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IISER student suicide: Two contradictory versions

Sagar had problems. His professors and friends say he struggled with English since he was from a Bengali-medium school. He suffered from depression and exam phobia.

opinion Updated: May 07, 2017 20:14 IST
KumKum Dasgupta

Indian Institute of Science Education and Research (IISER), Kolkata. (IISER)

(This story has been updated on May 7, 2017)

On May 1, Sagar Mondal, an undergraduate student of Indian Institute of Science Education and Research (IISER), Kolkata, was found hanging inside a bathroom in his hostel. He was 18. A “bright student”, Sagar came from an underprivileged scheduled caste family.

Sagar had problems. His professors and friends say he struggled with English since he was from a Bengali-medium school. He suffered from depression and exam phobia.

Student suicides are becoming increasingly common in India because many find it difficult to cope with failure in examinations and careers.

India has one of the world’s highest suicide rates for youth aged 15 to 29, said a 2012 Lancet report, illustrating the need for urgent interventions for this demographic.

According to 2015 data (the latest available) of the National Crime Records Bureau, one student commits suicide every hour. In 2015, the number of student suicides stood at 8,934. In the five years leading to 2015, 39,775 students killed themselves.

Unfortunately, even the best educational institutions don’t have psychiatrists to help students cope with academic and personal pressures. This is because there is a severe shortage of mental health professionals in the country.

IISER, however, did have one. Sagar consulted him in April last year.

Soon after Sagar’s death, IISER set up a fact-finding panel under a senior professor.

But a different report, a section of professors allege, was sent to the ministry of human resource development.

HT has seen both reports and here is what they say:

‘ORIGINAL’ REPORT:

“It appears he (Sagar Mandal) was prone to extreme anxiety before exams, and had told his friends that he was worried about losing (his) fellowship in case of failure in any subject.”

“Our investigation has revealed that Sagar had anxiety disorder and had consulted our medical centre. The institute doctor referred him to Dr Pinaki Sarkar, a psychiatrist, who saw Sagar on 14-04-2016. He had also consulted the CMC Vellore in December 2016, but details of the consultation were not made available to the committee. It appears he was prone to extreme anxiety before exams, and had told his friends that he was worried about losing his fellowship in case of failure of any subject.”

“Considering his evidences, the fact-finding committee has come to the conclusion that Sagar ended his life in an unsteady state of mind caused by examination-related anxiety.”

REPORT TO MHRD

The sentence about “extreme anxiety” and “unsteady mind” were omitted.

Two sentences were added:

“On scrutiny of his medical records, it was found he did not have any serious/chronic ailments.”

“Sagar ended his life perhaps in a sudden spur of the moment, which has no apparent connection with his usual academic/physical/mental state of affairs.”

Students say that the atmosphere inside the university is “frustrating” due to lack of extra-curricular activities.

“While it is difficult to directly link Sagar’s suicide with the stifling atmosphere inside the campus, and lack of professional counselling for students, an isolated, walled campus must have a congenial and atmosphere to ensure wellbeing of students. And that is missing from IISER,” a professor told HT.

(Hindustan Times has sent emails to IISER director RN Mukherjee and the ministry of human resource development, asking them about the two versions of the report on Sagar Mondal’s death, and what kind of psychiatric help is available for students in the campus. This report will be updated as soon as HT gets their responses).

(This story has been updated on May 7, 2017)

@kumkumdasgupta