India's mammoth student suicide problem needs to be addressed now!

India accounted for 17.8 percent of global suicides in 2016

Last month, over 20 students committed suicide after exam results were declared in Telangana, where over one-third of the students had failed. A committee which was formed to probe into discrepancies in the mark sheets, found out that there were several glaring errors and technical glitches which led to wrong marks being published. Out of the students who committed suicide, three students did so despite passing the exam, while one of them had even scored 85 percent.

In 2017, Anitha, a daily wage labourer’s daughter from Tamil Nadu, got a commendable 1176 marks out of 1200 for her 12th board exams. She, however, was unable to score the required marks to clear the NEET medical entrance exam, as the state board she was affiliated to could not prepare her for the exam. She also did not have the resources to take up coaching classes. Though Anitha had taken the fight to the Supreme Court pleading that poor students like her could not afford to pay for private coaching classes to clear the NEET, nothing came out of it. Anitha committed suicide, ending her fight against a system which had gotten the better of her.

Numerous triggers

The Telangana suicides and Anita’s cases are not lone ones. According to a study published in The Lancet Public Health in 2016, India accounted for 17.8 percent of global suicides. Further, as per data from the National Crime Records Bureau, 24,476 students committed suicide between 2014 and 2016, with 2,413 students committing suicide in 2016, alone, after failing in their exams.

It's a constant cycle. Parents often enforce their aspirations on their children. Regardless of their interests or caliber, young high school children are packed off to over-priced coaching centres, or factories, like the ones in Kota, each year. These children are dropped into hostile environments, away from their families, with extremely rigid study schedules and rules that they need to follow. These often leave the children exhausted, stressed, depressed and worried. And, if, the child is unable to perform well, he/she fears the repercussions, and even contemplates taking extreme steps.

Excessive pressure is one of the reasons why over the past five years, over 49 students from the prestigious Navodaya Vidyalaya schools for gifted children, have committed suicide, while Kota, India’s coaching capital, has seen multiple suicides over the past many years. With institutions such as the Delhi University pushing cut-off marks to such colossal levels, it becomes difficult for students who score below 90 percent to even stand a chance of gaining admission. This further adds to the mental agony and stress that students go through, often spurred on by parents and schools.

Even after gaining entrance into premier institutions such as the Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) and medical colleges, suicides still continue as students are then unable to handle the pressure of academics at the institute. The 2014 part-documentary/part-film, Placebo, directed by Abhay Kumar, explores the whole context of student suicides, set in the backdrop of the prestigious All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIMS).

The film starts off with the disclaimer that both Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Harvard have acceptance rates of 9 and 7 percent respectively, while in AIIMS, the chances of getting accepted is a mere 0.1 percent. Hence, clearly the creamiest of the country’s brains land up at the medical college – so what drives them to commit suicide? A report in Newsclick talks about how resident doctors are often expected to work for 24-48 hours at a stretch with little to no rest. This is one of the main reasons why the year 2018 saw three suicides cases in the prestigious college.

In 2017, educational group Podar World School released a report which suggested the reasons why students commit suicide. Some of these included peer pressure, child abuse, failed romantic relationships, problems with the family, bullying failure or the fear of failure and peer pressure. The recent suicide by the Mumbai-based doctor and post-graduate student Dr Payal Tadvi over the caste-based harassment she is a classic case of how our system has the capacity of driving people to commit suicide.

Much more to life

What parents, students and schools often fail to understand is that having high marks in an exam does not necessarily guarantee success. Similarly, failing or not topping an exam also does not mean that the person will not succeed in life.

This is expressed clearly by IAS officer and Kabirdham district collector, Awanish Kumar, who upset over the spate of suicides that have been taking place, shared his own mark sheets on social media to prove that life is much beyond just marks. He speaks about how, despite scoring only 44.5 per cent, 65 per cent and 60.7 percent marks in Class 10, 12 and graduation, respectively, he continued to strive hard, did not give in and is today an IAS officer.

Kumar’s example goes on to prove that career opportunities are unlimited today and if one door closes, there are plenty of others that are waiting to be opened. As parents, teachers, schools and the society as a whole, it is up to us to ensure that we make the mental health of our children a priority and combine it with education. School curriculum need to be revamped and mindful practices such as meditation, yoga need to be introduced to ensure a child’s holistic development, ease stress and make sure that no more lives lost.