Sohanlal Sirvi had just returned home for lunch from his farm when he got a call from Kota in south Rajasthan that his 17-year-old son, who was taking coaching classes in the small town, had committed suicide.
His son, Tara Chand, enrolled at the Allen Career Institute for a two-year pre-medical coaching course last year. His performance was good, but he decided to take a break a few months ago to prepare for his Class 12 board exams as he was not able to cope with both.
“I still don’t know what drove him to commit suicide,” says Sirvi, a farmer from Dornari village, about 300 km south of Jaipur. “We supported his decision. We didn’t want him to be overburdened.”
Like Tara Chand, more than 1,00,000 teenagers head to coaching institutes in Kota every year with dreams of cracking the highly competitive Indian Institute of Technology or medical entrance exams.
The rigorous study schedule, high-pressure environment, competitive exams and stress of living alone take a toll on many students, pushing some of them to commit suicide.
According to Kota Police data, 72 students have committed suicide in the past five years. Police officer Bhagwat Singh Hingad said many students come from humble backgrounds and are burdened by expectations of parents.
He said, “Parents on average spend around Rs 2.50 lakh to Rs 3 lakh every year on coaching. When their children find themselves lagging, they feel guilty and can go into depression.”
Kota developed into a coaching hub in the late 1980s and over the years acquired a reputation of having a high success rate. The town has about 40 big coaching centres with a thriving Rs 2,000 crore industry, but Allen Career Institute vice-president CR Chaudhary says only around 25% make it to the premier engineering or medical schools.
Psychiatrist Dr Devendra Vijayvargiya says the fear of failure is a major cause of student suicides. “Students from different parts of the country land up in an unfamiliar environment and those who can’t cope develop an inferiority complex in the intensely competitive environment,” he told HT.
Jugtaram Chaudhary, a railway coolie in Jodhpur who earns barely Rs 250 a day, is saddled with a huge debt after he borrowed Rs 2.50 lakh from friends and relatives to send his son to a medical coaching institute in Kota.
His 19-year-old son, Kheraj Ram Chaudhary, studied under an oil lamp as he had no electricity in his Barmer district home but managed to crack the medical entrance exam and got admission in SN Medical College of Jodhpur.
“I spent the last one year in the uniform of the institute in Kota as I did not have money to buy clothes,” said Kheraj.
Naveen Maheshwari, director of the Allen Career Institute, says Kota had many people with engineering backgrounds. But when JK Synthetics closed down in 1996, several people employed there began giving tuitions to earn money, paving the way for the coaching institutes.
Since then, coaching centres have mushroomed across Kota and are the backbone of a thriving industry with everybody from auto-rickshaw drivers and food to security guards, stationary shop owners and home owners offering accommodation dependent on the students.
The daily routine of a typical coaching student in Kota is strenuous with more than half the day devoted to an intense study schedule.
But not all students crack under pressure. Naveen Chahal, an 18-year-old from Jind region in Haryana who is preparing for IIT, says the schedule is gruelling but doesn’t stress him out.
“There is always some pressure of studies but it can be managed. I can handle it,” said Chahal, a farmer’s son. “My family has not in any way coerced me. It is my decision to become an engineer.”