Monday, 30th October 2017

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Suicides hit IIT coaching hub

Shortage of trained counsellors to handle stressed students in Kota

By Rakhee Roy Talukdar in Jaipur
  • Published 1.07.15
A coaching institute in Kota

Jaipur, June 30: Rohit Singh hanged himself in his bedroom. That was on Saturday. The young man was only 18.

On June 8, Sarthak Yadav killed himself too.

Barely four days earlier, Nibha Tiwari had decided she couldn't stand it any more.

All three - Rohit, Sarthak and Nibha - had something in common. They were young, looked forward to a bright career, either as an IIT graduate or a doctor, and came to what is described as the country's coaching capital, Kota.

The Rajasthan city, some 255km from Jaipur, boasts the highest number of IIT selections every year and takes pride in its "Kota module" of updated study material and rigorous coaching.

Some 10,000 aspirants have been called for counselling this year. But five suicides this month have turned the lens on something most coaching centres, and some parents too, seem to have forgotten in the rush for success: trained counsellors to hear out the students when the going gets tough.

Tough is an understatement: the chances of success work out to something like one in 140.

According to police records, at least 11 students have committed suicide in Kota since January this year. In 2014, the number was 14, while 26 suicides were reported the year before.

Parents blame it on stress, the punishing schedule of long hours of study and preparatory exams. They also complain of lack of regular monitoring of how the students were, physically and mentally, when their tuition grades start falling.

The coaching institutes say stress is inevitable when 14 lakh students, for instance, decide to vie for 10,000 IIT seats. "Earlier, we used to hear one or two cases. Now the number of suicide cases are rising, but with so many students competing for one of the toughest tests, these numbers are minuscule," Pramod Bansal, director of Bansal Classes, told The Telegraph.

Stress, say counsellors, is indeed understandable, especially when these coaching institutes charge anything between Rs 70,000 and Rs 1.5 lakh every year from students.

What was not understandable is they don't have a system of counselling, especially before enrolling students.

True, conceded Bansal. "We don't counsel students before we take them in," he admitted. "But our doctors monitor a student who is not eating, or sleeping well or is in a kind of depression."

According to figures available, around 1.5 lakh aspiring engineers and doctors come to Kota every year, putting up in hostels, renting houses or staying as paying guests. Their day starts early: by 6am, they head to coaching centres. After tuitions, it's time for regular school or college. They don't get free before 8 in the evening. After dinner, it's study time again till they finally hit the bed.

They are also told not to sleep for over six hours. "The routine is tough, but then IIT seats are limited and time is at a premium," said Amit Yadav, a student from Jaipur.

Time was of premium too for Nibha, a girl from Jharkhand, who killed herself on June 4. A day later, the police found the bodies of Kuldeep Rastogi, of Badaun, Uttar Pradesh, and his daughter Dipanshi, 18.

Kuldeep, 48, committed suicide after killing his daughter in a hotel room. In a purported suicide note, he said he was taking the extreme step because of his poor financial condition. Counsellors say the tuition fee of the coaching institute where his daughter wanted to get enrolled was probably too high for them.

Next it was Sarthak from Saharanpur, also from Uttar Pradesh, and Ashwini Kumar from Bihar. Rohit's suicide, on June 27, was the latest.

M.L. Agarwal, a psychiatrist, said a helpline he started four years ago gets at least a 1,000 calls a year from students suffering from extreme stress.

Counsellors say the first "setback" the students in Kota suffer is when they compete with toppers from across the country and see their coaching class grades fall in comparison. "It is then that frustration anxiety sets in," Agarwal said.