A 19-year-old bright young girl’s dreams were crushed under the weight of inequality after she died by suicide recently. Aishwarya Reddy, a student of Delhi’s prestigious Lady Shri Ram (LSR) College, could no longer carry the burden of her financial difficulties. Death looked like an easier option to her.
“My education is a burden… I cannot live without studying. Forgive me, I am not a good daughter,” the deceased girl’s suicide note, written in Telugu, read.
“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,” she added in her note.
Reddy, a topper from Telangana studying BSc Maths in LSR, was entitled to the government’s INSPIRE scholarship of Rs 1.2 lakh for her outstanding class 12 results. The receipt of the amount, however, had been delayed.
Reddy’s parents, who are daily wage workers, realised their daughter’s immense potential and spent all their savings on her education. They had even mortgaged their Telangana house to fund her education at LSR.
The disturbing incident with its heart-wrenching details has been termed by many students as an “institutional murder”. Once again, the lid has been blown off the country’s economic disparity, glaring class difference and deep-rooted elitism.
Reddy’s death is not an individual tragedy. Ever since the ongoing pandemic disrupted normal life, schools and colleges resorted to online classes. However, little did the institutions and the concerned authorities understand how heavy a load this change would become for some students.
A warm hug or a word of reassurance from friends has turned digital. Mental health has gone for a toss.
Inside a college campus, the physical presence of close ones can often cushion those who are suffering, from further blows. However, in a digital classroom, hardships only multiply.
Thousands of students across the country suffer because they cannot afford a laptop. Many of their data packs do not last a day, and several students and their families do not have the financial stability that would allow them to buy a smartphone.
The crisis is huge, it is worrying to an extent that is prompting brilliant students to choose death over struggle, and yet their woes remain unheard by the authorities, the education system, the Central and state governments.
They have collectively failed to recognise their responsibility to create an environment that does not reek of inequality but instead makes the vulnerable, young students feel secure. They have collectively pushed aspiring young students suffering from the lack of resources to access education, to the brink of a breakdown.
For years now, and even during the pandemic, mental health issues have been trivialised. Depressed students have been asked to ‘move on’ and ‘be strong’. Their distress was ignored until they decided to die.
Students are now enraged. Their cries for justice for Aishwarya Reddy and so many others like her are echoing across the skies. They are furious at the education system and the government for ignoring the needs of students from financially weak backgrounds. They are holding the government accountable for not providing requisite aid.
This is a wake-up call for the government and educational institutions in the country. They will have to respond to the crisis which is gradually snowballing into something more terrible.
They will have to make sure that there are systems in place to not only detect but also address the deteriorating mental health conditions of students trying to cope with the challenges of the pandemic. They will have to find ways to ensure that no one is deprived of equal opportunities.
Thousands of young students depend on them. They have to realise that these students’ futures are in their hands.
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