A story of a lifelong battle against poverty to continue on the path of education to finally giving up against insurmountable odds. Aishwarya, a second-year student of Lady Shri Ram College for Women died by suicide last week at her hometown of Rangareddy district in Telangana, citing financial troubles in a purported suicide note. Her father, who is a motorcycle mechanic in Ranga Reddy district, said she was an IAS aspirant but the family was unable even to buy her a second-hand laptop to pursue online classes during the pandemic.
According to local police, Aishwarya Reddy, a meritorious B.Sc. Mathematics (Honours) student, hanged herself at her home in Shadnagar on November 2. The family of the 19-year-old, who had scored 98.5 percent in Class 12, said she left behind a note written in Telugu. “Because of me, my family is facing many financial problems. I am a burden to my family. My education is a burden. If I can’t study, I can’t live,” the note reads.
“She knew we put everything at stake to send her to Delhi for higher studies. She couldn’t seek more money from us as she was aware that we were already struggling to pay the loans we had sought for her education,” G Srinivas Reddy, father of the 19-year-old, told The Times of India.
Aishwarya’s father Srinivas Reddy said that when Aishwarya got admission to the prestigious college last year, he had mortgaged their one-bedroom house for Rs 2 lakh. Srinivas had opened his own repair shop after a lot of struggle but had to close it down soon after. “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,” he said.
Aishwarya had previously contacted the LSR students’ union Committee and informed them she did not have a proper internet connection for online classes, which had already placed an extra financial burden on her family owing to expenditure on data packs. She had said that she could not give her best to her studies as she did not have a laptop and study material was not available to her. Moreover, the timing of her classes clashed with her household work.
Co-convener of the committee Lekshmi said, “The Committee has repeatedly sent emails to the LSR administration, but all in vain as they did not receive any fruitful response. Plus, the delay in scholarship points to the apathy of the central government towards hardworking students from such backgrounds.”
Student Union General Secretary of LSR, Unnimaya, issued a statement after ascertaining the facts about Aishwarya’s death saying that the student was also affected by the sudden decision of the LSR administration to revoke hostel facilities for all students except freshers. She said, “The college administration should answer for the steps they take without regard for their impact.”
“It was allegedly conveyed to her that the scholarship amount could only come after the conclusion of the second year. The UGC and other agencies have failed to provide scholarships and cited the pandemic as an excuse for the same. Hence a retrospective scholarship promise, at an uncertain date when the student availing it needs it the most now, is an act of deliberate negligence and insensitivity,” she said in the statement, according to News18.
LSR principal Suman Sharma said Aishwarya had not reached out to the college for financial assistance: “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.”
Aishwarya was also a recipient of the Ministry of Science and Technology’s INSPIRE scholarship, and her note states: “Ensure INSPIRE scholarship is given at least for one year.” INSPIRE offers three scholarship schemes: for undergraduate and postgraduate, as well as Ph.D. scholars and faculty members. The scholarships are available for up to five years.
While her father said the scholarship was delayed, a letter received by Aishwarya in August indicated that there was still time for the procedure to be completed. The letter from DST, dated August 6, 2020, informed that she had been “provisionally selected” for the higher education scholarship. It said the release of the annual fund of Rs 80,000 was subject to the submission of bank account details and Aadhaar card copy before December 31, 2020.
Dr. Sanjay Mishra, who took over as in-charge of the INSPIRE Programme at the Department of Science and Technology (DST) on November 1, said that despite financial constraints during the pandemic, the department decided that “under no cost will this crunch be translated to any of the fellowships and scholarships are given out by us”.
“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 percent for a second-year student. The process of disbursal of funds is 45 days from the time of application,” he said.
But the latest crisis, Aishwarya’s father said, was that she was asked to vacate her hostel room in October. The LSR hostel is only available for first-year 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,” Reddy said.
“She wanted to be an IAS officer, she had so many goals. I used to privately grieve that I did not have enough money to help her realize her dreams… When she topped her Intermediate from Vigyan Junior College, I was the proudest father in Shadnagar,” Reddy said.
Despite financial problems, to ensure that Aishwarya continues her studies, Srinivas and his wife Sumathi had sold their gold ornaments and stopped sending their second daughter to school — Aishwarya’s sister Vaishnavi (16) dropped out after Class 7.
Sumathi, who worked as a tailor from home, said Aishwarya was depressed after receiving a WhatsApp message asking to vacate her hostel room. “Any private accommodation outside would cost at least Rs 15,000 a month. We did not have money even to buy her a train ticket to Delhi,” she said. On October 31, Aishwarya sent a WhatsApp message to the hostel warden saying she would vacate the room by November 7.
Her parents also alleged that despite knowing their daughter had no access to a laptop with the Internet facility or a decent smartphone to attend online classes, she was asked to vacate the hostel. “My daughter clearly admitted in the college internal survey that she was unable to complete her practical paper as her mobile and laptop are not working properly. They could have considered that and offered some help. I want the government to ensure that other students don’t face such problems,” said G Sumati Reddy, her mother, to The Indian Express.
“For two days before killing herself, she did not eat anything. She fought with her mother and was worried about continuing her education,” said Gandham Navyashree, a BA (History and Sociology) student of LSR, who is from the same town. According to her, even 10-15 minutes before ending her life, Aishwarya had a phone conversation with a close friend and discussed exam preparations. “She had shared with friends her inability to perform well as she was using her mobile phone for attending classes and doing assignments,” she said.
Aishwarya’s parents said they are unsure whether the suicide note was written just before ending her life, or earlier. “We were all sitting here. She forced me to have my dinner and went into the room. The door was not latched and we thought she was studying,” said her father. “Even in our worst nightmare, we did not think about it.”
Earlier, after actor Sonu Sood had tweeted about his scholarship initiative for students, Aishwarya wrote an email to him on September 14, attaching her certificates as proof. “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.
She ended her life with the last words in the note: “Forgive me. I am not a good daughter.”
A true loss for the country, as it lost one of its daughters, despite authorities claiming that there was a provision to assist her financially indicates that perhaps Aishwarya was not aware of the schemes, otherwise, she wouldn’t be forced to undertake the drastic step. Many government aid policies exist on paper but due to a lack of awareness students do not benefit from it. It is imperative that colleges from now on mark students with financial problems right during admission, and ensure they are informed about all assistance schemes they can avail if necessary. Only then will bright students like Aishwarya not be forced to take their own lives, just because of the inability to afford basic study materials or technology.