Kota’s fame as India’s ‘coaching capital’ is also the reason for its notoriety as a ‘suicide city’ and the measures taken by administration and institutes to bring down the insane stress of competition, which proves too much to handle for many teenaged students, have been inadequate, finds Rajesh Asnani
On August 5, 15-year-old Devesh Kumar from Nalanda, Bihar, hanged himself in his hostel room in Kota. A suicide note found in the room read, “Before coming to Kota, I did not know that preparing for IIT-JEE would be so tough.” The JEE aspirant had scored only 20-40 per cent marks in the internal tests at his coaching institute, which drove him to end his life. On August 7, 16-year-old Sakshi Maratha from Buldhana in Maharashtra hanged herself from the ceiling fan in her room. She left no suicide note. But she was the 13th student this year to commit suicide in Kota.
The rise in the number of student suicides in Kota this year after a dip in 2017—which saw seven cases—has rattled India’s coaching capital once again. Since 2013, 77 students have committed suicide in the city in Rajasthan, as per the data compiled by the district administration. A spike in the number of suicides in 2015 and 2016 had forced the district administration to introduce remedial measures and last year saw lesser suicides. But the measures have obviously failed to have a lasting impact for lack of sincere implementation.
The administration had taken steps which included issuing guidelines to the institutes to give weekly off to students, fees refunds, facilitating recreational activities etc. Former district collector Ravi Kumar Surpur had taken a personal interest in the issue and made sure that screening of students is done prior to admissions.
But these are just guidelines and there is no regular monitoring to ensure strict compliance. “We have appointed counsellors and mentors, set up indoor games and started yoga classes on alternate days, as per the guidelines. But it’s not mandatory and we can’t force the students to attend,” concedes Pramod Mewara of Allen Institute, the leading coaching institute in Kota. Thousands of students come to Kota every year with a dream to gain entrance to the prestigious IITs and medical colleges. But for many, the pressure of intense studies is overwhelming. Teenagers who have hardly been away from home before this have to live on their own, cramming 14-16 hours a day in the hope of a secure future. The grueling daily schedule, the rigorous cycle of internal tests at the institutes, the intense competition and the “insane” pressure to succeed proves too much for many youngsters to handle — especially in the absence of continuous emotional support from parents.
Unfortunately, neither the parents nor the coaching institutes are sensitive to the emotional cost of chasing the medical or engineering dream. Kota once used to be an industrial town. But in the early nineties, the industries started shutting down. V K Bansal, who was an employee with the JK Industries then, started teaching mathematics to IIT aspirants in 1987-88. IIT-Delhi graduate Pramod Maheshwari started teaching physics. The two men, with their innovative style of teaching, made 49 students from Kota clear IIT entrance in 1995. That put the city on the map as a top choice for IIT and medical coaching.
And within a few years, ‘coaching’ became the biggest industry here. Today, there are about 40 big and small institutes in the city catering to nearly 1.5 lakh engineering and medical aspirants.
With over 10 lakh students from all over the country appearing for JEE Mains to secure about 11,000 seats in 23 IITs, the competition is fierce. The deep-rooted bias in India for engineering and medical professions makes ambitious parents bring their children here so that they can make it to the IITs or medical colleges.
The coaching institutes are taking full advantage of this mad race to make a killing. Maheshwari, the owner of Career Point, says this was not the case initially. “Both of us (he and Bansal) started teaching and our students were common; we used to have a healthy atmosphere. That was a different Kota... at that time, the focus was on education, students and ethics,” he says.
The competition among the coaching centres is as intense as among the students, with each of them vying to attract the best and brightest students and to ensure that maximum students of their students qualify for IIT-JEE and NEET with top scores. In their bid to outdo each other, they offer up to 100 per cent scholarships to the top scorers in their screening tests — which means, their coaching is free of cost. The main aim of every institute is to admit maximum students as it means more profits. But at the same time, there is a thrust on churning out toppers and therefore, the institutes focus on only those students who are already bright and have the aptitude for engineering or medical studies.
From the rest of the students, they charge hefty tuition fees — `1,00,000 per year, on an average. There is also a competition to hire the best faculty and the institutes pay anything between `20 lakh and `1 crore per year to the teachers, many of them IITians. Poaching of bright students from other institutes is common because “for aspirants and their parents, the main criterion for taking admission is the number of toppers selected from an institute” says Nidhi Gupta, who is doing her PhD on Kota suicides.
The coaching centres’ obsessive focus on potential toppers, as also their strategy to segregate the students in batches according to their capability, has a damaging impact on rest of the students, who start feeling they are incapable. Less marks in internal tests lower their self-esteem. Many students come to Kota because of parental pressure. Apart from the stress of studies, the students also face the pressure of ‘return on investment’. Parents spend Rs 2.5-3 lakh per year on their tuition fees, stay, food etc. and a feeling of being unable to pay expected returns drives many teens to despair.
Psychologist Dr M L Agarwal, who was instrumental in starting a helpline service for students, blames parents. “Forcing them to prepare for IIT or NEET against their desire will only push the children to the edge,” he says. Dr B S Shekhawat, a psychiatrist at Government Medical College, says the counsellors hired by the institutes are often untrained. “They are giving so much money to the faculty. Why can’t they appoint professional counsellors and psychiatrist who can screen students at the time of admission and keep a tab on the emotionally vulnerable ones?” he asks.
Kriti Tripathi from Ghaziabad, who committed suicide last year despite scoring well in internal tests, advised her younger sister, in her suicide note, “Only what you love brings happiness and that is the only thing you can excel in.” It’s time parents and the coaching industry realised this.
Reasons for suicides
As they find themselves all alone in a city without any emotional or moral support from parents, students — many of whom have moved away from home for the first time — find it difficult to cope with the stress of studies and competition.
According to experts, when students arrive in Kota for coaching, they suddenly find themselves amid unknown people. With each one of them competing with lakhs of others, it’s difficult for the students to strike a close bond of friendship.
The coaching institutes organise periodic tests, generally once every three weeks. The results are communicated to parents via messages and letters. A lot of student can’t face the embarrassment of bad results. Students who got high percentages in school start scoring poor marks in review tests. They don’t know how to explain this to parents.
Test performance decides the batch a student is assigned. When the rank of a student slips, he or she is put to ‘lower’ batches, which hurts his or her self-esteem.
Parental expectations are often responsible for driving children to end their lives.
Sometimes, issues like love affair, alcohol/drug addiction etc. are also responsible.