Trigger Warning: Suicide
A student of Lady Shri Ram (LSR) College for Women in Delhi died by suicide at her hometown in Telangana on November 3 after failing to receive an instalment of her scholarship that was due to her in March of this year.
Srinivas Reddy and Sumathi, Aishwarya’s parents, are grief-stricken at the untimely death of their eldest daughter Aishwarya. The 18-year-old topper from Telangana, who was pursuing her 2nd-year B.Sc (Hons.) in Mathematics at Delhi’s prominent Lady Shri Ram College for Women, was an extremely bright, ambitious and hardworking girl, as per her parents.
Unfortunately, like millions of other school and college-age students, she had been confined at home since March on account of the lockdown but unlike her counterparts, the enormous financial burden on her family as well as the lack of resources to be able to afford a second-hand laptop to keep up with her online classes in this period propelled her to end her life by suicide on November 2.
Her parents wail that she had deep aspirations to become an IAS officer, and the daily-wager couple fully supported her and did everything in their power to help her get closer to achieving her dream. They sold and pledged gold valuables and ornaments they had, mortgaged their home for 2 lakh, and even took out huge loans(amounting to 1.05 lakh) when those weren’t enough to provide for her stay in Delhi.
Like the labourers across the country, when the pandemic hit, they were left financially bereft and there was a dearth of wages coming in. Around this time, Aishwarya became unsure about being able to afford further education and return back to college for her next semester.
In her signed suicide note, Aishwarya said she saw how her family had struggled for years and was struggling even now to provide for her education and that she does not want to be a burden on the family any longer. But at the same time, she also knew she couldn’t live without learning.
She mentioned the ‘INSPIRE’ scholarship which she had won in her 1st year at LSR and through the assistance of which she was affording her degree at LSR.
“She achieved her seat through merit. She was always a brilliant student throughout her life. She topped her school in 10th and came 2nd overall in the town in the intermediate exams. And we were willing to support her education whichever way we could have,” said Srinivas Reddy.
Srinivas Reddy said his daughter was worried about the financial obligations of two more years of college education, on top of providing for herself for another two years in Delhi while she stayed back to prepare for the UPSC exams. She was also unhappy that her younger sister had to drop out of school since her parents couldn’t provide for both of them.
Sumathi said Aishwarya was depressed after receiving a WhatsApp message from the university, asking her to vacate her hostel room by the end of October of this year. “Even cheap accommodation outside of the university would cost at least Rs 15,000 per month. And on top of that, they would need to provide money towards a security deposit. How are we supposed to pay for all that when we couldn’t even afford a train ticket to Delhi?” noted Sumathi.
“For two days before killing herself, she refused to eat anything. She fought with her parents regarding the continuation of further studies”, said Gandham Navyashree, a BA (History and Sociology) student of LSR, who hails from the same town and was a friend of Aishwarya’s. She remembers Aishwarya as a front-bencher, always well prepared and attentive in class.
“On the fateful night, she forced me to have my dinner and went into the room. She usually spent all her time there. We thought she was studying, as usual” said an inconsolable Srinivas Reddy. “Even in our worst nightmare, we never could have thought she would do something like this”, she added.
She also says that Aishwarya had been stressed over online classes, projects and assignments because she did not have her own laptop. “She had shared with her friends her inability to perform well as she was using her mobile phone for attending classes and for completing her assignments,” her mother added.
I am appalled by the fact that a student of her calibre had nowhere or no one to turn to. Is this what our institutions have come to? Left with no other alternative, she heard about Bollywood actor Sonu Sood’s tweet about his initiative to offer scholarships to needy students.
Aishwarya then wrote an email to Sonu Sood in September, attaching her certificates as well, and requested him for financial assistance to continue her education. In the email, she expressed her fear of having to drop out of college.
“I never expected that a laptop was going to be so important. But because of online classes, the laptop became extremely important to study. I don’t have a laptop and I am unable to do my papers. I am afraid I may fail in these papers. Our family is completely in debt, so I am not sure whether I will be able to complete my graduation due to lack of financial resources,” the email read.
