S V Singh //
Digital Divide Is Killing Students
“Because of me, my family is facing many financial problems. I am a burden on my family. My education is a burden. If I can’t study, I can’t live. Forgive me I am not a good daughter. The scholarship whenever received should be paid to my father”
Aishwarya Reddy, 19 years old, a brilliant LSR College Delhi student from a poor family in Telangana in her suicide note dated 02.11.2020
“One smart phone x 3 siblings = 0 online classes. My father is a laborer. We own one smartphone which he takes with him when he is out for work. So my 12 year old sister and I can’t attend online classes. My brother has already dropped out of school because of this and is now learning carpentry”
Mohit Ahirwal, a class 10 student of a government school in Jammu
Devika Balkrishnan daughter of a laborer in Kerala and Shibani Kumari daughter of a truck driver in West Bengal, both class 10 students ended their lives as they did not have a smartphone and could not study online.
Adolescence means whirlwind of dreams, emotion, passion, love and attraction. Exuberance and aroma of youth is precious, not available in the market or online, never returns to life afterwards. What is the reality of our youth, on the other hand, we are condemned to witness? Not a day passes when we don’t have to undergo the trauma of facing the cruel reality of a promising, charming youth drowned in distress, chooses death over life!! If this cannot stir us to stand up and raise our voice then nothing can. The process of dehumanization is complete, then. Aishwarya’s suicide is not followed by resignations of the college principal, ministers of education and science technology, itself proves that the insensitivity and irresponsibility of the government and apathy of the whole society have reached alarming levels. Just like the migrant workers were pushed to the brink to save their life by declaring countrywide lockdown on March 24, 2020 without any planning and preparation to cope with the emerging situation at that humongous scale, exactly similarly, students all over India were asked to attend on line classes since the school, colleges will were closed till further instructions without bothering to know the real status of the majority of students. Should the government claiming to be committed to ‘sab ka saath sab ka vikaas’ not know the real financial status of the children in schools? Costly infra structure and substantial running expenses are incurred for ‘online education’. Is the government so naïve not to notice that? What will happen to the young tender minds when they are denied excess to the learning process? If a government claiming itself a Vishwaguru did not care about the lives of the crores of poor students across the country, should these, the most tragic and heart wrenching incidents of student suicides not be classified as institutional murders or criminal acts of abetment to suicide?
Children Profile In Our Country
Even after 73 years of ‘robust capitalist development’ in our country, 50% of the total children never go to school even after the so called ‘compulsory Child Education Policy of India’ reports Smile Foundation. According to the same report, 30 lakh children live on the streets. Rulers of the country should hang their heads in shame over this fact instead of proclaiming ‘Children are the future of the nation’!! According to government’s own statistics, as of Sep 2014, total literacy rate in our country stood at 65.38% with male literacy at 75.85% whereas female literacy at merely 54.16%. Children reaching grade 5 in 2000/01, are 59.8% only. Employing child labor is a crime in our country but 1.7 crore children work to survive as per official estimates. Out of the total employed children, 19% work as domestic help. About 80% of the child labor is engaged in agriculture. This figure of 1.7 crore child labor does not include millions of children who have to ‘do their own family work’ as their parents are either unable to work or they cannot earn sufficient for the family to survive. Children of all marginal peasants, invariable, work for their survival. ‘Children also work because there is demand for cheap labor. High incidence of child labor is a result of high incidence of adult unemployment’ informs the same report. No parent stops their child from going to school and sends to work instead out of choice. It is under compulsions of survival that children are forced to work. Right to live supersedes all other laws. No law on earth can force a healthy living individual to die of hunger. Migrant labor has proved amply by their rebellion against government firman when they were forced to remain indoor after announcement of lockdown. These 1.7 crore children belong to that section of our society which is never taken into any consideration unless poll schedule is declared by the Election Commission!!
We are the biggest education ‘market’ in the world. There are 25 crore students in our country which is the highest number in any country in the world. 27% of the total students i.e. 6.7 crore students do not have access to smart phones or laptops to attend online classes, concedes one report by NCERT. Moreover, even if a family owns a smart phone or laptop, how can more than one child have access to the same when parents themselves are required to work online or take smartphone to the place of their work? Education class even if online has specific subject, syllabus and it cannot be shared by more than one student or with their parents working online particularly when timings are also the same. Attending to 6-7 hours of classes online daily, obviously, requires internet access, speed, electricity supply and above all, recurring cost. Did the concerned authorities bother to find out how many parents can afford that? Was it not incumbent on the government to know before rushing to make yet another vital announcement? Covid-19 was, of course, sudden and unexpected occurrence but the most painful and callous aspect of this cruel ordeal is that the government choose to resort to non sensical gimmicks like banging the pans, lighting the lamps, showering of flowers and playing trumpets in place of hard, concrete and real measures to save human lives. This shameful spectacle is not witnessed anywhere in the world and very heavy price is being paid by the poor of the country.
