. Maybe crime investigations are solved in a few hours on television shows but in reality, it takes much more time.
Even though the incident took place in the common bathroom of a MIT hostel building, it is a case of unnatural death that will be investigated by Udupi Police Department– who are autonomous from the Manipal University administration. The Udupi Police Department is a governmental law enforcement agency under the Karnataka State Police and they deal with unnatural deaths on a constant basis. In the last year, the department handled 371 cases of unnatural deaths and there is no reason to believe that this case would be treated any differently.
The circumstances surrounding his death are still being investigated. The police are awaiting the post-mortem report of the victim’s body. Yet that did not seem to suffice the students’ insatiable desire to know what was happening on Thursday. A crowd of around 80-100 people turned up at the basketball court outside MIT Hostel Block X at 7 pm on 17 March. Many in the crowd seemed to have gathered simply to find out what the fuss was about. The “ring leaders” of solidarity, the anonymous voices that circulated the message on WhatsApp, did not do anything of significance.
Sources from the Police department revealed to The Manipal Journal that they were aware of the students gathering outside Hostel Block X and the police soon entered the campus at Kamath Circle. SV Girish, the Investigating Officer of the case, arrived at KC at around 7:45 pm and was engaged in a conversation with concerned students, who had now vacated the basketball court and migrated to KC, for over an hour.
Recent events at the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) and Hyderabad University are influencing a trend of siege mentality among students. But every issue need not escalate to that extent. Ill-informed solidarity leads to unnecessary disruptions. There are other ways of raising your voice and making yourself heard. Udupi Police can be reached through the Suraksha Police application. A user of the application, available on both Android and iOS, can post complaints, upload photos directly to the police and track his/her complaint at all times. All the complaints are read and replied to by Annamalai. Even though the SP was out of station when the incident happened, he was aware of developments in Manipal and was communicating with the Police officers over the phone.
The students in question are by now, more or less convinced by the explanation given by the police, however the truth will only be confirmed when the post-mortem report is released and the police conclude the investigation. Sources within the police department said that 90% of the investigation is complete and that they are close to wrapping up the case.
I understand that it is a disturbing time for classmates, friends and acquaintances of the victim, especially students of Hostel Block X. The details of the mysterious death may be hard to digest but we have to let the law take its natural course.
Prajwal Bhat is a reporter at The Manipal Journal
All views expressed in the article are personal.