Several news reports and public comments expressed sentiments along the lines of, “How insensitive she was to take this step” and “She could’ve studied in a nearby college… Why go to Delhi?”. This shows an absolute lack of understanding of the situation or the factors that led to the unfortunate situation.
No one wants to die. Especially a brilliant student like Aishwarya who had her whole life ahead of her, plans for the future. And until the lockdown, she was happy. Its was only after lockdown and consequent curtailment of her scholarship that she lost all hope.
Aishwarya, a student topper of LSR, Delhi committed suicide after not receiving scholarship from Central Govt
She had no money for fees, internet & Laptop
Modiji, u have ₹20,000 cr for Central Vista & for Kangana's Y+ Security but can't pay scholarships?#JusticeForAishwarya
— Srivatsa (@srivatsayb) November 9, 2020
If this is the situation in an elite institution like LSR, please spare a thought for the countless kids in small towns and villages and those in J&K who haven’t had access to proper internet speeds even on their phones for over a year. Beyond tragic https://t.co/qCR4oAdl8T
— Nidhi Razdan (@Nidhi) November 9, 2020
The college on the other hand professed shock at the incident and allegedly claims that no one, the victim or her family had reached out to them with their worries. LSR Principal Suman Sharma said Aishwarya Reddy was an excellent student but she did not contact the college for financial assistance. “It is a huge loss for us and it is very unfortunate that we were unable to help her,” Sharma added.
“However, she had never approached any teacher from the mathematics department or hostel authorities with her issues. The college has many schemes and scholarships but she never asked for assistance. We also have many mechanisms for mental health help, but unfortunately, she had not reached out for those either.”
Aishwarya had received the provisional offer letter of Innovation in Science Pursuit for Inspired Research (INSPIRE) scholarship for Higher Education (SHE) offered by the Department of Science and Technology (DST) but was unsure if she would be able to receive the money in time. In her suicide note too, she mentioned it and requested if one year’s due amount could be handed over to her family post her death, to alleviate their immense financial stress.
Of course, it’s ridiculous to blame any one institution for an incident such as this. But at the same time, it’s reflective of the utter sense of inequality and exclusion that is embedded in our system which stops students like Aishwarya. We have to hold the institutions accountable to a certain extent as well as the central government for not disbursing scholarships and the LSR administration for the criminal ignorance of the students’ plight.
As disturbing as it is, Aishwarya’s suicide is an outcome of the apathetic decision making at the institutional level that denies the existence of multiple realities and fails to take them into account. It is a grave failure of the education system that is far from inclusive and accessible.
While talking about the issue it is important that we not dehumanise the victim and her family but look at the issue politically and in terms of the structural inequalities inherent in the education system.
The institutions need to wake up to the fact that for students like Aishwarya, who come from lower-income backgrounds, unless there is a financial assistance fund and timely disbursement of the same, more bright lights will wink out far ahead of their time and this is a monumental loss for the nation.
Even for an average student, these classes and binding deadlines take a toll. Over that, she had to worry about a whole lot of other things that she necessarily didn’t have to if she was timely given what she was promised by the institutions.
Aishwarya’s parents sum it up best. “As much as we want justice for our daughter, we want authorities to ensure that no other student faces a similar fate and no family has to go through the pain that we are,” rued Srinivas Reddy.
There are several NGOs across the country that are committed to the cause of mental health. They run counselling services and suicide helplines for anyone in danger of committing suicide:
Lifeline Foundation – +91 33 24637401, +91 33 24637432
Address – 17/1A Alipore Road
Sarat Bose Road 700 027
Sumaitri – 011-23389090
Address – Sumaitri
Aradhana Hostel Complex
No. 1 Bhagwan Das Lane
Bhagwan Das Road
Nagpur Suicide Prevention Helpline – 8888817666
The Samaritans Mumbai – 022 6464 3267, 022 6565 3267, 022 6565 3247
Address – B-3, Trisandhya
Behind Ambika Sarees
Dadasaheb Phalke Road
Dadar (E) 400014