Fact Check About Scholarships
There can’t be two opinions that priority number 1 of any government, claiming to have even the least concern about the human resource development of the country, should be to ensure free education to all the children irrespective of the fact that they are genius or ordinary, rich or poor. The cruel, anti-human system of capitalism in vogue in our country has, however, turned education too into an industry. Commercialization and privatization of education is further cemented by the New Education Policy implemented by Modi government since July 2020. India is now being marketed as the biggest market in the world and the big capital sharks are being lured to invest and fleece profit. Profit can be maximized only when education is made costly, free from any state intervention, no subsidy and market is allowed to fix the cost that is why not only the fees of any nature are being increased exorbitantly but the scholarships available for the brilliant poor students are being, systematically, withdrawn.
- Scholarships available for the poor students from the marginalized communities are being drastically reduced or doing away with. Budget allocations for these scholarships are being slashed drastically during last 5 years i.e. 2015-16 to 2019-20. Number of pre-matric scholarships is continuously falling since 2015-16. Total 24 lakh students availed these scholarships in 2015-16 while only 22 lakhs were given these scholarships in 2018-19. Number of post-matric scholarship beneficiaries fell from 58 lakh in 2015-16 to 33 lakhs in 2018-19, a sharp reduction of 43%. Centre’s funding for pre-matric scholarships for SC category fell from Rs.500 crore in 2015-16 to Rs.300 crore in 2019-20, reduction by 40%.
- Sharp decline in disbursal of scholarship to minority community beneficiaries since 2014. “We want them (Muslim Youth) Quran in one hand and computer in the other” thunders Modi in his trademark boastful style, pretending as a stateman, at ‘Islamic Heritage’ in New Delhi. An RTI query, however, revealed that out of total 96,50,248 students registered for scholarship, only 44,74,452 received in the academic year 2017-18. Not only that, students from minority community were to receive up to Rs.30000 annually but many of them actually received a meagre Rs.5000 only. If a leader’s deeds and words match an inch then he cannot be Narendra Modi!! Vikas of the poor and destitute is always in his speech whereas vikas of Adani-Ambani is in his deeds!! Students all over the country are under fatal stress not without reason. There is a drastic and reckless reduction in scholarship disbursals and number of the students needing and qualifying for these scholarships is increasing.
|Scheme||Number Of Applications Received Online|
|Merit cum means||3,26,723||4,62,744||2,62,829||2,80,639||2,49,229|
Unable to deny hard facts, the minister concerned conceded, “Scholarship is budget based and not demand driven” The truth, therefore, gets uncovered for all to see. How will the scholarships be paid and the students in dire need of financial help continue with their studies when the government is slashing the budget meant for the same year after year. Not only, the less number of scholarships are sanctioned but the disbursals of the same is deliberately delayed. This causes maximum distress as student takes into account the scholarship amount while taking admission in a course but it never reaches her/ his hands or reaches too late. There will, consequently, be distress screams from talented but poor students in dire need of funds. Some of them will, eventually, ‘quit’ as Aishwarya did. How then not to call these suicides as institutional murders?
- Research Scholarships have literally been starved of funds during Modi Rule in India. Last year (2019-20), a sum of Rs.356 crore was earmarked for university scholarships which was further enhanced to Rs.381 crore. Nirmala Sitaraman has, this year, reduced this amount to a mere Rs.141 crore, reduction by a whopping 63%!! Reduction of a single penny in scholarship means simultaneous addition of acute distress among students. Those engaged in research work in any central university and not getting any other scholarship can, rightfully, claim Non-NET fellowship of Rs.8000 pm for Ph.D. and Rs.5000 pm for M. Phil courses. Please ponder over mental condition of those who have enrolled themselves in these courses taking into account this fellowship amount and during the course of the program they are denied this!! Unsurprisingly, the UGC had abolished the Non-NET fellowships in 2015 itself but strong protests from students had forced the government to take this outrightly anti-student policy back. Similar formidable protests, unfortunately, could not be organized this time. No student from poor family can do research work without financial support but that doesn’t matter to the government marching on the path of becoming a Vishwaguru!!
