The dark side of Kota’s dream chasers

Three incidents of students ending their lives at coaching centres call for multiple interventions to ease high levels of stress among aspirants

Updated - December 30, 2018 09:55 am IST

Published - December 29, 2018 10:36 pm IST - KOTA

Educational hub:  About 1.50 lakh students study at around 100 private coaching institutes in Kota.

Educational hub: About 1.50 lakh students study at around 100 private coaching institutes in Kota.

When 16-year-old Deepak Dadhich, an IIT aspirant from Rajasthan’s Bundi district, was found to have taken his life at his coaching centre in Kota last week, his distraught family were unable to comprehend why he had taken such an extreme step. His uncle Chandra Prakash told The Hindu that there was no apparent reason as Deepak always had the option of joining the family’s agricultural business if he was unable to crack the entrance exam.

No isolated incident

Deepak’s death was not an isolated incident. Two other students of the city’s coaching institutes — Jitesh Gupta, 17, from Bihar’s Siwan district, attending coaching classes for the IIT-JEE, and NEET aspirant Diksha Singh, also 17, from Uttar Pradesh’s Kushinagar — ended their lives in the span of just four days. Their deaths have taken the number of student suicides this year to 19.

The numbers in 2018 are a reversal of the trend in 2017 when only seven cases were reported. However, 17 cases were reported in 2016 and 16 in 2015. About 1.5 lakh students, many from remote and small towns, live and study at around 100 private coaching institutes in Kota, considered the educational hub of Rajasthan. These students generally enrol in Class XI and spend the next two years preparing to crack the exams to enter the country’s top medical and engineering colleges.

With the IIT JEE-Main exams scheduled for January, December is crucial for aspirants who are in the final phase of preparations.

The three incidents within a week have highlighted the enormous pressure on these young people and raised questions about the preparation methods at the coaching centres.

Psychiatric experts studying the behaviour patterns of the Kota students have cited the intense curriculum, parental pressure and depression among reasons for the high levels of stress among the students.

A representative of the city's largest coaching centre, Allen Career Institute, who did not wish to be identified, said they had taken measures to boost the morale of students and keep track of their activities. “On each of our 16 campuses, a healthy and stress-free environment is being maintained.” he claimed.

Multiple stressors

The steep cost of these preparatory courses also acts as a burden on the students with parents shelling out between ₹1.50 lakh and ₹5 lakh a year. The fact that these fees have been arranged often with great difficulty, through loans or mortgage of family property, puts tremendous pressure on the aspirants.

Many of the students are unable to cope with the intense curriculum because of the difference in their basic education and the competence required to crack the competitive exams.

Official intervention

In 2016, alarmed by the high incidence of suicides, the district administration had issued guidelines for coaching institutes, making it mandatory for them to undertake extracurricular activities, give students a weekly day off, hold parent-teacher meetings and organise motivational and counselling sessions.

Following the suicides this week, the administration has again initiated action to ensure compliance with the 2016 guidelines at the coaching institutes and the private hostels where the students stay. Collector Muktanand Agrawal, who presided over a meeting on the issue here on Thursday, said all government departments would work in a “proactive manner” to stop the students from taking the extreme step and prepare a comprehensive database of students.

A committee comprising two officers has also been constituted to investigate the cases reported so far. “Senior students of psychology, sociology and nursing will be trained to act as counsellors. The coaching centres have also been asked to join hands with government officials to reduce stress levels among students,” Mr. Agrawal said.

Senior psychiatrist M.L. Agrawal, who heads the city’s Hope Society, has pitched in with his team . Dr. Agrawal told The Hindu that though the suicide figures in Kota, at 10.1 per 1 lakh population, were less than the national average of 10.4 released by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), the trend among teenage students was a cause for concern.

Dr. Agrawal, who has been running a 24-hour “crisis intervention and suicide prevention helpline” here since 2015, said the children often faced difficulty in adjusting to the new environment, but proper guidance and counselling could ease the process.

“The high competitive level in Kota can be discouraging to newcomers, who were top scorers in their own towns. When they get low ranks, they get into the vicious cycle of depression,” he said.

The Kota Hostel Association, which last year came up with a spring device to be fitted along with a siren sensor to ceiling fans to prevent students from taking their lives by hanging, has demanded that the equipment be made mandatory for all hostel rooms.

Association president Manish Jain said a punitive action, including seizure, would compel the hostel owners to install the device and help save the lives of students.

(Those with suicidal thoughts can contact the Hope Society helpline in Kota 0744-2333666 or Sneha’s suicide prevention helpline 044-24640050 for counselling.)

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