Students gathered on Monday outside the premises of Lady Shri Ram (LSR) College in a candlelight vigil held to remember Aishwarya Reddy, a student of the same institution who had hanged herself last year out of fear that her studies would be hampered due to the pandemic-induced challenges.
Led by the Students’ Federation of India (SFI), the LSR students also staged a protest against the college authorities, alleging that even after a year had passed since when Aishwarya’s suicide brought to the fore the gaps in institutional support for disadvantaged students, “no concrete mechanism” has been set by the latter to address the issues.
Aishwarya, hailing from Telangana state, was a second-year B.Sc (Maths) student in the Delhi-based institution who was forced to return home in March after the COVID-19 outbreak.
Shifting back to her home, and more so to an online mode of education, made it difficult for Aishwarya to continue with her studies since there was no laptop and internet connection at her home, as she claimed then in a college students’ council survey.
To make it worse, the daughter of a mechanic was also denied her scholarship reportedly because the documents necessary for the payment of the fellowship were not furnished. She was entitled to a monthly stipend of Rs. 5000 under the Science Pursuit for Inspired Research (Inspire) fellowship of the central government.
Moreover, her woes were compounded when the college administration decided to provide hostel accommodation only to first-year students and issued an eviction notice in October to the second-year students who held hostel seats.
Her family had then complained that all this made it difficult for Aishwarya to continue with her studies. “The financial situation created a burden on her. The college has not given any help,” her mother, Sumathi Reddy, was quoted then by The Telegraph India as saying.
Prachi, general secretary, SFI (LSR unit), told NewsClick on Monday that even after a year has passed since Aishwarya’s death, nothing much has changed. According to her, the demands raised by the students’ group at the time had still not been met by the college administration.
“We have been demanding the college since one year to set up a proper institutional mechanism to look after the resource availability for the students – especially for those belonging to the disadvantaged groups. However, that hasn’t happened till now,” she said over the phone.
She added that the contentious hostel policy of the LSR college also hasn’t been revoked yet, nor did any need-based scholarships are announced, as demanded by SFI. According to her, the problems relating to online education that is “exclusionary in nature” is still faced by many students.
Prachi said that the protesting students on Monday reiterated these demands by submitting a memorandum to the college administration – however, that too, “after much difficulty.”
“We were only allowed to enter college after much delay since the administration first refused to recognise us as LSR students, even as we showcased our ID cards to them. Even then, the Principal didn’t meet us today,” she said.
Besides the release of the pending scholarships and fellowships, other demands raised by LSR students since last year include the refund of the extra payments to students who had already paid their tuition fees, They also demand that the administration pressurise the VC to reopen campus and develop mechanisms to facilitate recorded class lectures.
With respect to the demand for reopening of the campus, Unnimaya, a state committee member of SFI-Delhi and former LSR student, told NewsClick that even teachers have been demanding the same.
“Through today’s protest, we want to remind the college administration of Aishwarya and of many other students like her who are facing similar issues due to the closing down of the campus,” she said.