- Fee hike is so severe and atrocious that it will push out of the educational institutions, not only the poor they are already out but also to the middle- class students. Frequent hikes in tuition fee, hostel fee, admission fee, exam fee et al are not driven by inflation neutralization factor because in that case the hike would have been 10% or 15%. But if fees are up by 1787% then it is evident that purpose is to drive the poor out of the education ‘market’. Education is now an industry and market will decide who will be in or out of the college!! As a sample case, please examine the most recent hike in Haryana. On 6th of November an order was passed by Haryana government increasing the fee in medical colleges for MBBS courses from Rs.53000 per year to Rs. 10,00,000 per year (a mind numbing 1787%!!!) which will be applicable to all the students! Besides this, students are required to submit a bond of Rs.40,00,000!! How many families in our country can afford this cost? In one stroke, the ‘nationalist’ government has pushed 80% of the students of nation out of the medical institutions. They are now ‘free’ to learn carpentry, plumbing, coloring and painting of houses, making candles, embroidery and what not. CBSE increased board exam fee in August 2019 for general categories from Rs.750 to Rs.1500-a 100% increase, and for SC and ST students from Rs.50 to Rs.1200- a 2300% hike!! Fee increase is now an ongoing process, increased any time round the year. What a piercing stress this ‘measure’ will cause among the students who aspire to become doctors is no concern of the ‘patriotic’ government. Its aim is to make education industry lucrative for the capitalist sharks to invest and squeeze profit out of the bones of the populace which is possible only when ‘cheap’ education is not available to anyone anywhere in the country. This is not a new phenomenon, health sector has already been ‘transformed’ on exactly the same lines. Dogs and pigs play and copulate at most of the government hospitals while world class, glittering medical shops are available now in every city of the country. Another tragic aspect of this type of ‘loot’ orders is that these are implemented with immediate effect without bothering to think of those students who took admission taking into account the old fee structure. What will they do now midway of the course is again not the government’s ‘business’! How many of the students and their parents will be driven to unmanageable stress, extreme depression and eventually to suicides? Last year, nation witnessed massive protests at JNU triggered by the mindless hikes in every fee but Corona calamity has provided an opportunity and Modi government is committed, not to let the opportunity go waste!! Fee hikes in every institution in every state are so frequent and are so cruel and unbearable that everything cannot be covered here, that’s not the purpose of this essay. Deadly contribution of fee hike, though, to the vicious circle of fatal distress among students is overwhelming and unignorable. During the span of 6 years of Modi government between 2014-15 and 2019-20, the share of education expenditure in the total Union budget fell from 4.1% to 3.4%. The dearth of funds is reflected in both the amount allotted for scholarships as well as the substantial decline in the number of beneficiaries across categories of scholarships.
Listen to the heart wrenching screams of poor students, O Rulers!!
The most painful experience is having to read suicide notes of teenagers. We are condemned to undergo that at frightening regular intervals. Courage is, however, to be mustered and one has to hold breath to deliberate, think and examine these gory details in order to avoid the circumstances leading to such ordeal.
Late Aishwarya Reddy: A charming and graciously smiling picture flashed in news papers, is still engrossed in psyche, refuses to fade away. Telangana state topper, proud student of the prestigious Lady Shriram College B.Sc. Honors Maths, ‘Inspire’ scholarship (Rs.5000 per month for one year) winner, payment of the same denied, asked to vacate the hostel room and look for private accommodation got too much and she ended her life. “I had to shut within a month due to the lockdown and although I reopened, business has been slow. My daughter had returned home in February after the college closed. In October, she asked if I could buy her a laptop as online classes had started and she was finding it difficult to attend them on her phone. She said even a used laptop would do. I told her to wait for a few days. She did not ask again. A few days later, she mentioned that the scholarship amount she was supposed to receive was delayed,” said Aishwarya’s father Shrinivas Reddy, a motor mechanic had availed a Rs. 2 lakh education loan mortgaging the house. These lines reveal the real status of the education sector in our country.
Over 150 children committed suicide during lock down in the state of Kerala alone. According to Mathrubhumi paper report these children included even those who were awarded President’s medal for excellence. 93% of these children showed no tendency or symptom of depression in their early life before taking these extreme steps.
80 suicides are reported in Jalandhar city alone during pandemic induced lock down reports Chandigarh Tribune.
Vikrapandi, class 11 student in Theni District of Tamilnadu ended his life unable to bear pressure being unable to continue his studies online, reports Financial Times.
The Tribune reported that between April and June a total of 113 suicides were reported in the city of Kolkata which is more than double the number of corresponding period last year. Most of the persons are less than 40.
