'Structural Failure': What Leads Several UPSC Candidates to Suicide
28-year-old Blesson Puddu Chako died by suicide on 5 June in Nagpur, after failing to clear the UPSC exam.
The Quint DAILY
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(If you feel suicidal or know someone in distress, please reach out to them with kindness and call these numbers of local emergency services, helplines, and mental health NGOs.)
Like every year, lakhs of students applied for the UPSC Civil Service Examinations in 2021 and only 685 qualified, bringing the qualifying rate to around 0.2 percent, not very different than the previous years.
Days after the results were declared on 30 May this year, 28-year-old Blesson Puddu Chako died by suicide on 5 June at Jaripatka in Maharashtra's Nagpur, after failing to clear the civil service examinations twice.
According to Inspector Gorakh Kumbhar of Jaripatka Police Station, Chako took the extreme step because he could not clear the test after preparing for over two years.
“Blesson used to stay alone with his father. He had studied BTech, after which he was preparing for the UPSC civil service examinations. So far, we have learnt that he took his own life because of depression related to the examination," Kumbhar said.
He died by suicide when his father had left for the church.
Like Blesson, lakhs of students across the country reel under the pressure of clearing the highly competitive examination every year. However, only a few qualify for the Indian Administrative Services (IAS), the Indian Police Services (IPS), and the Indian Foreign Sevices (IFS), with many making the cut only after repeated attempts for several years.
Around 2,500 Student Die by Suicide Due to Exam-Related Stress Every Year
Blesson's suicide, however, is not an isolated incident. Earlier in March, a 31-year-old former bank employee died by suicide in Noida after allegedly failing to clear UPSC twice.
According to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) 2020 data, around 2,500 people die by suicide due to failure in examinations every year.
Between 2014 and 2020, the country lost 12,582 lives due to examination-induced stress.
Maharashtra is among the top five states with the highest student suicide rates. While metro cities witness the most number of suicides, smaller cities are not so far behind. In the year 2020 alone, Delhi witnessed 56 student suicides, while Bangalore saw 40 and Mumbai saw 29.
Socio-Economic Background, Lack of Awareness of Options as Major Factors
While there are several socio-economic factors at play with the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) examinations, educators and psychologists blame the ‘collective failure of the societcy’ for student suicides.
Sauraveswar Sen, founder of Catalyst Learning Services which trains candidates for careers in the social sector and civil services, said, “There might be a certain personal problem in every such case. But it is largely a structural failure.”
One of the major concerns, he said, is the fact that many are not aware of the other related fields that candidates can pursue if they do not qualify for civil services.
“When students are depressed about not being able to clear a certain examination, we need to constantly show them that there are alternate options. At the same time, we also must reach out to families and ask them to seek support for the individual.”
For many, Sen said, civil services prove to be a portal for upward mobility.
“For middle and lower-income groups, which is the majority of the country, getting a secure job is a requirement. For many, there is no way out of their situation, except for getting in. That is why they are completely invested in it, mentally.”
‘Happens Because Worth Entwined With Marks’: Mental Health Professionals
Sneha Jha, a child psychologist, told The Quint that the number of suicides that are reported are only the tip of the iceberg because many attempts of suicide but do not succeed.
Jha explained that ever since a child enters the education system, the idea of a ‘good student’ and a ‘bad student’ is ingrained in their mind and this is generally linked to the marks that they get and the subjects they choose to study.
Speaking to The Quint, Aastha Chaudhry, psychotherapist and researcher, said that one of the reasons for examination-related stress is because we live in a country where your sense of worth is intertwined with how well you score in a unit test, starting from a very young age. She added that a dearth of resources leads to inequitable distribution.
Competitive exams or boards are merely tokens representative of your survival bank, and the larger societal failure to cushion life. It’s common, persistent, and unhealthy, and young lives are lost trying to meet those standards, year after year. Anxiety is merely a response to the threat to one’s life, and it becomes too heavy a burden to bear for most.Aastha Chaudhry, Psychotherapist
The Need For Support Systems
According to Sen, educators must pay closer attention to how the candidate wants to contribute to the society or achieve something personally. In his experience, some who have not qualified for civil services have gone ahead to work in allied sectors such as the social sector or public policy.
Sneha Jha said that adults around have a huge role to play. “It becomes crucial for students to have emotionally regulated adults who make children feel confident and secure, rather than asking them why they could not score a certain score on a test.”
She added that the tests are also so competitive that students tend to isolate from their social support systems, which only aggravates the problem.
Aastha said, "When your entire place in society and value around your being is associated with you being an IAS officer, etc, everything that is to you, all that’s more, all that is you goes amiss and fades to nothing. That’s where we need to intervene if we don’t want to lose more people.”
She said that if people come together to support someone who is preparing for a high-stakes examination such as UPSC, there is still hope.
Sometimes it only begins by asking, 'how can I support you?’ which has the potential to go a long way for someone who is struggling in a rigged system.
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