A Class 10 student in Tamil Nadu's Cuddalore district died by suicide on Wednesday night as his father could not buy him a smartphone to use for online classes being held by his school amid the coronavirus lockdown.
Authorities say the 14-year-old boy, who studied at the Vallalar High School near the town of Panruti, killed himself at his home on Wednesday night.
In his complaint the boy's father, Vijaykumar, believed to be a cashew farmer from Siruthondamadhevi village, said: "Moving to Class 10, my son asked for a mobile phone for online classes. I told him I'd get him (one) after I got cash for my cashews but he turned angry".
Many poor families have suffered due to a lack of income, salary cuts and even job losses as a result of a coronavirus lockdown that has been in place since March 25.
The state government has been providing only free ration and a payment of Rs 1,000 per month - a meagre amount, particularly for those living in cities and urban centres.
In addition to these hardships, with private schools opting for online classes, academicians have repeatedly warned the ruling AIADMK about a "digital divide" affecting students from poorer families who may have limited access to the internet and gadgets like smartphones.
In rural areas of the state, even those fortunate few students whose families can afford the technology face obstacles in the form of connectivity issues, all of which leads to even more pressure on young boys and girls to adapt and excel in these difficult times.
"With only half the salaries (in hand) and the price of groceries shooting up amid the COVID-19 pandemic, buying a smartphone and an internet package is unimaginable not just for poor families but also for many from the lower middle classes," Aarti Boaz, an academician, said.
The Tamil Nadu government recently launched online classes through its Kalvi TV network to reach students studying in government schools. However, private schools where too some children from poor families study, have opted for online classes, leading to questions over access.
Although the state has released guidelines for online classes, following an intervention by the Madras High Court, activists say much more needs to be done and this issue needs to be addressed urgently.
Meanwhile, in the tragic case of the boy's suicide, Cuddalore Police have filed a suspicious death case. Officials probing the case have declined to divulge any more information.
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