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regular-article-logo Tuesday, 16 April 2024

Lady Shri Ram student suicide bares gaps

She hanged herself last week out of fear that financial strain would scupper her studies and her mother has alleged that the college did not provide any 'help'

Basant Kumar Mohanty New Delhi Published 10.11.20, 01:05 AM
College principal Suman Sharma said Aishwarya — who had returned home to Telangana in March after the Covid-19 outbreak — had never contacted or sought support from the Delhi-based institution, which had no means of knowing her situation or mental state.

College principal Suman Sharma said Aishwarya — who had returned home to Telangana in March after the Covid-19 outbreak — had never contacted or sought support from the Delhi-based institution, which had no means of knowing her situation or mental state. Shutterstock

The suicide of a Lady Shri Ram College student who hanged herself last week out of fear that financial strain would scupper her studies has underlined the gaps in institutional support for disadvantaged students left overwhelmed by the pandemic.

Aishwarya Reddy’s mother complained on Monday that the college had “not given any help” to the former Telangana school board No. 2.

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College principal Suman Sharma said Aishwarya — who had returned home to Telangana in March after the Covid-19 outbreak — had never contacted or sought support from the Delhi-based institution, which had no means of knowing her situation or mental state.

Nor did the second-year BSc (maths) student receive the monthly stipend of Rs 5,000 she was entitled to under the Science Pursuit for Inspired Research (Inspire) fellowship of the central government, for which she had received a provisional offer in August.

Ashutosh Sharma, secretary to the department of science and technology which confers the fellowship, told The Telegraph that Aishwayra had not furnished the documents necessary for payment of the fellowship.

Aishwarya, daughter of a mechanic, had stood second in her Class XII board exams in Telangana last year and was the first from her family to pursue higher education. She hoped to be a civil servant.

She hanged herself at her home in Telangana on November 2, leaving behind a suicide note in which, media reports said, she termed herself “a burden on my family”.

In the Telugu note, she asked that the fellowship money be paid to her family. Sharma said that as a special gesture, a year’s fellowship amount would be given to the family.

“The financial situation created a burden on her. The college has not given any help,” Aishwarya’s mother Sumathi Reddy told reporters at an online news conference, organised by CPM student wing SFI. “If the Inspire fellowship money had come, it could have relieved her stress.”

She said that a second notice from the college to vacate her hostel seat by November 10 had added to her daughter’s stress.

The college had last year decided it would provide hostel accommodation only to first-year students. The first year ends usually in mid-summer but when the students began leaving in March – and looked unlikely to be back anytime soon -- the college issued a notice asking them to vacate the hostels.

It wasn’t clear whether the notice was issued before Aishwarya’s departure, but she did leave behind some of her belongings at her hostel.

With online exams in June-July marking the end of the first year, the college issued another eviction notice in October to the freshly promoted second-year students who held hostel seats.

First-year admissions are over and the University Grants Commission has allowed institutions located outside containment zones to resume in-person classes, if they think fit, any time after November 6.

Although Lady Shri Ram hasn’t decided on a date yet, it wanted to keep the hostels “ready for the new batch”.

“We had already taken a loan of Rs 2 lakh to support her education. Now she wanted an additional Rs 15,000 a month to be able to stay outside the campus after the college asked her to vacate her hostel,” Sumathi said from her home at Srinivas Colony, Saad Nagar village, Rangareddy district.

“She said she would become a laughing stock if she discontinued her education.”

Sumathi said relatives had advised Aishwarya to seek transfer to a college in Hyderabad. “But she didn’t want to lose out on her studies; she never wanted a transfer,” Sumathi said.

Aishwarya seems to have faced difficulties accessing online education, including virtual classes, from her mobile at home.

According to a survey conducted by the college students’ council, Aishwarya had said she neither had a laptop nor adequate Internet facilities at home.

Students’ council secretary Unnimaya said 39 per cent students of the college had no stable Internet connection at home and 27 per cent lacked access to a laptop.

“We had informed the college about the digital divide but there was no response,” Unnimaya said.

Aishe Ghosh, an SFI leader, said India’s public-funded higher education institutions were reducing their support for the socially and economically marginalised students, and were turning into “institutions of exclusion”.

Sharma, the DST secretary, said the Inspire scheme required the beneficiaries to upload the necessary documents by December.

He said Aishwarya had not uploaded these documents --- the first-year mark sheet, bank details and a letter from the institution head certifying the applicant as a student.

“She could have submitted the documents as early as September and got the fellowship. I have checked the records: she never uploaded the documents,” Sharma said.

The college principal said the first-year results had been released in August but Aishwarya never approached the college seeking a certificate that she continued to be a student.

“We had no idea about her Inspire fellowship. She did not contact us,” the principal said.

She said all the students and their parents knew about the college’s new hostel policy.

“We issued the notice to all the students (boarders) to vacate the hostels so that the hostels could be maintained and kept ready for the new batch,” she said.

“But she did not reach out to us on the hostel issue, either. She never reached out to us on any difficulty she faced in her online studies.”

Asked about the students’ council letter about the survey revealing students’ problems with accessing online education, the principal said the college was looking into the matter.

Nearly 12,000 students are offered the Inspire fellowship every year to encourage them to take up science research as a career. Students who make the top 1 per cent in aggregate marks in their Class XII exams from any state or central board are eligible to apply.

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