As schools in Kerala started online classes on Monday morning, a young girl in Malappuram district despaired. She had neither a TV nor a smartphone.
In the afternoon, the Class 10 student went missing from her house. Her charred body was found from a deserted spot near her home around 3.30 pm.
The girl, said to be a good student, set herself on fire, said the police.
"There is a television at home but that has not been working. She told me it needed to be repaired but I couldn't get it done. I couldn't afford a smartphone either," the girl's father, a Scheduled Caste daily wager with little income during the ongoing coronavirus lockdown, told reporters.
"I don't know why she did this. I said we could look at options, like going to a friend's house," he said.
The young girl's mother had given birth only a few weeks ago and the family had hardly any money.
"The family was financially very strained and the girl was worried she would not be able to study further, or that her studies would be affected. Initial reports suggest she was upset about not having access to the TV or online classes since they started," a senior police official told NDTV.
Kerala Education Minister C Raveendranath has sought a report from district-level education officials on this tragic incident.
Fighting COVID-19, the southern state began its academic year on June 1 via online classes called "First Bell", telecast on the Victers Channel. A detailed timetable was handed to all students from Class 1 to 12.
But an estimated 2.5 lakh students in the state don't have access to either a TV or devices that can access the internet. Officials say mostly those from backward or marginalized sections face this. The government is working towards viewing centres or giving laptops to small groups with help from sponsors.
Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, who is a Lok Sabha MP from Kerala's Wayanad, wrote to the District Collector today and said online classes posed significant challenges for students with limited access to smartphones, computers and reliable internet connections.
Schools and colleges were shut in March after the nationwide lockdown to break the coronavirus chain of transmission. On Sunday, while extending the lockdown to June 30, the centre said educational institutions may open in July after consultations with states and other stakeholders, including parents.
In the meantime, classes at several schools across the country are being conducted online, something the Home Ministry has encouraged amid the lockdown.
Kerala, which recorded the first three coronavirus cases in India, has done remarkably well in containing the spread of the virus. There have been only 1,326 confirmed cases so far, with only 708 of them listed as active cases.
India is nearing the two lakh cases mark, with over 8,000 fresh cases reported in the past 24 hours, according to Health Ministry data Tuesday morning.
(If you need support or know someone who does, please reach out to your nearest mental health specialist.)
AASRA: 91-22-27546669 (24 hours)
Sneha Foundation: 91-44-24640050 (24 hours)
Vandrevala Foundation for Mental Health: 1860-2662-345 and 1800-2333-330 (24 hours)
iCall: 022-25521111 (Available from Monday to Saturday: 8:00am to 10:00pm)
Connecting NGO: 18002094353 (Available from 12 pm - 8 pm)