New Delhi: The Lady Shri Ram College Students’ Union has publicly rejected the college administration’s claim that Aishwarya Reddy, the second-year BSc Mathematics student who allegedly committed suicide earlier this month over financial constraints, never approached them for help.
In a letter sent to media outlets Wednesday, the students’ union attached a series of communications sent to the college administration during the preceding months that detail the problems students from economically weaker backgrounds are facing in keeping up with online lessons, which require a steady WiFi connection, and a smartphone or laptop/personal computer.
In her suicide note, Reddy — whose father is a mechanic, and mother a tailor — cited the money spent by her family on her education and claimed she didn’t want to be burden on them. In September, she had filled out a student union survey where she said she didn’t have a laptop or a properly functioning phone, or a steady internet connection.
In their letter, the students’ union alleged that, despite multiple requests, the administration refused to help students with matters such as hostel facilities, internet connection and attendance relaxations. They also lashed out at Principal Suman Sharma, alleging that she had made inaccurate statements to the media.
“A few days ago our college principal, Dr Suman Sharma shamelessly blamed Aishwarya for not reaching out to the college for any kind of help and the media houses covered her version of the story without fact-checking,” the students’ union has said. “Though the damage has been done and the narrative has been constructed, we want the media to do their homework and follow up on everything Dr Suman Sharma claimed on air.”
ThePrint reached Sharma through calls and text for a comment on the allegations raised by the students, but there was no response till the time of publishing this report.
Problem with online classes
The students’ union’s representation to the media includes results of a survey it conducted in September where around 40 per cent of the respondents said they did not have access to a steady internet connection. Around 66 per cent claimed they had household responsibilities that clashed with their lecture timings, and 27 per cent said they did not have access to laptops for online education.
About 95 per cent of students said online classes had led to deterioration in their mental and physical health.
Speaking separately with ThePrint, LSR Students’ Union general secretary Unnimaya said results of the survey were shared by different departments with their heads through letters.
In a letter to the administration on 22 September, the union said, students of the English Department Union raised issues like reducing screen time, concerns over data usage, and extra classes. The administration wrote back saying they were trying their best to accommodate student requests while honouring university-mandated guidelines and requirements of credits and course completion.
Another letter written on 12 September by students of 10 departments asked the college to take into consideration the needs of students with visual and hearing impairments, the union stated.
In a separate mail on 28 August, the union representation added, students noted that daily lectures lasting 5-7 hours require unlimited WiFi packages that poor and economically backward students could not afford.
“We didn’t receive any response from the administration despite writing several mails expressing our concerns and problems. Department student unions, when they reached out to their respective heads, were ill-treated by teachers,” Unnimaya said.
“Students whose names were written in letters as signatories were called out during sessions and humiliated by teachers. It seemed like the administration was trying to intimidate such students and create a divide,” she added.
The hostel issue
Reddy’s suicide didn’t just bring to fore problems that students have been facing during the pandemic, but over the last one year, including issues pertaining to hostel accommodation.
The college has restricted its hostel to first-year students in order to “implement OBC reservation”, citing its limited capacity. In light of this, students who entered the second year this academic session — including Aishwarya — were asked to vacate the hostel. This is believed to be among the factors responsible for Aishwarya’s suicide. The order was put on hold following Aishwarya’s death.
Speaking to ThePrint, Diya Solomon, senior coordinator of the hostel union, said students had raised “several concerns” with respect to the decision.
“Many students mentioned that they could not afford living in areas near the college due to high rents … some also said that, due to the pandemic, they could not travel to-and-fro because they had nowhere to quarantine. Some complained that they did not have enough finances to go back home in the absence of easy availability of trains,” she added.
(With inputs from Kritika Sharma)