Aishwarya Reddy Case : Yet Another Institutional Murder; NEP 2020 & Online Education Started Taking Its Toll

She was a brilliant student. She stood second in the Telangana Board examination with 98.5% marks. She was awarded an INSPIRE fellowship by the Department of Science & Technology (DST). This fellowship is awarded to top 1% of class XII students. She could take admission in B.Sc. (Hons) Mathematics in prestigious and coveted Lady Sriram College (LSR), Delhi. She was very likeable among her friends. She cared for them. She aspired to be a civil servant. She hailed from an ordinary socio-economic background; her father was a motorcycle mechanic. On November 3rd, she was reduced to mere news. Why?

We are talking of Aishwaya Reddy. Her father is a mechanic and in March only he invested his savings to open his own shop and lock down began, and so did misery. Even prior to this their condition was not very good. They mortgaged their house to finance her study and her younger sister had to discontinue her studies for this. She was living in a college hostel. When online education began, she started taking it on her smartphone. She returned to her home in February 2020, just when colleges were closed.

She was having lots of difficulty in taking classes on smartphone. As per LSR Students’ Union, out of eight hours she could devote less than three hours per day. In addition, she didn’t have a good internet connection and had to buy additional data packs to attend lectures while handling household responsibilities on the side.

“They are teaching well, but I don’t have a laptop and my mobile is not working well so I am unable to do any practical work,” she said in that survey.

She requested her father if a laptop can be procured. Her father was unable to buy even a used one immediately. Despite being awarded INSPIRE fellowship, she did not receive a single paisa compounding her misery and distress.

And then in October she was served a notice that as per new policies of the management, only first year students will be given accommodation. She knew the financial impossibility of living in Delhi in rented or PG accommodation. As per her mother, they did not have money to buy a train ticket to go back to college. This turned out to be the last straw.

She felt she is a burden on her family, as due to her family mortgaged their house, younger sister discontinued her education and now even after this much she is not able to complete her education.  And she ended her life. She wrote in her note “Because of me, my family is facing many financial problems. I am a burden for my family. My education is a burden. If I can’t study, I can’t live,” This has posed many unanswered questions before us.

It was not that she did not try to find a way.  She represented to the LSR Students’ Union Committee For Inclusive Education. She apprised them of how additional data packs are not affordable for her family and a laptop not available to her to pursue her studies. Lakshmi, co-convener of this committee told a news channel that it was repeatedly e-mailed to college administration but to no avail.  Shamelessly, Suman Sharma the principal of the college denies any communication about her condition. The Administration issuing a notice after 5 days for condolence cannot be expected to be any better. Their apathy is too obvious. Even DST said that they do not delay fellowships and are disbursed on top priority, unless of course there are some technical issues. Those students receiving any fellowship from DST know the bitter truth about this and it seems that DST is ‘technically’ very poorly equipped.

Let us see the questions posed. One is of course impacts or intended impacts of NEP 2020. Withdrawal of hostel facilities was one such impact. Institutions have been asked to reduce expenditure and many over enthusiastic followers in administration have already started following the dictums not yet formulated. Accommodation issue has forced many students to go back to their native place, where taking education is difficult.

Online education too is the central theme of NEP 2020. And this pandemic has given a chance and excuse to implement it as a pilot project. She is not alone in suffering. It has put most of the students in distress. A large number of students do not have proper equipment to attend online classes. There have been instances that people sold their valuable possessions to buy smartphones for their children. Availability of sufficient data, when taking many classes, network connectivity are the issues faced by most of the students as they are not able to afford Wi-Fi (it’s available in urban areas only anyways). In many areas one does not get power for sufficient hours to charge the batteries. That apart viewing it on a smartphone is very tiresome and not very conducive for learning. And obviously laptops are out of question. The fact that a large number of students are forced ‘not to take’ appropriate classes, is a case of digital divide.

Question of fellowship too is very pertinent. The delays are mostly rule rather than exception. Adopting a total callous issue towards it, fellowships are delayed for petty reasons for months together making it very hard for students to survive.

And worse is the callous, insensitive attitude of the administration. It refuses to wake up even seeing the plight. They do not react even when being apprised of it. It’s not just college, but top echelons too are no different. Just some lip service when something as drastic as this happens and then back to recliner in their ivory tower. We have seen many cases- Rohith Vemula, Payal Tadavi being some glaring examples.

We must understand that this is not suicide but the entire systemic structure posed a situation forcing her to commit suicide. This is mainly because undeclared implementation of NEP 2020 has begun. It has put students all over the country in great distress. This is just tip of the iceberg with lot more in offing in times to come. The solution is not in suicide but in advancing the struggle against the impacts of NEP 2020 and Covid-19 lockdown. Such incidents should arouse anger in people and intensify such struggle so that such incidents are not repeated.

Issued by PDSU, Delhi 

November 11, 2020