By Rahul Maganti:
I woke up on Sunday morning to the news that a third year undergraduate student from the Dept. of Chemical Engineering in IIT Bombay had committed suicide. Except for some sadness, my reaction to this information was very normal; I have been hearing the news of suicides, time and again, consistently and frequently, quite a handful number of times during my four years of stay here. This is the second suicide on campus in the last 8 months. Both were apparently because of ‘academic pressure’, while there is a good probability that the first one also had a caste discrimination angle attached to it.
I wasn’t sure whether I wanted to write this at a time when the nation had just lost a precious young life. I am also unsure of what should be the narrative of discussion to revolutionize this education system. But, as always, silence never helps. This article is just one perspective from a person who has seen the system inside out, struggled with academics in every semester and faced intense pressure for the past 20 days to avoid an extension, which hopefully I will.
How many more lives would the Indian education system take before it is revolutionized, or at the very least, someone speaks about it? How many more years will the Government not respond and stick to the same oppressive combination of examination and education systems? How many generations will it take for the society to understand that it needs to embrace the people who don’t conform to the traditional and conventional forms of success?
On retrospection, I have been there too – in deep and constant pressure since the past 20 days during my exams, which eventually led to depression. Thanks to the awesome friends around me who helped reduce the pressure and tension, I was able to pass that phase with ease. At several points during this period, I was actually able to relate to the thought process behind suicides and the people who take that extreme step; all because a simple FR in a course would lead me to an extension of one year and subsequently crush all my future plans. I console myself that this is my story alone. But then, I see my friends whose situation is not very much different from mine. My sample space might have all the biases and is probably skewed for all the possible reasons. But even if these are isolated and sporadic incidents, doesn’t the loss of precious lives merit a thorough revamp? Don’t hundreds of students in constant pressure and depression highlight the need for a major overhaul in our education system, not just a few reforms here and there?
The extremely vague term – ‘academic pressure’, need not always be about the pressure to prove yourself to your parents and society. This also results from the frustration to mug up things which are of remote interest and which you know will be of no use in the days to come. A lot of other factors, like extremely rigid curriculum for some departments and pressures from the teaching community also play a role. The extreme autonomy and power with the professors sometimes skew the system against the students. I am not painting the teaching community with a single brush here, but there are professors because of whom I have been under intense pressure. And, there are also professors I have had a pleasant chat with, got drunk with and shared personal experiences with. If there isn’t a human relation between professors and students on a person-to-person basis, we are messing up with the very foundation of the education system. The extremely high average age of professors in educational institutions is also a probable reason why that human relation has never taken off. Former Union Minister Jairam Ramesh, an alumnus of this very institute, IIT Bombay, admitted that this average age should be brought down to below 40.
How do we change the whole education model? Do we let go off the examination system? How do we bridge the gap between students and professors, both on academic and personal fronts?
I have been agitated with these, and many other questions since the past few days. All I can say is that this needs to change. A record by an ex-IIT-ian on his blog has recorded that the deaths of IIT-ians have been increasing every year and reached the peak of 14 deaths in 2014 alone. I want the Government to respond to this and the institute to speak on up; both of them together are responsible for this ‘mass-depression in concentration camps’ environment.
While counselling structure and the subsequent model is important, we believe that dismantling the reasons for stress is more important rather than just curing stress. Prevention has always been better than cure.
Suicides are never the solution. However, when we blame the victim and hold him/her to the dock for the failure, we are only consciously ignoring the huge load of social and financial privilege which he/she probably doesn’t have and others had. A person is a result of a combination of all his/her material conditions and privileges/under-privileges. Material conditions change from person to person and absolving the person from them and judging them based on one aspect, will only be hypocritical.
Today, let’s all mourn the death of the deceased but pledge to set the narrative in a progressive and liberal direction. All those who have succumbed to this education system, I wish your next generations will be relieved from that pain. Your struggle with life will remain a testimony for the long struggle against this kind of education system.