The unreadable, heart wrenching tales of hopelessness and despair among students leading, eventually, to their suicides don’t cease coming. Nation needs to sit up and ponder seriously over this issue.
Do Not ‘Quit’, Rise To Face The Challenge, O Students!!
Aishwarya Reddy, you, undoubtedly, did everything perfect in your life, except one thing. You didn’t learn political economy of the present times. You excelled in your studies, topped the state of Telangana, got admission in a leading college in Delhi, earned ‘Inspiring Scholarship’ from Ministry of Science and Technology in spite insurmountable odds that a student from poor background faces. Even after that you could not escape the cruel tentacles of the system which killed you, finally. One factor common to every suicide is ‘hopelessness’. After knowing the prevailing politico economic laws prevailing in society, one understands the scientific cause behind what is actually happening. Why are the schools and colleges not being opened as per need of society? Why are the number of hostel rooms not being increased since so many years? Why are the scholarships either being abolished or payment is delayed or denied? Not only that, one also gets to know how the situation can be changed and this inculcates hope and determination to become part of that change process. One can endure hardships even can go hungry if one has hope. Idea of suicide never strikes a hopeful person. This is the reason that all the bourgeois leaders sale fake hopes. We, all, have been recipients of fake hopes in abundance since 1947 itself. Nehru gave us fake hope of socialism and ruled the nation for 18 years. He knew that his job is to make the base of the capitalist system safe and secure as per the blue print given to him by Bombay Plan (Tata-Birla Plan) of 1944 but he peddled public sector as socialism as those were the days when people were fighting their bourgeois or feudal rulers in their respective countries to establish scientific socialism and in order to detract that process here, he sold false, fake and utopian socialism. Then Indira Gandhi sold fake hopes successfully in the name of ‘Garibi Hatao’ and ruled the nation for 14 years. After that came Manmohan Singh, simple, pious looking ‘economist’, darling of the bourgeoisie and the stupid, irritating liberals. He presented neo liberalism as panacea of all ills that eventually devastated the nation but people devoured fake hope again. Bourgeoisie gave full 10 years to him but when capitalist crisis accentuated further and the going got tuff for him and he failed to deliver fake hope anymore, a real master of the art appeared on the scene. Modi, the seller par excellence, hypnotized the gullible masses quite literally with his super performance delivery of outlandish promises and has taken the art of selling fake dreams to another unassailable levels. One who succeeded in driving the destitute and ruined people of Bihar to vote for him during the present dire circumstances can sell the combs to the bald in dozens!! This, though, is one side of the reality. There are, on the other hand, a galaxy of true leaders, the real leaders who have examined the human history objectively and scientifically and discovered the inherent philosophy governing human development since beginning. These leaders for example, Karl Marx, are like torch bearers guiding the hoodwinked and confused masses, crushed under poverty, harsh difficulties, cruel realities, desperately groping in the dark for a way out. The moment one comes to envision the scientific way to get out and bury the rot once and for all, one feels enlightened and empowered as if a light is switched on in a dark alley. The despair and hopelessness give way to determination and resolve to be instrument of change. In case Aishwarya knew the fact that the hardships faced by her and also other hundreds of million toiling masses of the country are because of the accentuating crisis in the capitalist mode of development. This system too has to go and give way to socialism just like feudalism has become history after giving birth to capitalism from its womb. Who would have thought looking to the grandeur of the courts of the kings that one day they will be down and out unceremoniously and the capital will dictate everything and will rule the world. Had Aishwarya knew this, she would not have even thought of putting that bloody noose around her neck and the society would not have been deprived of her extraordinary talent. The way fees are being hiked, scholarships are being snatched, education is being commercialized, privatized, being converted into an industry for the capitalist shark to squeeze profits, even harder days are in store ahead not only for the students from poor background but also those from the middle class, more particularly for those who are blessed with sharp intellect and emotional and sensitive thought process. Having to read suicide notes from teenagers is the most painful job in this world. Society cannot afford to lose more Aishwaryas. Let us remember that these incidents of suicides are fully blown extreme symptoms of the cancer, there are crores of other students who are facing acute stress, depression and falling victim to alcoholism, drugs and crime. Students who don’t understand and appreciate the actual scientific causes of the disease, are in all likelihood prone to fall victim to escapism by way of alcoholism, drug addiction, depression, may be suicides or become tools in the hands of fascists in their machinations. This frightening prospect is real and looming large on the horizon.
