(Trigger Warning: Mentions of suicide. If you feel suicidal or know someone in distress, please reach out to them with kindness and call these of local emergency services, helplines, and mental health NGOs)
I was preparing for medical entrance exams in Kota not only because I wanted to become a doctor, but also because my loved ones wanted me to. My brother, who is with the Indian Air Force, was funding my coaching for those exams.
But the environment in Kota is so stressful that every other student sitting next to you looks at you as a competitor. You might end up becoming friends with them, but they would not like it if you scored better than them.
When I didn't get selected for MBBS after several attempts, I decided to give up on the preparation. My brother did not talk to me for three years.
The suffering I endured there pushed me to set up 'It Happens Only In Kota' – an online community of students where they can freely share their problems, because a lot of them find it difficult to even share them with their parents.
In 2023 alone, eight students have died by suicide in Kota – four in a span of one month. It makes me wonder if things have changed at all over these years.
Watch The Quint's documentary from 2016 – Why Kota Kills: Is the Education Hub a Deathtrap for Students?
The Cost of Being in Kota
In 2015-16, I got a text from a student preparing for medical entrance exams. Her sister was already a doctor, and her family was putting pressure on her to become one. She said she was "depressed" – and "on the verge of taking an extreme step".
She started to speak to me about this regularly, and eventually, we became friends. I asked her to join the team of 'It Happens Only In Kota,' hoping it might make her feel better.
While she was working with us, she guided many students who were facing problems in Kota. Eventually, she returned home and explained the situation to her parents. Later, she pursued law, and now she is a successful lawyer.
There's no denying the fact that the ultimate goal of studying in Kota is to make one's life better, but the question that needs to be asked is: At what cost?
Kota is a pedestal of unimaginable heights, and it demands a lot. It also takes away the smooth transition from adolescence to youth. The pressure to perform well and to stand up to expectations can be overwhelming.
Students are shuffled in batches on the basis of these tests. The toppers are placed in one batch and one hostel, and provided with the best of teachers, hostel facilities, and care. This is done to make you realise your position in the race, which eventually adds up to the already stressful life in this city.
Has Anything Changed?
In all these years, the only things that have changed are the number of students and fees. Earlier, there were different coaching classes for medical and engineering exams. Now, all coaching institutes provide every course. Moreover, the coaching fees and hostel charges have also increased multifold.
Coaching institutes are mainly interested in producing top ranks, pushing the students with 'average' grades to the sidelines. Some of these institutes organise a mega road show with the toppers, where they collect their students and go all around the city to celebrate their ranks.
What's worse is that any student who has secured a top rank is "claimed" by multiple coaching institutes as their own. A lot of toppers are paid hefty amounts by coaching institutes for the same.
Through this overwhelming marketing, parents are shown a pipe-dream of their child studying in the best of engineering or medical institutes of the country. But, dear parents, you need to first think about what your child likes and dislikes as well as analyse their potential. Then, you must let them be so that they can achieve what they are good at.
What Can Make Things Better?
A friend is what one needs in Kota. But it becomes difficult to make one because all your energy is invested in scoring well in the fortnightly tests.
A consolidated forum is needed, where coaching institute administrations, student representatives, parents, hostel associations, and other stakeholders are answerable to each other.
Mental health analysis, small batch sizes, a day off every week, regular parent-teacher interactions, and most importantly, recognition of failure (read: no selection) – with all these things on the table, a healthier environment can be created.
And it can be the key to a new beginning.
(As told to Rahul Goreja.)
(Anshu Maharaj is the founder of 'It Happens Only In Kota' – a community of students in Kota. He was preparing for the All India Pre-Medical Test in Kota from 2010-2014.)
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