Around 70 kms away from Hyderabad, in Shadnagar’s Srinivasa colony, is where Srinivas Reddy and his family reside. A pall of gloom prevails in their home, as on November 2, their older daughter Aishwarya, a student of BSc (Honours) in Mathematics at Delhi’s Lady Shri Ram (LSR) College, took her own life. Five days after her death, her tragic story reached the media and ever since, the family’s home has been buzzing, with regular visits by media persons and local politicians.
Inside the 2-room home, a photo of Aishwarya, with a tilak on her forehead, now rests on their television at home. Several other photos of Aishwarya and her younger sister, Vaishnavi Reddy, and the parents, taken over the years, adorn the walls of the house. The family built the small house not too long ago.
Aishwarya's house in Shadnagar, Telangana
Aishwarya’s father Srinivas Reddy works as a bike mechanic and her mother stitches clothes for a living. Two sewing machines occupy a considerable space in the hall-cum-kitchen of their home. Her father told TNM, “I used to earn Rs 400 a day and my wife would make Rs 200 per day. With Rs 600 that we earned, we managed to run the house and our family. During the lockdown, we hardly made any money.”
Unable to afford the fees of the younger daughter, a few years ago, the parents stopped sending her to school after Class 8.
Speaking about how she has always been a bright student, her mother Sumathi said, “She had got the first rank in Class 10 and the second rank in Class 12. She wanted to become an IAS officer. I had always told her that if she makes it to the civils interview, that would fulfil my dreams.” According to her parents, she was like any other teenager who wanted to watch movies and hang out with her friends. This behaviour, similar to other youth her age, would often lead to tense situations at home.
Last year, when Aishwarya secured admission into LSR, her parents shared how a lot of people who knew of the college had told them, “Aishwarya had managed to get admission into a premier institute where even the Prime Minister or the President couldn’t recommend a seat for admission.” Convinced, they agreed to support her ambition and her strong urge to study further in life. They took a loan and decided to support her.
Aishwarya's books that she left behind
“We took Rs 2 lakh as a loan. We had to repay it in 84 months. Every month, I am paying a little less than Rs 5,000 as an instalment to repay the loan,” said her father.
In her first year, Aishwarya had to pay Rs 25,000 as college fees and Rs 75,000 as the hostel fees. Aishwarya’s rank in Class 12 made her eligible to qualify for the INSPIRE scholarship from the Ministry of Science and Technology. However, according to the Students' Federations of India (SFI), since March, the funds for the second year of her scholarship never reached Aishwarya.
Aishwarya returned home in March before the lockdown and had been at home ever since.
According to a survey that was conducted by the Committee for Inclusive Education under the LSR Students Union, which is now public, Aishwarya had mentioned how she was struggling at home, without internet connectivity and without a laptop. She mentioned how classes were happening for around five to eight hours daily and with her data pack, she was able to attend just less than 3 hours of classes. She had also stated in the survey, “They are teaching well but I don’t have a laptop, and my mobile is not working well, so I am unable to do any practical paper.”
Her father’s eyes welled up when he recollected how she was extremely close to him. She had asked him for a laptop. “I was told how it costs Rs 40,000. I told her I would try to arrange for the money. I asked around to borrow money. I had collected Rs 5,000 and was hoping to raise the rest.”
When TNM visited the grieving family, a local news channel was reporting how Congress Chief Rahul Gandhi had tweeted about Aishwarya. Seeing this, Aishwarya’s mother and sister broke down.
The mother later mentioned how a bright student like Aishwarya should never have to face a similar situation. “The government should have a mechanism to identify and support bright students who are unable to afford quality education,” her mother said. The family was informed that Congress MP Revanth Reddy was likely to visit the family.
Her father shared how on the day she decided to take her life, she refused to eat food after she had a heated argument with her mother about working on the cotton fields.
On the evening of November 2, Aishwarya readied food for her father when he came home, but refused to eat. In the evening, her father offered to buy her snacks from outside, which she also refused.
“Our pet labrador had just been served food minutes before she decided to end her life. He was eating, otherwise, he would have surely barged into her room sensing she was trying to take her own life. Even when there is an argument at home, he barks and ensures peace prevails,” says Srinivas Reddy, even now believing that the pet could have saved her from taking her life.
In her death note, Aishwarya stated how she believed she and her education had become a ‘liability’ for her family. She also mentioned in the note, ‘death is correct for me’ and ‘I cannot live without education’.
“Our daughter has gone, and whoever is gone is gone. Just because we are from the upper caste, not everyone from the upper caste is financially well-off. No one else should lose a life like my daughter. I request the government to remove all reservations and treat everyone fairly. Just support the poor irrespective of one’s caste,” said Srinivas Reddy.