Unable to afford a laptop for her studies, burdened by hostel policies and delay in scholarships, on November 2nd a second year student from Lady Shri Ram College for Women died by suicide. Student organisations and women groups on Monday staged protests demanding justice for Aishwarya, and for the Government to release scholarship funds.
Aishwarya was the state topper in her Class 12 examinations and secured a seat in the prestigious Delhi college and was the recipient of the “INSPIRE” scholarship offered by the Ministry of Science and Technology. However, the students from SFI and her family allege that she did not receive the funds for the second year of her scholarship.
She was the daughter of auto mechanic Srinivas Reddy and tailor, Sumathi. During the COVID-19 lockdown, her family came under financial stress because of loss of their source of income. Her father took a loan of Rs 2 Lakh for her higher education after mortgaging their one bedroom home and pledging gold ornaments, putting the family under further stress. Her sister had to drop out of school because of this.
Her father said, “I had to shut for a month due to the lockdown and although I reopened, business has been slow. My daughter had returned home in February after the college closed. In October, she asked if I could buy her a laptop as online classes had started and she was finding it difficult to attend them on her phone. She said even a used laptop would do. I told her to wait for a few days. She did not ask again. A few days later, she mentioned that the scholarship amount she was supposed to receive was delayed.”
The LSR student body stated that Aishwarya shared in a college survey that she was unable to do any practical papers as they were online. Her mobile phone did not work and she didn’t have a laptop. In her suicide note also Aishwarya mentioned that she couldn’t live because she was unable to study because of this.
Stress for the family worsened because the LSR hostel had asked 2nd year students to move out of the hostel per policy as it is only available for first year students. Her mother said that Aishwarya had been depressed since her hostel warden had asked her to move out by November 7th. “Any private accommodation outside would cost at least Rs 15,000 a month. We did not have money even to buy her a train ticket to Delhi,”
Her father also added, “Arrangements had to be made to move to a hired accommodation. I told her not to worry and that I will manage the money, though I had no idea where from. On November 2, she insisted on feeding me with her own hand. And then she took the extreme step.”
Responses of Students and Authorities
Hostel authorities dubbed the incident a tragedy but stated that Aishwarya had not reached out to college authorities. LSR principal Suman Sharma said, “The college has many schemes and scholarships but she never asked for assistance…We have a counselor at the college to help students if they are facing any challenges emotionally or mentally. However, nobody knew about her state of mind. It is unfortunate, we wish she had reached out either to her teachers or the counselor or anybody in the college.”
However, student unions claim otherwise. NSUI national secretary Lokesh Chugh said that she had written to the administration about the problems she was facing but received no help. According to him, she had been denied scholarship for over a year by the Government.
Notably, Aishwarya had reached out to Sonu Sood after he tweeted about a scholarship initiative for students.
Student Unions termed the incident an “institutional murder” and alleged that Aishwarya was subject to psychological trauma because of the long-pending INSPIRE scholarship and the apathy of the administrations.
Student Unions also explained how this is not an isolated institution, but a repeated pattern of neglect from authorities regarding the lives of working-class students. While there is a provision for delays up to the end of December, Lokesh explained:
“This is just a recent example of how imperative scholarships are for students. When the government delays the provision of funds to students, it puts them and their families under immense pressure.” SFI member D Prashant also stated that in the midst of the pandemic the NDA Government stopped distributing national fellowships for at least six months, ruining student’s lives and prospects. JNUSU President Aishe Ghosh also mentioned that the government hasn’t released scholarship since the lockdown.
Lokesh futher argued that the combined loss of scholarships and hike in education fees is a major point of distress for working class students and families. He said, “The Indian education system begets issues in it. One of the major issues is the increase in the cost of college, school and university fees.” In recent years many institutions have received backlash for hike in fees, especially in the fees of poor and/or SC/ST/OBC students, including TISS, JNU, AIIMS and Ambedkar University, Delhi.
The students demanded that the Government release scholarships as soon as possible.