- Aishwarya Reddy was a second year student of Math Honours at LSR college
- Her family had mortgaged their one-bedroom home for her college admission
- The scholarship she was to receive in March was delayed, her family said
Aishwarya Reddy, 19, had asked for a laptop, even a second-hand one, to continue her college classes during the coronavirus lockdown. But her family struggled with the request. Last week, the student of Delhi's Lady Shri Ram college (LSR) died by suicide at her home in Telangana, calling herself a "burden to her family" in a note -- a wrenching example of the tragedy of thousands of families and students left financially desperate by the virus shutdown.
Her shattered father, a motorcycle mechanic, said he would have somehow raised the money to support Aishwarya's education. She had scored 98.5 per cent in Class 12 and was the family's pride.
"The situation that my bright daughter went through must not happen to any other daughter," said her mother Sumathi Reddy.
The second year student of Math Honours returned home in February when schools and colleges closed down. In October, she asked her father for a laptop saying it was becoming harder to do online classes on her mobile phone. Her father G Srinivas said he had asked her to wait for a few days.
She never asked again.
Last Tuesday, when the family was gathered in their living room, Aishwarya went to the only other room and killed herself.
"Because of me my family has many expenses, I am a burden to them. My education is a burden. If I can't study, I can't live...Please try and ensure that the INSPIRE scholarship is at least given for a year," said her note in Telugu.
Sumathi Reddy said the family never realised when she slipped away quietly. "She was going through mental stress due to our financial condition. She had to go to Delhi for her studies, all her friends had started going already, we were trying to take a loan but we could not arrange money. She went into depression," she said.
Aishwarya was to receive her scholarship of Rs 1.2 lakh in March but it was delayed, her family said. The INSPIRE scholarship is granted by the centre's Department of Science and Technology.
"She wanted to sit for the civil services exam. She was worried that we cannot afford to finance her studies," said her father.
The family had mortgaged their one-bedroom house for her college admission. After the lockdown, her father's business had not picked up.
Aishwarya's younger sister Vaishnavi had dropped out of school so she could stay in college. She showed Aishwarya's book full of pencil sketches. "In her spare time, she loved doing this," said Vaishnavi.
The tragedy took a political turn as the Students Federation of India blamed the central government for delaying the student's scholarship.
"The delay in scholarship points to the apathy of the central government towards hardworking students from such backgrounds. SFI has petitioned the government of India several times to release pending scholarships and fellowships of students," the SFI said in a statement.
The student's body of LSR says Aishwarya had shared in a college survey that she was unable to do any practical papers because her mobile phone didn't work and she didn't have a laptop.
"She was also affected by the sudden decision by the LSR administration to cancel the hostel for all students and to only give it to first year students only from now on," said Sd. Unnimaya, general secretary of the LSR Students' Union.
Aishwarya's hostel-mate questioned the college decision. "How can the administration expect students from marginalised backgrounds to have the funds required to cover the expenses of vacating a hostel room, especially at a time when the pandemic induced lockdown had pushed many families into financial crisis? Aishwarya could not afford to travel across the country. As her hostel mate I can say that it was this very system that pushed her to take her life. The institution failed her," and Lekshmi, a member of the SFI-LSR.
LSR principal Suman Sharma told NDTV Aishwarya never once asked the college for help. "She never approached her faculty, hostel authorities or counsellor for any kind of help. We have a certified counsellor to talk to students to address their mental health issues as well. Organisations talking against the college have vested interests,'' Ms Sharma said.
The LSR hostel was closed down during the nationwide shutdown of educational institutions. The college has said it will "redouble efforts to be involved more closely with the student community".