A girl in Class 9 allegedly committed suicide for not being able to attend online classes as the family didn’t have any facility for her to attend the classes. Devika Balakrishnan who is 14, reportedly set herself ablaze and on June 1 in Valanchery, a town in Kerala’s Malappuram district. In the afternoon Devika went missing from her house, her body was found at a deserted spot near her home at around 3:30 pm. The girl’s father, is a 45-year-old dalit daily wage worker and the family lived in the Mankeri Dalit colony.
Students in the southern part of Indian have protested after the incident, according to a report by Al Jazeera. The girl’s identity as a dalit poor brings into focus the challenges the community has been facing for years. In fact most publications have not mentioned that she was Dalit, which is an important factor in highlighting how little access to opportunities (like online education and others) she had, and just how impoverished the family was.
Lack of facilities
The investigation revealed that the girl committed suicide and also recovered a suicide note. The note said “I’m going”. The 14-year-old was said to be a good student and did not have a smartphone. The girl’s father, daily wage worker is facing hard times during this lockdown.
He said she was depressed for not being able to participate in the online classes. “There is a television at home but that has not been working. She told me it needed to be repaired but I couldn’t get it done. I couldn’t afford a smartphone either”. He also stated that “I don’t know why she did this. I said we could look at options, like going to a friend’s house.”
The girl’s mother had recently given birth and the family was financially very strained. “The girl was worried she would not be able to study further, or that her studies would be affected,” said a senior police official. Kerala Education Minister C Raveendranath has also expressed his concern. He has also asked for a report from district levels education officials on this incident.
Due to the lockdown, Kerala schools moved to online classes through the Victers Channel. Which broadcasts 30-minute-long classes under the project “First Bell” for 4.1 million students from class 1 to 12. The channel is available free of cost on cable networks as well as over the internet. Although it was reported that a study by General Education Department found out that more than 2.6 lakh students had no provisions for online classes. The data was recorded from over 43.76 lakh students in the state government schools.
A study by General Education Department found out that more than 2.6 lakh students had no provisions for online classes.
After looking into the matter Kerala CM Pinarayi Vijayan declared that Neighbourhood Study Centres will be laid out. For students who do not have access to either a television or the internet. These centres will arrange TV’s at a subsided cost. These centres will accommodate students as per the social distancing norm. It was also stated that the first week, the classes will be telecasted on a trial basis and will invite feedback as to what changes are to be made and will proceed accordingly.
Dalits make 16.6% of the total population of India as per National Family Health Survey data. An analysis by Mint shows that the community faces health inequalities as a result of both past and ongoing discrimination and this includes limited educational opportunities, high health risk occupations they are forced to take up, discrimination in access to land, employment, housing and other resources.
The lockdown has left many who live in towns and villages of India wondering, how they will survive the lockdown with low internet and the pressures of survival. For girls born into impoverished or conservative families, it could be a lost chance, that was way low on the priority list of their parents who are struggling to make ends meet. It’s also nudged this question in the face of many and we must think hard about it. Will Online Classes during the lockdown deprive girls of education? And just how can we ensure no more girls are pushed to the brink like Devika was.
Shreya is an intern with SheThePeople.TV