Sri Chaitanya and Narayana. These are infamous names in the South. They are every middle-class household’s gateway to achieving the ‘good life’. They stand for providing a ‘healthy and competitive environment’ with ‘top-notch facilities and experienced teachers’ which helps the students of the institute have an edge over others in the cut-throat competition that surrounds the engineering/medical entrance exams. A good rank in these tests, a seat in a top medical/ engineering college and your child has ‘made’ it in life. This is what they sell, through well-crafted ads and promotions. But how far does this translate into reality is what remains under scanner till date.
Anirudh, an PCM (physics, chemistry and mathematics) student from Narayana, Jubilee Hills Branch of Hyderabad says, “I made a choice to pursue engineering after my 10th boards. Narayana was the best option available for crossing the entrance hurdle. I knew it was tough out there but I clearly was not ready for what hit me in those two years. We had classes from 8 am to 6 pm with a lunch break in between. My weekends were spent cramming for the exams. It was worse for the creamy students (the topper batch) as they had to work from morning 8 am till 8 in the evening. The lecturers were not as good as they project them to be. It is just a scam. Under the farce of ‘good education’ it was almost like they ruined two years of my life. There was no social development at all. I can’t even imagine what it was like for the hostellers.”
He goes on to relate his own understanding of the Sri-Chaitanya and Narayana network and how he feels about the increasing number of suicides in the last few months.
“I feel like I had an option to get out of it after those two years. Most people don’t, and hence, there is always this fear of losing out in this rat-race a lot of students feel vulnerable and hopeless. Many come from lower-middle-class backgrounds with student loans or otherwise. The institute charges exorbitant fees and students from such backgrounds feel the pressure even more. The coaching they provide is not competent enough to help all students to excel. It creates an even additional pressure because sometimes you have to just self-learn. It is just an unhealthy environment where very few people survive and get out of the place unscathed. Rest of us are just led into a delusion that we will get good coaching and succeed. It puts you in a situation where every day you feel like getting out of this mess that you have put yourselves into and a constant dread prevails that if you don’t perform you won’t ever succeed in life. It is a matter of life and death. It always felt like one. ”
The functioning of these institutes is some sort of an open secret. Parents are aware of the rigorous time schedules and harsh living conditions in the hostels. Even then, they still opt for these institutes because of the almost unmerciful way that competitive entrance exams function in this country. The competition is such that one needs intense dedication, smart preparations and hard work to make it through. Hence, the belief that it is necessary for the child to go through this rigorous ‘training’ and ‘quality education’ to ensure a position in the exams. They somehow feel that the pressure to perform will get the better out of their wards. Hence, some amount of perseverance through these harsh conditions is a prerequisite.
But to what ends are we willing to subject 15-16-year-olds to such a controlled and severe environment on the basis of a fractured mindset can never be justified; especially in the wake of the alarming number of suicides which have been reported out of different branches of these institutes across the states of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana. We must think about how inhuman and mounting the academic stress become that students just out of school are willing to take such a drastic step.
And yet it is not a recent phenomenon. Over the years the institutes have been reported to have a number of its students committing suicide. The government has time and again set up committees to look into the environment of these coaching institutes and asked them to follow the guidelines set by the state governments. They’ve also warned these institutes by threatening to revoke its recognition if they do not follow the government’s guidelines. All of this has been ignored by the institute’s administration. They don’t even care to respond to such orders. How does it manage to evade questioning despite having such suicide cases inside their institutions is a matter of concern.
Over the past few weeks, the movement against the institutes’ functioning and the student suicides has gained momentum through the protests and awareness campaigns by the Telangana Vidyarthi Vedika (TVV) who have been insistent in their call for the cancellation of permission to run these institutes in the state. They had sought an inquiry into the suicide cases from the district collector who had promised swift action. From March 15 to March 22, they had conducted awareness camps all across Telangana to dissuade parents from putting their wards in the Sri-Chaitanya and Narayana institutions. They ran these campaigns to familiarise the general public with the drastic effects this sort of ‘coaching’ has on a child’s health.
Naveen, a TVV member, says, “We got a good response from the parents who understood the problem. But their major concern was if not Narayana or Chaitanya, then where? They lack faith in the government-run intermediate colleges which doesn’t provide quality education for class 11th-12th, forget about having extra training for cracking the entrance tests. It is because of this lack of an alternative to this nexus that they are able to thrive.”
Naveen also mentions how the Sri Chaitanya and Narayana management had allegedly contacted them during the awareness campaigns offering them money to pull off the campaign. It had infuriated the members; following which on March 27, they had gone to meet and interrogate the Telangana Intermediate Board on the actions they had taken to further the inquiry on the suicide cases in these institutes. However, around 150 members were arrested and were not given a chance to meet with the board.
They have also signed online petitions seeking a ban on the institutes on the grounds that these are merely profit-earning ventures who sell dreams by making false promises. They blame the institute for the student suicides which is an immediate effect of the undue and unfair expectations it puts on them. Over a lakh have signed up for the cause and it’s still counting.
Moreover, a division bench of the Hyderabad High Court had issued notices to the governments of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana and to the Sri-Chaitanya and Narayana colleges to respond to a PIL filed by Dasari Emmanuel, a co-convener of Lok Satta Agitation Society of Prakasam district regarding the student suicides in these private colleges. Dasari had alleged that the Sri-Chaitanya and Narayana nexus sits on a very convenient position despite facing severe backlash from varying sections of the society owing to its close relations with a minister in power. He had sought an issue of a judicial inquiry into the suicide cases and register a criminal case against the colleges.
Hence, there has been constant pressure on the institutes from varying fronts. But it still continues to exist and thrive through its connections, its hold on society because of the lack of an alternative. This state of our education system says a lot about our society. There are numerous such institutes analogous to Sri- Chaitanya and Narayana which run across the country under different banners. They have been running for over a few decades now. They produce good results in the entrance tests with the topper being someone amongst these institutes. But how did we, as a society, understand and treat the other half? How have we reached this point where student suicides have almost become everyday news?
Ultimately, there is a dearth of good government educational institutions which would meet the demands of the growing student population. This leads parents to look for alternatives in the private sector. This has slowly become a norm now where every other household has someone or the other studying in a ‘premier institute’ and is working day in and day out to get that merit seat. We have failed as a society to understand the needs of a child who is right out of school and looking to seek their calling. By pushing students to ‘study’ in such a counter-productive environment we are taking away what should be a learning phase for the overall development of one’s personality. I was part of this bandwagon once. It was three years of jail term with PCMB books and no development whatsoever. But like Naveen said, there was no alternative.
It’s high time that we extend our support to such movements which look to reform our education system.