The hard reality of Class Division of the society is being manifested in several ways. Its not possible to suppress the truth anymore. Pandemic induced but mindlessly implemented nationwide lockdown and consequent closure of schools/ colleges and online education has bared this reality in a novel way. This is called Digital Divide. Yawning gap between ‘Haves’ those students who own smartphone or laptop and continuous good speed internet facility and ‘Have nots’ those who don’t have these gadgets is getting terrible as the pandemic and related circumstances are not coming to end. The brutal reality is that only a few are in the ‘Haves’ category and overwhelming majority of students fall in the later ‘Have nots’ category. A digital survey of the SRM College where Aishwarya was learning published in Economic Times reveals that “out of 1450 students who responded to the survey, 30% did not have their own laptops of their own while 40% said that they are attending online classes without proper internet connection. Over 90% of the students said online classes had affected their mental and physical health.” NSS survey of 2017-18 tells that 75% of the population is residing in rural area and out of them only 15% have access to internet. The level of distress caused by this terrible division can only be realized by those who underwent this ordeal for over 6 months now. Absolutely no step is taken by the government to address this suffocating deprivation of studies to crores of students. Its not that government did take steps but fell short as the number is humongous. That would have been understandable but simply turning the blind eye to this torture of students is callous. Second cause of student distress is ever rising fees all around. Education is getting beyond reach of the vast majority of population. Hostel rooms are available only to the handful of students as Aishwarya was asked to vacate the hostel room as it was available for the first year only. Where will those who cannot afford costly accommodation in the big cities, go is again not the government’s business!! Scholarships for higher studies are scrapped and funds are not available even where these are not scrapped may be these are due to be done away with the next year. In case Aishwarya had got due scholarship of Rs.5000 per month for which she was entitled since March then her life could not have been lost. The minister of minority affairs has revealed the real intention of the government, “scholarship is budget based and not demand driven”. There was no budget provision of lakhs of crores of relief package for the corporate business and the government provided as per their demand; this is another matter, none of our business!! The fact of the matter is that ruling capitalist class does not need educated people anymore. They have to throw out whatever are left with them. They don’t need research scholars as they don’t need to increase the production. Their inventory levels are peaking, go downs are full to the brim thanks to the inherent capitalist crisis which is systemic and unresolvable. When bourgeoisie doesn’t need educated people, engineers, doctors, doesn’t need research to boost production then why to waste money on education and scholarships for the higher education!! Moreover, fascists who are the last resort for the drowning capitalist structure, flourish and thrive among uneducated and ignorant masses. No one, then, question even if outlandish rubbish and nonsense is served like, we had a glorious past as there was internet and test tube fertility facilities during Mahabharat times, we had airplanes and spacecrafts thousands of years ago, our ancestors had attained expertise in plastic surgery by transplanting elephant head to human body which is not possible even now!! It is always
easy to convert humans into black sheep and have armies of blind supporters if the masses are uneducated and ignorant. This obvious thinking
is guiding the government policies these days. Let us remember famous words of Voltaire, an 18th century French Enlightenment writer and philosopher, “Those who can make you believe absurdities, can make you commit atrocities.” The real culprit, therefore, is the moribund capitalist system. Any movement, now, to force the government to roll back the unbearable fee hike and to increase scholarships, not to abolish these and not to deny education to almost 80% of population is unlikely to yield results as the government has moved too far and too fast in the opposite direction. Hence all the movements to save education have now to be directed against this inhuman, barbaric and rotten-beyond-repair system of capitalism which has already passed its expiry date long back.
History teaches us that students and youth have always been the harbingers of change. Indian freedom movement shows us how the colleges and universities were turned into meeting and organizing places for freedom fighters determined to throw away the British colonial exploiters. Who can forget Shaheed-e-Azam Bhagat Singh’s clarion call from National College Lahore, “REVOLUTION IS AN INALIENABLE RIGHT OF MANKIND. FREEDOM IS AN IMPERISHABLE BIRTHRIGHT OF ALL”? Another freedom movement may be on a still bigger and larger scale has to be unleashed to ensure freedom from exploitation, hunger, deprivation. Students and youth make a tremendous energy required to fulfill this historical task. This cannot, however, be accomplished by dejected, depressed youth who want to ‘quit’ and escape from the hardships of the challenge and by those who are out to take their own lives. Only a lighted candle can light others, please remember! The students possess the most fertile mind. They are unconquerable energy. They have to know, what is happening, why is happening and how to change this and this can only be done by those who may be financially distressed but are high on morale and enthusiasm.
[Originally published in The Truth: Platform for Radical Voices of The Working Class (Issue 8 / December 2020)]