“I cannot live because I cannot study,” is one of the few lines that Bhumika (name changed) managed to write in her suicide note that now has left students community of prestigious Lady Shri Ram College of Delhi University enraged and shocked.
The students allege that the bright student hailing from Shadnagar in Rangareddy District in Telangana—who was awarded the ‘Inspire’ scholarship by the Department of Science and Technology—for topping the school was driven to take the drastic step after braving the digital divide and financial constraints followed by denial of the scholarship for one year.
Unnimaya, her friend and the General Secretary of Lady Shriram Ram College Students’ Union, recalls her to be a reserved student but bright and helping in nature. She believes that the college’s order to vacate rooms in midst of the pandemic disturbed Bhumika.
She said, “The students’ union had conducted a survey among the students to understand the impact of the digital divide. We found that she had no laptop and it was difficult for her to attend the classes. The online classes cost her dearly for getting the data packs. To one of the questions regarding practicals, she had written “They are teaching well but I don’t have laptop, and my mobile is not working well so I am unable to do any practical paper". Soon, she found that the college had asked her to vacate the hostel rooms in the midst of the pandemic. She was trying to get it transferred through movers and packers but it too was costly.”
A calculation of the general expenses borne by a hostel resident of the college suggests that Bhumika’s family was spending more than Rs 1 lakh per year on her studies.
Unnimaya further said that she had written to the administration about the problems she was facing but it did not bother to reply for once. She said, “They never engage in any dialogue with us. Probably, women organising and struggling for their rights scares them.”
Bhumika’s suicide note is a grim reminder of another such note written by scholar Rohith Vemula, whose death had rocked the nation. The letter written by the LSR student, accessed by NewsClick, reads, “Please make sure that my family gets my Inspire scholarship amount for at least one year. Forgive me. I'm not a good daughter.”
Her family members have reportedly not registered a complaint with the police about the suicide but admitted that their house was mortgaged for loans regarding the studies.
Unnimaya said that they had expected some relief from the Delhi University in the form of fee relaxation due to the pandemic but to no avail. “Delhi University, too, failed to provide any concessions in the annual fee sum. Now, students are being forced to pay for the examination without compensating for the amount the University had collected last year,” she said.
Not just that, she added, “Universities across the country, even central universities have continued to impose financial demands upon students. Moreover, the heavy dependence on scholarships, and working-class families being forced to take credit to ensure that their children can pursue further studies in institutions like LSR, exposes the myth of accessibility of public-funded higher education in general, and LSR in particular.”
NewsClick approached the college’s principal, Suman Sharma, for her comments but she did not answer alleging problems in the network. Later, she did not pick up the calls or answer any of the questions sent through text messages.
Reacting to the tragic suicide, Mayukh Biswas, General Secretary, Students’ Federation of India said that the government and funding agencies are putting several lives in distress by literally freezing the scholarships for months. He said, “The survival of thousands of brilliant young minds in the country is now on the verge of collapse. This situation has become another instance of the anti-student policies of central government which is defunding public education from the majority of bright and economically backward students who qualified UGC NET JRF and thus confining access to higher education only for the rich people who can afford it.”
He added, “Deferring fellowships at a time of huge financial crisis and mental agony is a double blow on research scholars as most of them depend solely on that income to carry out their research activities and also to survive. UGC has mandated a Senior Research Fellowship conversion meeting to further receive research fellowships on completion of three years of the research period. Under the current circumstances SRF conversion meetings have not been conducted and their fellowships are now being denied citing this as a reason. Meanwhile fresh applications had been called for and approved to receive PMRF fellowship.”
(With inputs from Prudhviraj Rupavath from Telangana)