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Aishwarya Reddy Deserved an Education – the System Woefully Failed Her

TW: Details of Suicide

Aishwarya Reddy, a second-year student of Lady Shri Ram college died by suicide on 2nd November at her home in Telangana. This has led to several student organisations coming together in solidarity and protesting.

“Because of me, my family is facing many financial problems. I am a burden for my family. My education is a burden. If I can’t study, I can’t live,” wrote 19-year-old Aishwarya Reddy in her suicide note, A student of the prestigious LSR college of the Delhi University, who ended her life after knocking all doors for help.

Aishwarya’s father, Srinivas Reddy who had only opened a repair shop this March, said that when Aishwarya got admission to the college, he mortgaged his one-bedroom house for Rs. 2 Lakh.

“I had to shut within a month due to the lockdown and although I reopened, the business has been slow. My daughter had returned home in February after the college closed. In October, she asked if I could buy her a laptop as online classes had started and she was finding it difficult to attend them on her phone. She said even a used laptop would do. I told her to wait for a few days. She did not ask again. A few days later, she mentioned that the scholarship amount she was supposed to receive was delayed”, said Aishwarya’s Father, Srinivas Reddy.

While Aishwarya was also a recipient of the INSPIRE scholarship distributed by DST (Department of Science and Technology), her father claimed that the scholarship was delayed. She was to receive an annual fund of Rs.80,000.

“Sometimes a delay may occur in cases for technical issues — such as if the student has not uploaded all required documents on the scholarship website, whether the previous money has been used, or if the student has failed to meet the minimum marks criteria, which is 60 per cent for a second-year student. The process of disbursal of funds is 45 days from the time of application” 

said Dr Sanjay Mishra, in-charge of the INSPIRE programme at the DST.

Although, the latest troubles for Aishwarya came when she was asked to vacate her hostel room in October. The LSR hostel is only available for first-year students. Even during this period of Pandemic, the hostel admin was insensitive and didn’t even consider the amount of mental pressure it would put on the students.

“Arrangements had to be made to move to a hired accommodation. I told her not to worry and that I will manage the money, though I had no idea where from. On November 2, she insisted on feeding me with her own hand. And then she took the extreme step”

Srinivas Reddy, Aishwarya’s father

LSR Principal, Suman Sharma claimed that Aishwarya had not reached out to the college for financial assistance and said  “It is a huge loss for us and it is very unfortunate that we were unable to help her. 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.”

“Hostel administration behaved completely blind and ignorant to the struggles and sufferings of the students. The hostel vacating notice in this current scenario is an example of this. We continuously mailed the hostel admin as well as college admin and the Principal of our college regarding the same. But there was no reasonable response from them. And I would say my fellow hostel mate and friend Aishwarya fell prey to this cruelty.”

Parvathy a student of LSR and Aishwarya’s hostel mate

Owing to the financial pressure, so much so that her family couldn’t even afford a second-hand laptop for Aishwarya, who had aims of becoming an IAS officer, Aishwarya even tried contacting actor Sonu Sood, who has recently started a scholarship initiative for students.

“I don’t have a laptop and I am unable to do practical papers. I am afraid I may fail in these papers. Our family is completely in debt so there is no way to buy a laptop…I am not sure whether I will be able to complete my graduation,” the email read.

Image Credits: Indian Express

Aishwarya’s Family

Protests and Demands

Many Student Organisations along with the Students Union of LSR like Pinjra Tod, Dissenting Voices, SFI, AISA, Collective and the Concerned Alumni organised a log-out strike on the 9th of November and asked students to protest and boycott all classes. They also rallied for a protest outside the DST office in Delhi.

“Aishwarya’s tragic and avoidable death has exposed the inequality, exclusion and discrimination faced by students suffering from the negligence of the Central government, UGC, Delhi University, LSR administration and hostel administration. We hold these bodies accountable for what has happened and will not rest till Aishwarya gets justice”

Reads the notification released by the Students Union of LSR

Protestor’s Demands

  1. That the Inspire scholarship amount to be given to Aishwarya’s family immediately.
  • That the compensation and financial assistance to be given to Aishwarya’s family immediately by the GOI
  • The resignation of Minister of Science and Technology, Dr. Harsh Vardhan, the resignation of Principal of LSR, Suman Sharma and the resignation of LSR Hostel Warden, Ujjayini Ray.
  • That the LSR administration immediately revokes the decision to convert the hostel into a first year hostel.
  • That the notice sent to second year students to vacate their rooms be withdrawn immediately.
  • That constitutionally mandated reservation policies are implemented in the hostel across all years.
  • That UGC and other central and state level bodies must disburse scholarships to students immediately and consistently.
  • That the LSR administration commit to providing funds for data packs/laptops/mobile phones and any other basic necessities of students in the shift to online education.
  • That there will be no compulsory attendance and no punitive measures for non-compliance with deadlines for assignments, tests etc.
  1. That a committee be immediately set up to
  2. ensure accessibility to online education for all students during the pandemic
  3. ensure students’ mental health does not suffer during the pandemic.

This committee should comprise teachers and elected representatives of the student body, and its recommendations should be implemented by the administration.

Eventually, after the protests a two-member delegation comprising of LSR-SU General Secretary Unnimaya and LSR alumni Mounica Sreesai met the joint secretary Mr Sunil Kumar and submitted a memorandum stating their demands which were:

  1. Aishwarya’s Family must be provided a compensation in lieu of the criminal ignorance of the Ministry
  2. Aishwarya’s due scholarship amount also has to be disbursed.
  3. Scholarships must be disbursed to all students with immediate effect.
  4.  The process of availing scholarships be simplified so that students don’t get tangled in the long drawn out process that is in practice now

The Joint Secretary then conveyed back that the Department has asked for the bank details of Aishwarya’s Family and has asked for 15days time to look into the matter and to facilitate the transfer of the deserved amount however nothing was given in written.

Students Protesting at Technology Bhawan; Image Credits: Clarion India

The JNUSU (Jawaharlal Nehru University Students Union) organised a Twitter Storm for Justice For Aishwarya on 8 November at 4 PM. 

“The JNUSU believes that in such cases, this whole thing amounts to an end institutional murder and the complicit LSR and the DST should be held to account.

In her suicide note, Aishwarya mentioned that she didn’t want to be a burden on her family and was fearful of dropping out. Such a tragedy calls for introspection which has not been forthcoming from the government agencies or a majority of colleges which have imposed online education and increased fees leading to untold misery for the students. Here in JNU as well scholarships have not been disbursed leading to panic among students.

The JNUSU appeals to everyone to stand in solidarity and join a Twitter storm called by the LSR SU on 8th November Sunday at 4 PM.” – read the notification released by the JNUSU.

“We want authorities to ensure that no other student faces a similar fate,” said Aishwarya’s father.

Featured Image Credits: Indian Express

Harsh Paliwal

harshpaliwal13@gmail.com

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