Kota Suicides– Individual Tendencies or Systemic Flaw?

Though it is a small town in Rajasthan, Kota houses at least 150,000 students all year round, who can be found in coaching centers that have mushroomed in every corner of the city. These centres help students prepare for the JEE (Joint Entrance Exam) and the NEET(National Eligibility cum Entrance Test). For this reason, Kota has been dubbed the coaching capital of India– over 39,000 students from Kota clear JEE MAINS each year, while 40-50 rank in the top 100 of JEE (Advanced). Therefore, parents who aspire that their children attend one of the IITs enrol them in these residential coaching centers from the 11th grade, while simultaneously admitting them in a dummy school.

Students coming from day schools therefore, face quite a culture shock when they enter the education system at Kota. Its forty coaching institutes  all have a similar procedure of segregating students: according to weekly and monthly scores, students are put into classes ranging from A1 to A8, where A1 consists of the ‘brightest’ students, and A8 the ‘weakest’ students. In various interviews, students report that the children higher up in this hierarchy are given better teachers and more attention while students in lower levels have less competent teachers who are disinterested in teaching. Moreover, although five to six reshuffles of the classes take place in a year, students feel that once stuck in a low section, it is very hard to move upwards.

Over the years, the city has drawn attention for the number of students who commit suicide whilst there, or come out depressed– in the five years from 2011 to 2016, 57 students committed suicide in Kota. When its coaching centers and teachers are asked about these suicides, they unanimously say that it is wrong to blame the coaching centers; some staff workers have even gone on record to say that the biggest reason for depression and suicide is not academic overload, but lack of time management on the part of the students.

The students however, tell a different story: Kriti Tripathy a JEE aspirant at Kota committed suicide in April 2016 and left a detailed 5 page suicide note. Unlike most other suicide cases wherein students committed suicide after failing to clear JEE MAINS, she had cleared the examination with a score of 144 ( qualifying score was 100). In her note, she wrote that she was not committing suicide because of poor marks (she had expected to fare worse), but because she didn’t feel human anymore. She also wrote to her parents, saying that they tricked her into liking science and disliking other subjects, and that the emotional pressure did not let her tell them that she was not happy studying engineering. She ended the letter with a plea to the MHRD saying “Shut down the coaching centers, they suck (sic)”. Kriti Tripathy was one of the few students living with her mother in a PG in Kota, and was from a well-off family. Students who live in hostels with fellow students they perceive as competitors face another set of problems. One hostel warden admitted in an interview that he doesn’t let friendships form in the hostel as large friend groups mean the students will waste time roaming around together, and makes sure that the curfew and rules are such that children have nothing left to do in the spare time other than study.

Policemen in Kota who have seen numerous suicides are more hardhearted about it. In an interview, a police officer claimed that the reason for suicides was that pampered children from upper class families are not able to deal with the lifestyle of a small city like Kota. However, the data indicates otherwise, as most of the suicides are committed by children who come from low income families and tier 2 cities. Overall, research shows that students who voluntarily decide to join Kota and prepare for IIT are few, but are the ones who deal with pressure the best. Students who self-avowedly say that they are fulfilling their parents’ dream, or that they will follow their passions after doing BTech, are the ones who suffer most due to the psychological implications of the system.

The coaching industry in Kota is worth 1,500-1,800 crore rupees. The average annual cost for any student studying there, including the coaching center fee, hostel fee, dummy school fee, and living conditions is 6 lakhs. The students range from children of upper lower class parents who did not receive a college education themselves, to upper middle class families who want to pass on the torch of being an engineer to their children.

Consequently, psychological surveys conducted in Kota have found out that the biggest pressure on students is to return their parents’ monetary investment by getting into an IIT. One can find several testimonials by students who spend two years in Kota and are unable to clear the JEE, and then have to face their parents’ anger and disappointment over the wasted money and social embarrassment. On contacting students who had studied there, one can gain an insight into the unhealthy atmosphere of suicide in Kota. One of the students said it depends on the type of child, as “kuch log dil pe le lete hain” but they also admitted that the centres turn you into a robot, and every day’s waking and sleeping thought is centered on clearing the examination, as the centers do not refund the fee if a student decides to quit.

To conclude, Kota’s coaching centres cannot be blamed entirely for the student suicides; middle class Indian parents that see the IIT’s as a way to elevate their social status are also culprit to the immense amount of pressure their children face. These parents need to be aware of other career avenues and be sensitive to their child’s interest. The government also needs to work on the public education system so that the number of public institutes can match the number of students. And lastly, since the examination and its preparation is already competitive, coaching centers should try to reduce the stress on students and provide a balanced environment. Interviewees also mention that they attend frequent motivational lectures which solely focus on cracking the exam, on studying in every spare minute, relinquishing all entertainment and meetups with friends. These motivational sessions should also tell the students about career avenues other than JEE, and should not make students feel as though their entire worth and future is determined by just a score on their marksheet.

Picture Courtesy- DKODING

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