Two key issues that LSR College student Aishwarya Reddy’s family said were troubling her — lack of resources for online learning and having to vacate her hostel room by October-end — had been flagged during the course of this year by students and student representatives to college authorities.
Aishwarya, a second-year student of B.Sc. (Hons) Mathematics at DU’s prestigious Lady Shri Ram College for Women, committed suicide on November 2. In a purported suicide note she had left in her Telangana home, she wrote “Because of me, my family is facing many financial problems. My education is a burden. If I can’t study, I can’t live.”
One of the issues her family said she was facing was that they could not afford a laptop and she was having difficulty keeping up with online learning on a phone. Her father G Srinivas Reddy, a motorcycle mechanic, had said she asked for a laptop in October but he had not been able to afford even a second-hand one.
In September, Aishwarya had been one of over 1,400 respondents of a survey conducted by the students’ union highlighting the digital divide in online learning. The survey showed 27.5% of respondents had said they didn’t have access to a laptop and 39.4% had said they didn’t have a good internet connection. Aishwarya was one of the 95.5% of students who had responded that online classes had affected their mental and physical health. She had responded that while she had 5-8 hours of classes per day, she was able to attend less than 3 hours.
“We had sent an email with this survey to college authorities to highlight issues being faced by students but there was no response,” said LSR students’ union general secretary Unnimaya.
College authorities maintain Aishwarya had not approached any of her department teachers with her academic or financial issues. They also said she had applied for free-ship as a first-year student and that the college had paid a free-ship amount of Rs 12,000 in her account on April 24.
An immediate concern her family said had been facing was that all second-year students of the hostel had been issued a notice to vacate their rooms by October 31. LSR provides hostel facilities to only first-year students. In a press conference Monday, her mother said after the notice arrived, Aishwarya was worried her family would not be able to afford private accommodation, requiring her to drop out. At the time the directive was given by the college, on October 11, the hostel union had tried to resist it.
Hostel warden Ujjayini Ray said while other students had expressed their difficulties with vacating the hostel, Aishwarya was not one of them: “She did not communicate to the hostel seeking an extension in dates for collecting her luggage, nor her financial problems… She sent a short WhatsApp message to the hostel office assistant stating she or her friends would collect her luggage on November 7. Several students had applied for an extension — each application was discussed and a general extension given till November 10. Even after that, extensions have been given on genuine grounds like cancellation of trains, illness, etc.”
A close friend of Aishwarya’s from the hostel said she was not one to challenge rules: “It was very difficult for many of us from poorer backgrounds living in far-away places. We were trying to struggle against this, but not Aishwarya. She was docile and followed rules. The last thing we spoke about was vacating the hostel. She had said she would try to do it by November 7.”
Kanika Ahuja, college media adviser and a teacher in the psychology department, said while the college tries to help students address mental health issues, Aishwarya had not approached any of the avenues.
A group of over 700 alumni and students of the college, meanwhile, issued a statement Monday: “LSR has always held academic rigour in high regard. However, over the years, it has also created an atmosphere where structural inequalities are exasperated in the name of rigour and merit… No student should have to choose between quality education and their life… between acquiring a degree and reduced to abject poverty… We urge the institute to take cognizance of its role in the student’s suicide…”