(Trigger Warning: Discussions of suicide. 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.)
For most students who aspire to be doctors and engineers in India, Kota is like a rite of passage that will guarantee them a place in a leading premier institution.
But for many others, Kota is a death trap.
With students coming in from diverse backgrounds, and attempting to appear for exams that have success rates as low as 10 percent for IIT JEE and a miniscule one percent for NEET, most aspirants already have extremely rigorous academic mindsets.
The reality, however, is in stark contrast to their dreams. For a majority of the students who join the coaching centres in Kota, the only return ticket home is clearing the exam because there are loans to be re-paid – taken under great duress, large interest rates, and dire circumstances..
In a coaching industry that annually generates a revenue of Rs 6000 crore, will some guidelines by the state government make any significant impact? Or will Kota continue to be the El Dorado of fabulous wealth and opportunity for a select few?
In Microcosm of Coachings, Governance Has No Place
The government, unfortunately so far, has not been able to provide support to the students for their journey beyond school to professional courses, allowing places like Kota to establish their own parallel education systems.
Over two lakh students currently occupy this space with an entire ecosystem that has grown around the coaching industry.
And yet, for all its earnings of thousands of crores or rupees, Kota has bad roads, no airport, and very poor medical facilities – all of which are an absolute necessity as extremely vulnerable sections of our society (literal kids) reside there.
These are the basic tenets of good governance that don't seem to exist in Kota. The coaching city is then a microcosm of the larger Kota macrocosm.
Strangely, what our prime minister called the Kashi of education has, unfortunately, become a gateway for suicides.
Over several hundred young lives have been lost in less than a decade. With often deaths by suicide happening within hours of each other.
Suicide rates are particularly high among youngsters between the ages of 15-20. Four times as many young men as women are ending their lives.
Death by suicide is the third largest cause of death in adolescents in India.
What Pushes Students to the Breaking Point?
Every student has their own story that is not mentioned in the notes they leave behind, giving relief to the conscience of institutes and parents.
The coaching institutes suffer from a malaise of social collusion, a disconnect with the family except for an occasional phone call on a Sunday as there is no time for anything else.
Worry of unemployment and fewer prospects if examinations are not cleared create a host of depressive conditions in young people.
And yet, none of this is mentioned in the government directives released on 27 September 2023.
Guidelines or no guidelines, all students who study in Kota are under tremendous pressure that is either self-created or is a result of scholastic or domestic circumstances.
An institute can not run without testing systems. And students who cannot cope with it will slide into depression.
The parent community has to understand that given the rate of success, in all probability, his or her ward may not qualify.
To pin the life of a child on an imaginary supposition is within itself a negative assumption.
This high-pressure culture is a national problem. There is complete disaffection and disengagement from the parents, teachers, and coaching centres towards the children.
The tragedy is that parents are not able to look into the deeper needs of their own wards and ascertain their despair.
Immediately after a suicide occurs, the phones do not stop ringing for a week. But after that, it is business as usual.
A Revolution Needed
Kota needs a revolution in order to understand how to run their coaching centres (if at all), their education systems, their support organisations, and the peripheral communities.
If we had thought differently about it in the first place, we wouldn’t be in the position we are in today, cremating the bodies of our children.
The tragedy is that due to our education system in schools, most children are not aware of their potential and talents and what they are capable of. Ironically, neither are their parents.
The Rajasthan government's guidelines continue to engage with a system that is life threatening irrespective of the many suggestions made.
The creators of these guidelines must understand that learning in its true sense is a combination of personalised development and mindfulness, not a programme that is homogenised, automised, or industrialised.
Today, more than ever, we need a new earth, a flowering of human consciousness which creates a culture of health, happiness, and growth, especially for our children.
(Dr Ameeta Mulla Wattal is the Chairperson and Executive Director, Education, Innovations, and Training of DLF Foundation Schools and Scholarship Programmes. This is an opinion article and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)