After Aishwarya's death, Telangana activist donates smartphones for students

Activist Sujatha Surepally has distributed nearly 40 units of smartphones.
Activist Sujatha Surepally donates mobile phones to prevent deaths caused by digital divide
Activist Sujatha Surepally donates mobile phones to prevent deaths caused by digital divide

Following the death of 19-year-old student Aishwarya Reddy, an activist in Telangana has started an ‘each one reach one' drive to provide basic smartphones to students from socially marginalised backgrounds. Sujatha Surepally has provided nearly 40 smartphones to Scheduled Caste, Scheduled Tribes and students from economically backward families, availing online education without proper resources.

“It is a tragedy that underprivileged students are facing such harsh inequality, that too at a young age,” laments Sujatha. “It was the tragic demise of Aishwarya which forced me to reach out to students from socially backward backgrounds. The government has imposed online education on students without taking them into consideration. Students are going to the neighbour's house to watch TV [for education], this is very dangerous and particularly so for girl children,” she adds.

Owing to the coronavirus pandemic, the government of Telangana has been conducting classes via the state channel Doordarshan Yadadri/satellite channel T-SAT from September 1. Students can access T-SAT through YouTube as well. Though the government has mapped students without any of these tools, like the internet, TV and mobile phone, and arranged for a common TV through the help of village sarpanches and connecting them with other students, many continue to face problems in pursuing education.   

19-year-old Aishwarya Reddy, a BSc student from Lady Shri Ram College in New Delhi, took her own life earlier in November, stating that she could not afford to pursue education without the means. Aishwarya did not have a laptop or a proper working mobile to continue with the online classes. Aishwarya’s parents are economically poor. Her father Srinivas is a mechanic and her mother Sunitha is a tailor. 

Moved by the tragic death, Sujatha through her network of teachers has been identifying students in need of a mobile phone. Being a former teacher herself, she has a good network of rural teachers, rural reporters and activists. She is also using her Facebook page to spread the campaign. 

“So far we have distributed 40 units, another 40 units are yet to be distributed. These phones are very basic, priced at around Rs 6,000, but are sufficient for online classes. Before handing out the pieces, we are also talking with the local Mandal Parishad Territorial Constituency and Zilla Parishad Territorial Constituency representatives, so that there's accountability. These representatives are entrusted with getting them SIM cards and recharges done,” Sujatha explains. The phones were distributed in Bhupalpally, Peddapalli, Asifabad and Nalgonda districts. 

Sujatha has also reached out to Ambedkar International Center, situated in the USA, for help. “A proposal has been sent, if they help, most students will be benefitted," she says. For this campaign, as of now, Sujatha is taking donations only from her friends and other activists.  

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