Following the suicide of second-year LSR College student Aishwarya Reddy (19), whose family couldn’t afford a laptop for her to attend online classes, principals of several Delhi University colleges have said they will work harder to bridge the digital divide facing students from economically weaker sections.
Aishwarya committed suicide on November 2 at her Telangana home. In a purported suicide note, she wrote “Because of me, my family is facing many financial problems. My education is a burden. If I can’t study, I can’t live.”
Apart from not having a laptop, her family said she was stressed over having to vacate the college hostel since she was now in her second year.
LSR Principal Suman Sharma said the college had Tuesday put out a notification extending the deadline for submission of fees for all courses, so students get more time to pay.
Stating that she held a meeting with teachers-in-charge on how to go forward, Suman said: “There is a lot of hand-holding in LSR but we felt we can do more. There is a lot of diversity now and students are coming from remote areas, so we will keep speaking to students about issues they face. We are going to strengthen our structures and systems. We have to see how to extend our scholarships, given the Covid times.”
She said the college is also working with the alumni network, which is helping raise funds.
At Miranda House, Principal Bijayalaxmi Nanda said colleges, including LSR, were doing their best in difficult times, but there was “much to learn” from the incident. “We already have been conducting wellness meetings and providing scholarships and stipends to students who need it. We will now put more emphasis on one-to-one interaction and exploring financial support for providing data cards, etc, to students. We are also thinking of providing flexibility in class timings online, fee support and waiver, and creating audio-visual repositories containing summary of classes for those who are not able to access online classes easily,” she said.
Hindu College Principal Anju Srivastava said the college will “gear up” for doing more of what was already being done: “We have regular interactions and discussions on these issues with students. We have very proactive grievance committees. We have tried and solved the problem to the best extent possible. In one or two cases, we have gone out of the way to help students needing assistance.”
Shri Ram College of Commerce Principal Simrit Kaur said her college had been receiving requests for scholarships and laptops, and that students were being provided with help: “Amid the pandemic, it is also the emotional aspect which is important. Students have become disconnected from the college and teachers. We are providing 24×7 counselling services.”
Some students, meanwhile, have taken it upon themselves to collect funds. At St Stephen’s College, for example, students have started fund collection for DU students in need of financial assistance. “We’ve floated a form for those who need help and those who can donate. In two days, we’ve got over 100 responses. Many students are in need of laptops and other technical support, apart from funds. Some are being forced to drop out because of financial issues which have worsened due to the pandemic, so we decided to help them as much as we could,” a student said.
Meanwhile, the LSR Students’ Union held a general body meeting Tuesday in which it was decided, among other things, to protest outside the college Thursday. They also demanded the principal’s resignation. “The hostel vacation notices should be revoked and students should be given tablets and Internet packs for attending online classes,” it said in a statement.
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