On November 2, an undergraduate student of Delhi University (DU)’s Lady Shri Ram (LSR) College for Women died by suicide. Her family said the girl took the drastic step because she had to return home to Telangana after classes were suspended due to Covid-19 and her parents, who work in the informal sector, could not afford a laptop for online classes. She had also received a message from the college, asking her to vacate hostel accommodation. She knew her family could not pay for expensive private hostel facilities.
With Covid-19, students have been under tremendous stress, across different educational tiers, because of the abrupt transition to digital learning. In India, thousands of poor students see education as a passport to better lives and social mobility, and this sudden disruption has put an extra financial burden on their families. Indian campuses also lack adequate counselling services, and the pandemic has exposed how this lack of a support system can impact students, especially those who come from marginalised backgrounds and have little to no support systems and mentoring facilities at home.
This year, as a report in this newspaper revealed, many DU colleges have received more than the usual number of applications for fee waivers from students, indicating the depth of the crisis. DU colleges have said that they are scaling up their outreach programmes. While this is an excellent step, eight months into the crisis, they should have put in place a system to ensure digital devices, internet connections and counselling services for vulnerable students. DU has access to funds, a strong alumni base and human resources; colleges should leverage these effectively and ensure that students tide over this crisis with minimum pain.