Trigger Warning: Mentions of suicide
An article on May 4th, 2021 by The Print spoke about how lockdown till 17th May in Rajasthan will adversely affect those running coaching centres and other allied businesses like hostels and PGs. One of the people that The Print spoke to said that Kota will become a “suicide hub” if these businesses aren’t allowed to resume. Of course, the livelihood of many will be affected, but hasn’t Kota always been a “suicide hub” for many students who go there, due to the stress and anxiety these institutes and the system puts on them?
For those who are not aware, Kota is a city in Rajasthan where lakhs of students go every year to enrol and study in IIT-JEE coaching centres. JEE being the exam to crack into any engineering course in India, it has had a notorious history of being extremely hard to crack, and many engineering aspirants look at coaching centres as a way to get an edge. However, the entire culture around these coaching centres and the system that JEE represents leaves no space for the mental health of the student. Kota is no exception.
Kota became a hub for engineering and medical aspirants in the 80s, reinventing itself with the growth of many coaching centres promising a quality education. Pre-pandemic, there are usually around 1.5 lakh students in the city at any point of time preparing for the same.
Many of these students leave their homes and are thrown into an unknown, high-pressure environment without the love and nurturing children need at this age. Add to the fact that Indian parenting contains a lot of pressure towards material results for appreciation and care, one can see how the journey to Kota is daunting and extremely stressful to many students.
Add these high expectations to the fact that there are no fee refunds, up to 18-hour study shifts, and segregation based on ability. Fees are anywhere between 50,000 to a lakh annually, and with the no refund policies many Kota institutes employ, the pressure just becomes worse and worse for students coming from marginalized and economically weak backgrounds whose parents have had to borrow money to send their ward to Kota.
Since 2013, Kota has seen 85 suicides. The mental trauma that Kota inflicts on students is harrowing. In an article by Times Of India, parents of a Kota student explained the effect going there had on the student, saying “It started with a headache, fatigue, and bed-wetting. He now suffers from blackouts, partial memory loss, and occasional hallucinations.”
In December 2018, news of 3 student suicides in Kota shook the country. The city and many coaching institutes tried to rebrand their image, but the pervasive practices and pressures of Kota remain. A documentary by Hemant Gaba titled “An Engineered Dream” is a poignant story capturing the effect of Kota on the many aspirants that head there in the hopes of a better future.
This issue is not just restricted to Kota, with many coaching centres for the science field employing the same practices, and the students going there facing the same pressure. Kota is a symptom of a larger problem, and that is the current state of the Indian education system.
A student dies by suicide every hour in India, and a lot of it is due to the pressure that the system puts on students. Institutes like those in Kota arise out of the desperate need of struggling students to get that extra edge over their peers, whether they get an extra edge or not, I am not one to say. What I can say is that the system that makes students look at their peers as competitors that they need to beat, and the Indian attitude that places material success over well-being is a killer.
And it needs to change.