Coaching centres in the northern Indian city of Kota are facing tighter regulations after a rise in the number of student suicides. BBC Hindi’s Vineet Khare has been talking to pupils who have travelled to Kota to receive tuition to help them pass entrance exams for elite colleges and found many feel intense pressure to succeed.
Twenty-one-year-old Vijay (not his real name) has failed the entrance exam for medical college three times. He had hoped that studying at an expensive coaching centre in Kota in the north Indian state of Rajasthan would get him through the test.
Like many other students, Vijay had seen Kota as the land of dreams.
The city is dotted with large billboards bearing the names, pictures and rankings of successful pupils. More than 200,000 students, some as young as 13, come here to study and are living in hostels or privately rented accommodation.
It is well known for its educational centres, designed to prepare young people for India’s highly competitive entrance exams to the best medical and engineering colleges. There are 12 large coaching centres and at least 50 smaller ones.
Pride, pressure, and anxiety
Winning a place to these elite colleges is a source of pride for Indian parents and failure is frowned upon. Institutes charge more than 100,000 Indian rupees ($1,200, £1,000) per year, a high sum for many families. But entry into a top engineering or medical college is a ticket to a high-paying job.
Vijay’s family lives in the countryside and is not well off. His father is a farmer and the fear of disappointing his parents weighed heavily on his mind.
“I used to lie to my parents about my bad test results,” he admits.
He tells me at one point his growing anxiety was giving him headaches and chest pain and it was after failing his second exam that he came close to killing himself.
“I felt I had no option left,” he says.
“I had wasted my parents’ money and damaged their reputation.
“The pressure of the situation triggered my suicidal thoughts, but I just kept them to myself,” he explains.
Vijay says he changed his mind after he saw a Bollywood star, Deepika Padukone, talking about her depression. The actress spoke publicly about how overworking is often glorified and the negative impact it can have on mental health. Her openness inspired him to seek help. Vijay is now getting psychiatric treatment and says he is trying to take each day as it comes.
Other students also tell me about the hardship of living alone, high parental expectations, peer pressure, cut-throat competition and 14-hour-days. More than 100 students in Kota have taken their lives in the past 10 years, including at least 25 this year – the highest ever in a single year, according to police data.
One of those suicides – a 15-year-old girl – happened during my visit to the city.
It’s not clear why she took her own life. “She never mentioned any study-related distress to us,” her father told me over the phone while on his way to Kota after receiving the news about her death. “But she did talk about student suicides in Kota… I told her to focus on her studies instead,” he added.
Analysis of government figures by a local newspaper, the Hindustan Times, concluded that most of the student suicides in Kota in 2023 involved boys under the age of 18 preparing for medical tests, who mostly came from low-income families living in remote areas of north India.
Adarsh Raj, who was also from a farming family and studying in Kota, wanted to be a doctor but took his own life in August, at the age of 18. His family is devastated. “We did not put pressure on him. We feel that low marks in his tests led to his depression, which made him take this extreme step,” his uncle Harishankar tells me. “But suicide is not the solution.”
Source : BBC