In a survey for students, Aishwarya had revealed that her mental health was affected by lack of laptop and proper internet connectivity.

Aishwarya Reddy smiling in a selfie taken near a water body She is wearing a white outfit and big silver earrings
news Education Monday, November 09, 2020 - 16:53

Nearly two months before killing herself, 19-year-old Aishwarya Reddy, a second year student pursuing Bsc Honours in Mathematics in Delhi’s esteemed Lady Shri Ram (LSR) College, had expressed inability to do well in her studies due to unavailability of laptop. On September 6, in a  survey to understand how the pandemic affected students attending online classes, Aishwarya wrote: “They are teaching well but I don’t have a laptop, and my mobile is not working well so I’m unable to do any practical paper.” The ‘inclusive education’ survey was conducted by student representatives, general secretary of LSR students’ union Unnimaya said. 

Aishwarya took her own life on November 2, at her residence in Shadnagar, Hyderabad. 

In the survey, Aishwarya also revealed that her mental health was affected by the long hours of classes. The classes were conducted from 8.45 am - 4.30 pm but Aishwarya’s data pack could last only for three hours every day, exposing the deep digital divide that put Aishwarya under distress. Her parents, her father a mechanic and her mother a tailor, could not afford to buy her a laptop or get a better internet connection.

Besides these problems, which students from financially poor backgrounds continue to face due to the coronavirus pandemic, on September 27, Aishwarya received a notification asking her to vacate her hostel. 

Aishwarya’s mother Sunitha Reddy said that her daughter complained to them about how she would require Rs 30,000 to shift to a new place in Delhi along with her friends, as the hostel refused to provide accommodation anymore.

In 2019, LSR implemented a policy allowing hostel accommodation for only first year students, many students have been protesting against this rule. Student organisation, Students’ Federation of India, which has dubbed the death an “institutional murder”, says that this structural problem of denying accommodation to students was in violation of the university rules. “In the name of inclusivity and implementing Other Backward Caste reservation, the administration converted the hostel into a first-year only hostel, violating section 33 of the Delhi University Act,” Unnimaya said.

As per Section 33 of the Delhi University Act, every student of the university (other than a student who pursues a course of study by correspondence) shall reside in a college or hall, or under such conditions as may be prescribed by the Ordinances. 

Aishwarya’s mother said, “Almost every day she’d keep lamenting about how she cannot afford to study because of the expenses. She would say that we need Rs 15,000 per month towards her rent, money for buying a laptop and a smartphone. I overheard her telling a neighbour that she would become a laughing stock if she quit her studies. But we never thought that it would be this serious.” 

The deceased student was also a recipient of the Innovation in Science Pursuit for Inspired Research (INSPIRE) scholarship provided by the department of Science and Technology. However, the SFI has alleged that there was a delay in the disbursement of the money.

In the suicide letter, Aishwarya said, “Please see to that I receive at least one year’s INSPIRE scholarship.” 

SFI has also alleged negligence on the part of the institution for failing to prevent Aishwarya’s death. 

Unnimaya said that they sent several letters to the Principal and Vice-Principal to address the concerns faced by students amidst the pandemic. However, the requests were overlooked, she alleged. She said that the student representatives in the college had collated a list of students requiring a laptop - a basic requirement for online education - which was not fulfilled by the administration.

Demanding justice for the victim, the SFI asked the Lady Shri Ram College administration to revoke their controversial hostel policy. They also demanded that the college provide laptops and data allowances for students; no compulsory attendance; and no punitive actions if students fail to meet the deadlines.

The protesting students also asked the central government to disburse her scholarship, adequate compensation for the family and formation of a committee to study the inaccessibility of education.

If you are aware of anyone facing mental health issues or feeling suicidal, please provide help. Here are some helpline numbers of suicide-prevention organisations that can offer emotional support to individuals and families.

Tamil Nadu

State health department's suicide helpline: 104

Sneha Suicide Prevention Centre - 044-24640050 (listed as the sole suicide prevention helpline in Tamil Nadu)

Andhra Pradesh

Life Suicide Prevention: 78930 78930

Roshni: 9166202000, 9127848584

Karnataka

Sahai (24-hour): 080 65000111, 080 65000222

Kerala

Maithri: 0484 2540530

Chaithram: 0484 2361161

Both are 24-hour helpline numbers.

Telangana

State government's suicide prevention (tollfree): 104

Roshni: 040 66202000, 6620200

SEVA: 09441778290, 040 27504682 (between 9 am and 7 pm)

Aasara 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

Click here for working helplines across India.

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