*Trigger Warning: Covid*
Elizabeth Warren opines, “Balancing your money is the key to having enough.”
Balance has a very precarious existence in our lives — the balance between dos and don’ts, possessions and deprivations, normative and positive, what is and what ought to have been. Balance, that coveted yet indefinable stage of equilibrium where the starkest forces are brought to rest.
The onslaught of the Covid-19 pandemic has disrupted even its fine semblance in our lives, tumulting its very course in all aspects, one of the most significant being the financial bottlenecks endured in these trying times, due to an absolutely disparate situation in the availability and the need for funds.
The global pandemic has wreaked havoc in the employment market, with an exponential increase in layoffs and job losses in the informal sector due to a sliding recessionist trend in the economy. This, in turn, has been amplified in the lives of the students and the youth of the country.
The financial stringency that has plagued almost the majority of the population, especially the students, has not evaded creating newer hurdles for them in the already polarised allocations of the restricted funds available at hand.
The very first instance that highlights the misery of the discriminatory education sector is the stark digital divide, accentuated especially among the lower economic classes, that deprives students of merit in continuing their academics in their “virtual classrooms”.
Being already strained by financial exigencies, the urgency and the drive for acquiring digital devices fade into the background, leading to many students dropping out of their formal courses, and hence, being increasingly pitted against the highly competitive labour market with most being trapped in the vicious cycle of underpaid labour or disguised unemployment.
Sahejneet Kaur, a first-year history student at Lady Shri Ram College for Women, Delhi University, confesses, “We shall simply admit that online is something affordable to limited strata of society. Unfortunately, Indian society (rural and urban both) goes through hard times during such cases.”
Moreover, the periodic imposition of lockdowns and curfews to contain the spread of the virus has severely affected the daily wage labourers and their families have become extremely volatile and dependent on governmental or private aid. However, the government too is not in a position to augment this disparity by extensive provisioning of digital devices.
Sahejneet continues saying, “Personally experienced, students despite getting into government universities haven’t gotten any ease as the system fails to provide any plausible solutions to their students and faculties, thus, resulting in augmentation of dropouts and suicide cases.”
Secondly, this economic distress has a deplorable effect on the psychology of the students. The constant sense of friction between familial and personal costs coupled with their financial dependence on the family, often oppressive in nature, mostly reduces them as isolated victims who do not retain the same sanity and mental acumen to rise to such challenges.
Jaisika, a first-year history student of LSR, says, “Financial burden is something which brings more havoc as it holds the student back and represses them to freely voice their opinion.”
It also hinders the access to academic opportunities of the student. Jaisika poignantly brings this out, saying, “For example, if someone wants to pursue a premium newspaper application or take up a course on soft skills, they possibly cannot do it as their financial sources would limit them which would ultimately lead to despair, disheartening and disappointment, again harming ones mental space so it is a kind of vicious cycle really hard to escape.”
The second wave of the pandemic has almost left all households crippling with its ramifications. With the family members getting affected and the huge expense required to be incurred in their treatment, amidst the acute scarcity of oxygen cylinders and other medical pieces of equipment.
The students have been facing a double-edged sword of raising funds for their kin as well as bearing academic costs at the same time, especially during the period of college admissions when a lumpsum amount is required failing which the seat might get cancelled.
Desperate appeals through social media handles of fellow students for funds to save their close ones have been raging for the past few months. However, this is not only uncertain but involves the possibility of the funds not being collected at the right time.
Rubaie, a first-year student, holds the view, “On one side, they have to deal with the stress of online education, which is frustrating for a lot of people since it is a direct shift from classroom education. On the other side, they become a mute spectator to the woes of their families as they can’t help them and have to live in an environment of uncertainty.”
Further, the debt trap into which one succumbs to recover from these financial exigencies will lead to a greater burden in the future for repayment with interest, leading to more psychological torment and financial bottlenecks.
Ayantika Pal, a first-year student of JIS School of engineering, West Bengal, opines, “The pandemic situation is leading to increased personal debts in the form of credit card debts, educational loans, auto loans, etc. which have huge interest rates, and therefore, over the years it becomes more difficult to pay them. Moreover, it can make people fall prey to legal actions intended for debt recovery.”
Lastly, there has been a bourgeoning rate of suicides because of the failure of the people to deal with such stress caused due to financial duress.
Swastika Ghatak, a first-year student pursuing English honours from Bhawanipore Education Society, West Bengal, recalls with grief, “This financial stress has made people take their own lives. One of my father’s friends was missing, and a few days later, his body was found in the river. He lost his job. I don’t know if there were other reasons, but everyone thinks this is the main reason he took his life.”
Thus, that the financial duress that has been wreaking havoc among students across myriad backgrounds is undeniable. The antagonism between maintaining academic costs as well as fending for health expenditure has had severe repercussions on the young minds, putting their future and aspirations at stake. The helpless cries for help and the woes still echo in all our hearts.
In this scenario, a centralised and well-planned approach is needed in every university to address the issue of financial distress which can be aided by the government. Only then can we move towards a more holistic and inclusive balance between both paradigms.