Recently, 19-year-old Aishwarya Reddy, a student of Lady Shri Ram College for Women, died by suicide, leaving behind a note that talked about her family facing financial burden due to her studies.
Her death has not only left the nation in shock, but once again brought up the harsh reality of class difference and economic inequality that exists in India.
A bright, intelligent girl, Aishwarya was a second-year student, studying BSc in Maths at LSR, and staying at the LSR hostel. A topper from Telangana, Aishwarya was the recipient of the INSPIRE scholarship, provided to the students who are amongst the top 1% in the 12th-grade examination.
However, as the pandemic and subsequent lockdown forced the traditional brick-and-mortar education system to turn online, Aishwarya was left to cope with online classes with only a mobile phone.
According to her suicide note, her education was a burden on the family, and for her, there was no meaning to life, if she couldn't study.
Though Aishwarya was the recipient of the INSPIRE scholarship, which entitled her to ₹1.2 Lakh, the receipt of the amount had been delayed, leading to her family mortgaging their house to fund her stay and education in LSR.
Reportedly, Aishwarya's younger sister had also dropped out of school to help with her studies, but her parents were still not able to buy even a second-hand laptop for Aishwarya. Consequently, Aishwarya did not have proper access to her online classes.
Her father is a bike mechanic, who shared in an interview with Barkha Dutt that he earned a nominal amount of ₹400, at most. Due to the lockdown, his earnings dwindled to almost nothing, while his wife, who sews, took further loan for help. And they never got the complete amount of scholarship award.
Aishwarya was already worried and depressed that her parents would not be able to afford her private stay, since LSR only provides hostel stay for first-year students. The pandemic further worsened the situation for the family, and for her. She even tried reaching out to actor Sonu Sood, but to no avail.
After the news of her demise became public, people called out the college for ignoring the needs of students from financially weak background, as well as the government for not providing requisite aid.
Consequently, #JusticeforAishwarya trended on Twitter.
Due to non-dispursal of the INSPIRE scholarship, a student of Lady Sriram College was forced to commit suicide. SFI demands the immediate disbursal of all national fellowships & to continue the disbursal unfailingly every month.#ReleaseScholarships#JusticeForAishwarya pic.twitter.com/yT6FInUb3G— Mayukh Biswas (@MayukhDuke) November 8, 2020
DU student Aishwarya Reddy was a very poor family girl, had taken loan to complete her study. Lockdown forced family to mortgage the house. She lost life due to lack of scholarship from DU admin. Neither state nor union govt came forward to help her. Shame! #JusticeForAishwarya pic.twitter.com/C7A42CR7Xw— Er.Ilyas Mir Magami (@EngineerMeer1) November 9, 2020
Daughter of a mechanic, Aishwarya scored 98.5% in 12th— Srivatsa (@srivatsayb) November 9, 2020
Lockdown financial troubles meant she couldn't afford her education
Youth are dying as they can't afford a laptop & are not getting scholarships
PM is busy playing with 🦚 & 🦜#JusticeForAishwarya https://t.co/oiorEWSkHu
The death of Aishwarya exposes loopholes in our Education System to include the ones frm the marginalized sections.— VOICE Against Injustice✊ (@001__Victoria) November 8, 2020
It's not a suicide, but an institutional murder of young Aspirations.#JusticeForAishwarya#ReleaseScholarships
'Beti Bachao Beti Padhao' has become a gimmick!! pic.twitter.com/QCpHNyEkL5
Currently, Aishwarya's parents are trying to come to terms with the loss of their child, while also struggling to arrange funds for their younger daughter's studies.
Aishwarya's father, G Srinivas Reddy, shared with Indian Express that he would not wish this fate on any other family, and hopes the government intervenes to help those students whose studies have been affected due to the Covid crisis.
Another meritorious student like my daughter should not face the same fate. Let this be an eye-opener. The government should help poor students, especially during this Covid crisis. No one should die like my daughter due to lack of money to study. She worried over our poor financial condition and took the extreme step. This should not happen in any other house again... My elder one is no more, I want to educate the younger one. I will do whatever I can to fund her studies.
A bright student, who dreamed of becoming an IAS officer, was pushed to suicide because the right steps were not taken to help students with the shift to online education. Because government and institutional apathy stripped students of access to education. And because equal access to education is still not a reality in 2020.
If you, or someone you know, is suffering from depression, experiencing suicidal thoughts, or just need someone to talk to, remember that help is just a phone call away. Reach out to the following helplines in India. BMC mental health helpline: 022-24131212 (available 24X7), Vandrevala Foundation: 186-02662345/180-02333330 (24x7) or AASRA: 91-9820466726 (available 24X7).