A student of Lady Shri Ram College for Women in Delhi died by suicide on November 3 after failing to receive an installment of her scholarship that was due in March. A resident of the Rangareddy district in Telangana, she was the state class 12 examination topper and had mortgaged her house to fund her higher education.
Aishwarya, a Mathematics student who could not afford her education, said in her suicide note that she did not want to be burden on her family and did not want a life without education. Protests have since erupted demanding justice for her and her death has been labelled as “institutional murder”.
Delays in Scholarship and Notice to Leave Hostel
Aishwarya was receiving the INSPIRE scholarship from the Ministry of Science and Technology, Government of India. However, the scholarship was callously delayed by the government since March, putting her and her family under extreme financial pressure, a statement issued by the Student’s Federation of India (SFI) said.
Aishwarya had made it clear to the LSR students’ union Committee for Inclusive Education that she did not have a proper internet connection for online classes, which had already placed 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.
Students Demand Disbursal of Fellowships
Several organisations have condemned the incident, while also pointing out that the University Grants Commission (UGC) has frozen disbursal of Junior Research Fellowships (JRF) and Senior Research Fellowships (SRF) as well.
The Jawaharlal Nehru University Students Union (JNUSU) issued a statement saying, “This amounts to institutional murder. LSR and DST are complicit and should be held to account.”
The government must judiciously allocate the available resources, the students demanded as “due to non-disbursal of the INSPIRE scholarship (released by the Department of Science and Technology), a student of Lady Shri Ram College under Delhi University was forced to commit suicide 4 days ago.”
The issue of delayed scholarships was raised by research students in August as well.
The LSR alumni association ELSA issued a statement saying, “Principal and the college are equally shocked as the ‘name of the deceased’ had never approached the department or admin or principal or faculty for any help. LSR has a certified counsellor who is there for help for the students. College policies are very transparent regarding hostel accommodation being for one year.”
Condemning the statement, Dissenting voices, a students’ collective comprising of former Bahujan students, said, “In the wake of the institutional murder of our friend, the LSR Alumni association has released an extremely insensitive statement that indulges in outrageous victim blaming and defends the faulty and exclusionary education system of the college.” The collective also stated that the ELSA’s stance puts the blame on the victim for not approaching the administration, even though it was the college’s responsibility to ensure that all students had access to education.
The students condemned the administration’s “absolutely harassing and unjust move” to ask students to vacate hostels on a short notice in the midst of a pandemic and force them to look for alternative and expensive accommodation even when there is no urgency.
Meanwhile, LSR administration expressed shock at the death, “LSR Community has received, with deep sorrow and shock, the news of the demise of one of our students. The unfortunate incident happened at her hometown where she was living after the LSR hostel was closed as part of a nationwide shutdown of educational institutions ordered by the Union as well as the Delhi government.”
They added, “LSR remains committed to the welfare of each of its students in these difficult times.”
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