The death by suicide of a young student Aishwarya Reddy in Delhi’s Lady Shri Ram college has left other students shocked and heartbroken. We spoke to many students about the incident who expressed worry and concern about the inequalities in the education system and the inability of the administration to identify it.
19-year-old, Aishwarya, hailing from Telangana, took her life on November 3. In a suicide note she left behind, the LSR student stated financial difficulties and economic constraints as the reason behind her step. “My education is a burden… I cannot live without studying. Forgive me, I am not a good daughter.” As I write this, her always smiling face of floats in front of my eyes as she stayed in a room next to mine in the hostel. The news has left the student body of LSR heartbroken as we question the elitist space LSR has created for its students, where just the privileged survive.
Some students from LSR agreed to speak with me, sharing the shock and trauma of the incident:
“I was scared of this elitist space”
“Knowing Aishwarya since the first semester made her a close friend of mine. I am extremely devastated by the news of her demise, which I received at 5 am on 3rd Nov. I have not been able to concentrate on anything ever since. I have come across several news reports and public comments, like ‘How insensitive she was to take this step’ and ‘She could’ve studied in a nearby college… Why go to Delhi?’ among others,” said Ipsita. She added, “No one wants to die. I can assure that a brilliant student like her definitely had everything planned. And things were going on pretty well up until this lockdown and consequent curtailment of her scholarship.”
“When I first heard about Aishwarya’s suicide, I was taken aback. It took me some minutes to register the news and believe that I have lost one my friends who was optimistic and determined. To be honest, for a few days I was scared of this elitist space as it could kill anyone with its negligence of real issues,” said Neha, a second-year student of History, who was Aishwarya’s hostel mate as well. “I still remember that before this incident, Aishwarya told me that it is difficult to vacate the hostel for her as can’t afford the cost of travel and she was also sad by the fact that she was rejected by NSS (National Service Scheme),” she recalls the time Reddy told her about NSS, the social service wing of LSR, successful completion of which is necessary for a student to earn her graduate degree.
Most of the students at LSR feel that the LSR student’s death by suicide was an institutional but a case of “institutional murder”. Lekshmi, co-convener of SFI LSR and a second-year Economics student feels that this is a case of institutional murder. She said, “Aishwarya’s suicide is a very clear case of institutional murder. It’s reflective of the utter sense of inequality and exclusion that is embedded in our system which stops students like Aishwarya. We have to hold the Institutions accountable, the central government for not disbursing scholarships and the LSR administration for the criminal ignorance of the students’ plight.”
It is a grave failure of the education system that is far from inclusive and accessible: Student
“As disturbing as it is, Aishwarya’s suicide is an outcome of the apathetic decision making at the institutional level that denies the existence of multiple realities and fails to take them into account. It is a grave failure of the education system that is far from inclusive and accessible,” said Hunardeep, a second year student of English department. However, she added that the issue should be taken up sensitively, keeping in mind the family of the deceased. “At the same time I believe that while talking about the issue it is important not to dehumanise the victim and her family as much as it is important to look at the issue politically and in terms of the structural inequalities inherent in the education system,” she said.
“I still am in a trance and can’t come to terms with the fact that she who had such a positive outlook towards everything is no more with us… She never talked about her financial conditions with us,” Astha, a very close friend of Aishwarya said that she was a very optimistic and charming girl. “I still remember the times when she took care of me when i wasn’t well in the hostel. I am shattered by the news.”
Arushi, another Economics student at LSR, feels that Aishwarya’s death was a systemic failure on part of the administration. “I feel that the system did fail her. Her death was completely avoidable. Can’t help but imagine the stress and pressure she was under. Even for an average student, these classes and binding deadlines take a toll. Over that, she had to worry about a whole lot of other things that she necessarily didn’t have to if she was timely given what she was promised. It’s really sad that she had to suffer for no fault of hers,” she said.
“I can’t help but feel guilty of my privilege. To think there was one of us, out there, struggling to pursue something as necessary as education and eventually ending up losing her life over it- it’s devastating. It’s institutionalised murder, not a suicide. I could only hope the administration becomes more empathetic towards the emotional as well as physical quotient of students,” Agrima, a student of Journalism said.
A student of English department who wants to remain anonymous, said, “Even when I myself come from a privileged family, I was affected by hostel’s decision of revoking the facility for second years. LSR is a very depressing place when it comes to its exclusive nature. Completing three years at this place is in itself a big deal as you’re going to face a lot of elitism and they’ve failed to create a safe space for marginalised students.”
Incidents like this show a cruel face of our decadent structure and it’s time that we must strike back: Student
Seerat, another second year student of English said, “I felt extremely sad, and it was even more shocking when I heard it was someone from our college. When I miss a class due to lack of connection it feels traumatic, can’t imagine the intensity of this traumatic agent hitting her. I think education is supposed to enhance our lives not take it.”
A second year student of BA Program, who wishes not to be named, feels that Aishwarya’s friends could have contributed something had she spoken about her mental state. “She never expressed her situation even to her friends, she didn’t ask for help directly from the institution. If she would have shared her plight among us then I think all of us would have contributed something,” she said. However, she feels that the decision of vacating the hostel in midst of a pandemic was an insensitive and inconsiderate decision on part of the administration. “Admin of LSRH knew that in midst of pandemic and with a many financial issues, it’s tough for students to shift but still they decided to turn a blind eye. They talk of feminism but they are the one who are most blind about it. Not even a single mail was circulated by the institution asking about the situation and problems that students are facing.”
Lakshana, a second year student of Political Science, believes that we as students should exercise our strength and stand together as a unified lot. “Incidents like this show a cruel face of our decadent structure and it’s time that we must strike back. We must realise that we have wielded enormous powers as students and that we should leverage our potential in the best way possible, because a crusade is very important to prevent such things from happening again,” she said.
Monishka, a third year and General Secretary of the English department said, “The education system has failed Aishwarya, and the institution which promised her wings refuses to acknowledge their responsibility in aggravating her troubles. All of us are in a state of shock and despair, because Aishwarya’s reality is shared by many, and we feel extremely discouraged when our small pleads of help for accessibility are turned down crudely.” As a student representative, she along with others is working for providing help and support to students who are facing dire conditions. “As of now, all of us are working together in looking out for students who might be distressed, academically or personally, and would be soon circulating a list of certified therapists who provide free therapies, along with a common resource bank for all the study material of the 3 years,” she said.
Shikha Chandra is an intern with SheThePeople.TV