Why Do So Many Students in India End Their Lives Over Exams?

“And I say this to her every day. I’m sorry I didn’t take the signs seriously,” Nyana says. Spot the signs early.

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‘Maine socha tha ki agar main pass nahi ho payi toh main jaan de doongi (I thought if I don’t clear the exams I’ll end my life)’
An excerpt from 14-year-old Prerna’s suicide note

Prerna, 14, took her own life after she failed two subjects in her Class VIII half-yearly exams. She is one of thousands of Indian students who take their own lives in India every year.

On this podcast, we’re looking at India’s student suicide crisis.

According to a 2014 report from the Indian government, exam-related pressure was the largest cause of suicide in India’s youth. On this podcast you’ll hear from people who work with suicide support groups, doctors, as well as the last words of several students from their suicide notes.

Listen to the podcast for the full story:

India’s Student Suicide Crisis

“It’s not because of bad scores in the exam. It’s because I’ve started hating myself to the extent that I want to kill myself.”
Kriti Tripathi, 17, took her own life after she passed the IIT-JEE entrance exams

India’s student suicide crisis is no new development. India has consistently reported high suicide rates. A large number of suicides were reported in the 15-29 age group.

Twenty-two students took their own lives in a week in Telangana in April 2019, because they had failed their school’s intermediate exams.

What kind of psychological pressure leads students in school, like 14-year-old Prerna, to take their own lives?

We spoke to D. Amit Sen, a psychiatrist who works with the Children First Mental Health Institute in Delhi.

“As students enter class 9, there’s this belief that’s whipped up in them that are only two things that will define a student’s future: The percentage of marks in the 12th board and which college they get into. All their effort and emotion is invested in these two things that if they fail they feel their life is doomed.”
Dr. Amit Sen, Psychiatrist, Children First Mental Health Institute

But failure to live up to expectations isn’t the only cause for student suicides. A 17-year-old from Ghaziabad took her own life after she cracked the IIT-JEE entrance examination in 2016.

In her five-page suicide note, she wrote about how she never wanted to study science or be an engineer.

‘You manipulated me as a kid to like science. I took science to make you happy. I had interest in astrophysics and quantum physics. I still love writing, english, history...and they are capable of exciting me in the darkest times.”
An excerpt from Kriti Tripathi’s suicide note

Seventeen-year-old Kriti Tripathi wrote the suicide note before jumping to her death from a five-storey building in Kota on 28 April 2016.

She had scored 144 marks in the JEE Mains 2016 results declared a day before, on 27 April. But she writes….she never wanted to be an engineer. The pressure to succeed eventually leads to everything else in a student’s life being side-lined, like extra-curricular activities and other things that could lead to a more well-rounded, healthy sense of self.

“I’m sorry. All the noise in my head and the hatred in my heart, hatred for myself, is maddening.”
An excerpt from Kriti Tripathi’s suicide note

But is this confined to just students in school and college? Most certainly not.

Varun Chandran, 28, hanged himself after he was not allowed to write his UPSC exam because he had reached the exam centre four minutes late.

“‘There was anyway no point in living this life further. I anyway would just have been a living dead body. What had to happen has happened. It would have happened anytime, anywhere.”
An excerpt from Varun Chandran’s suicide note

Dr Amit Sen says, “India has the highest number of deaths by suicide in youngsters. Across the world the largest cause of death in youth is road accidents, but in India, it’s suicide.”

I also spoke to Nyana Sabharwal, one of the founders of We Hear You, a peer support group for those who have lost loved ones to suicide. She lost someone close to her because of suicide.

“Everyone who dies by suicide says they want to die. The difference is we as people don’t take it seriously. It’s a cry for help. And we push it under the carpet. And I say this to her every day. I’m sorry I didn’t take the signs seriously.”
Nyana Sabharwal, Co-founder, We Hear You

Nyana says it’s important to recognise the signs and reach out to people in need.

“As somebody who’s lost someone to suicide, when someone gives you signs, why do you believe they won’t? It’s important to identify the signs and help them. And if we don’t do anything about it we’ll be in the same position as me or anyone else in our support group who says I wish I’d done things differently.”
Nyana Sabharwal

Until children are encouraged to opt for all-rounded growth, instead of a singular focus on academic excellence, stories like Varun, Prerna, Kriti, and any of the thousands of other students across India who took their own lives, will continue to pile up.

“I know it will be very difficult from now on but not impossible. Just think I never existed. The more you try to forget me, the more happy my soul will be.”
An excerpt from Varun Chandran’s suicide note

(With inputs from The Times of India and Hindustan Times)

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