Student organisations call LSR student suicide an institutional murder

Students claim that authorities' inconsideration towards its low-income group students during the lockdown crisis resulted in the death of a state-topper from Telangana


Lady Shri Ram College’s Student Union (LSRSU) and the Students Federation of India (SFI) on November 9, 2020 have alleged that institutional negligence that led to the death by suicide of a second-year Mathematics student. The girl had died by suicide citing financial distress.

The LSR student was due for the INSPIRE scholarship given by the Union Ministry of Science and Technology. However, following the pandemic lockdown, the girl became one of many students who suffered from delayed scholarship, pending fees and a growing digital divide.

LSR alumni and Joint Secretary of SFI-Delhi Mounica Sreesai said many student organisations had planned a physical protest on Monday to demand justice for the deceased’s family and other students who suffer from a similar situation.

They demanded the disbursal of all pending scholarships along with those due to the deceased girl’s family as her parents were worried about educating their second daughter in the absence of a steady salary during the pandemic. Further they demanded due compensation to the family and the resignation of the Minister of Science and Technology Harsh Vardhan.“Education is a basic fundamental right. Government is responsible for the education of all, not just a few. The responsibility of this incident lies with the nexus of institutions which is why we called this an institutional murder. They need to be held responsible. Mere days after the incident, the college sent a notification about fee payment on November 7. There’s no sense of remorse or guilt on their part. They do not care about students nor about their education,” said Sreesai.

Organisations also demanded creation of a committee that would look into similar issues concerning inaccessibility to education, accountability from the college and Delhi University regarding the incident along with an assurance of providing basic necessities for online education.

Lastly, they also demanded a withdrawal of the hostel vacation in LSR, an administrative decision that bothered the girl in question.

Elaborating on this last demand, LSRSU General Secretary Unnimaya talked about the persisting demands of LSR students since June 2019 against the conversion of the college hostel into a first-year residence. According to Unnimaya, this in itself was a violation of the Delhi University Act that provides hostel services to all students.

“Students called it an anti-student policy. But we were not heard. Instead, we were restricted from mobilising by making us sign a clause that said we will not participate in any protest,” she said. 

To make matters worse, the college decided to enforce the new law by November 10 while most students were struggling to overcome the pandemic-induced obstacles. The mathematics student’s mother said her daughter often voiced her worries about the sudden removal from the hostel.

“After returning home because of the pandemic, she told us that she would require Rs. 30,000 to Rs. 40,000 to vacate the hostel, find a new place of residence and then return home. We already had no source of income during the lockdown and could not give her the money,” said her mother.

Money was a frequent topic in the house. The girl had considered switching to a local college for education but was loath to do so because she was the first one in her village and community to go to Delhi for education. She told her mother she would become a laughing stock if she gave up her education.

Her parents had taken a loan of Rs. 2 lakhs by mortgaging their house. Later, they mortgaged jewellery to get Rs. 1 lakh required to get her back home.

“She was a bright state topper. Despite this, she could not get her education. She wanted to be an IAS. No freeship or scholarship was transferred to her account. She was told she would get the scholarship in her second year. If the scholarship had come at least in part, her problem about online classes would have been solved,” said her mother.

The mother demanded that the government or university help the family educate their second daughter whose education was stalled to send the other daughter to Delhi.

The LSRSU had conducted a survey on September 9 regarding online classes. Records of the survey showed that the girl had no internet connection at home, nor an access to the laptop, the study material. Her classes clashed with her household chores because of which she often attended hardly three hours out of the five to eight hours of college lectures. Further she had said that she had to pay for the data pack for her online classes which added to her physical and mental stress.

Her answer echoed the general findings of the survey that showed many students were suffering due to online education.

SFI Joint Secretary Dipsita Dhar said, “A lot of out-station students in Delhi come from backward communities. Many students in LSR dream of becoming IAS officers. When a bright student faces such hardships, it demotivates others from similar backgrounds.”

Talking about the 27 percent increase suicide between 2014 and 2019, Dhar said the institution needs to understand the contributing factors that lead to student suicide such as a lack of accessibility.

“The reason the student was depressed was because she felt she could not perform. Just because she did not have the data or the access. Why were the scholarships stopped during the pandemic? After Vemula’s death, we were told that the government would take measures to avoid such incidents. But the way the National Education Policy (NEP) 2020 has been drafted, more cases will happen,” said Dhar.

Similarly, Jawaharlal Nehru University Student Union (JNUSU) President Aishe Ghosh questioned why universities continue online education when thousands of students as per the LSR survey have stated that it is not feasible.

“In Delhi overall, students come from across India. A college like LSR shows that the education system does not have loopholes. But the tragic death has shown us that the system is steadily becoming exclusive, not inclusive. The onus to avail a scholarship falls on the students. They are made to run around when they have already fulfilled criteria. Who will answer for the life that is lost here?” she said.

Lastly, Ambedkar University’s Students Councillor Navina Lamba said that online classes, data pack payment, inaccessibility to infrastructure, low connectivity areas are persisting problems during the pandemic. The NEP focuses only on digital communication with no regard for its impact on students based on their caste, class, gender.

She concluded that authorities need to provide infrastructural resources rather than solely looking at statistical productivity.


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