They come in the hope of cracking the IIT and medical entrance exams but crack themselves. Kota, once hailed as a Mecca for grooming students for competitive exams, has now become a Karbala for many an aspirant.
Data by the district administration reveal that 58 students attending coaching classes in Kota committed suicide between 2013 and 2017. But 2018 became the worst. As many as 19 students ended their lives in 2018 with at least four in just the dying week of last year.
But another data, released by National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), record 100 suicide deaths in Kota in 2014, of which 45 were coaching students. A town, once known for its crisp cotton sarees, which became over the years the hub of coaching centres prepping engineering and medical aspirants, has now become the suicide capital of Rajasthan.
A town, where about 150,000 students study in the 150-odd coaching centres, has now itself become a subject of study. Many a study has blamed study stress, parental-societal pressure, depression and other emotional issues for the suicides.
A punishing schedule, from early morning till late at night which leaves no room for extra- curricular activities, has been the bane of many a student. Life at the coaching institutes is a life of a regimented daily routine– getting up then going to classes, coming back then doing reams of homework, taking a break for meal and then study, just study, study, study from morning till night. And this may go up to 2 to 4 years continuously.
This relentless pressure, coupled with shame of failure, guilt of letting parents down and trauma of slipping behind, all help to push the student into depression. Most parents either fail to comprehend the trauma their child is going through or just advise him or her to continue with the coaching in the hope of a better future.
The way the coaching centres are run also lead to trauma and depression among students. The students are routinely sorted into elite and non-elite sections. The topmost batches would get the elite teachers, the best of everything, while those down the line would have less-skilled teachers and more pressure of reaching the elite batches.
Students falling into depression is also linked to his or her financial background. The financial background will ensure how many attempts a student can take to crack the IIT-JEE entrance exams because studying at a coaching centre is quite expensive– about Rs 2 lakh per annum. If you miss your only shot at the exams, you can go into depression.
Studies have also found many instances of parents imposing their choice on their child when the child has no inclination of becoming an engineer or a doctor. In her suicide note, a girl had written:”I had interest in astrophysics and quantum physics and would have done a BSc…I still love writing, english, history….” In one suicide note, a student urged her parents to let her younger sister opt for the subject and career of her choice, rather than one enforced upon her.
But some crack despite cracking the exams. In 2016, a 17-year-old girl killed herself even though she cleared the exams because she felt she should have scored higher. This forced Collector Ravi Kumar Surpur to send a letter to the parents of the 150,000 students, urging them “not to force their expectations and dreams on their children and let them do what they want and are able to do”.
The district administration also asked students to share feedback on the main causes of their stress, and how they usually cope with it. Coaching guidelines were issued, stressing the need for extra-curricular activities for students, mandatory counselling sessions for students and parents, as also parent-teacher meetings, establishment of helplines and giving students free time.
But suicides continued. And even increased.
Such guidelines are often introduced. But to no avail, it seems.
The malaise runs deep, and the problem is complex.
In this coaching desert hotspot, it is stress that snuffs out lives. And those who come out with flying colours are often also not the brightest. They have cracked the exams by years of pattern and rote learning. They lack creativity, curiosity, and analytical ability to think afresh.
Then what is the solution. A student’s suicide letter succinctly puts it: ‘Shut coaching centres, they suck’.
Yashwardhan Joshi is a Journalist of long standing and commentator on issues of Administration and Social Issues.