Inside Kota’s coaching factories: Pressure, anxiety prey on students
The recent spate of suicides in Kota, the heart of India’s coaching industry, has forced the country to confront the unrealistic expectations it imposes on the young. HT speaks to students in Kota about the pressures and the anxiety that cloud their livesUpdated: May 15, 2016, 07:55 IST
Every morning, hundreds of children in neat uniforms, carrying identical bags, pour into shiny big buildings in Kota. At lunch, the batch empties out on the streets, only to be replaced by another. In the evening too, batches of students can be seen streaming out onto the crowded streets lined with food stalls and shops.
These are Kota’s IIT coaching factories.
On April 28, 17-year-old Kriti Tripathi jumped to death from a five-storey building in Kota, leaving a suicide note with a plea to the government to shut coaching institutes as soon as possible. Hers is the fifth suicide by a Kota coaching student this year.
The first step
Shahid Asgar is glad that he is finally leaving Kota (he has got into an engineering institute). The 18-year-old came to Kota two years ago from Katihar, Bihar, with a dream of cracking the IIT entrance exam. As he packs his belongings into cardboard boxes in his small, dingy room in Kota’s Rajeev Gandhi Nagar, he talks about the first time he arrived in Kota.
“When I saw the rows of cycles parked in front of the Resonance (a coaching institute) building, I got scared. The enormity of the competition hits you in that moment,” says Asgar. Students as young as twelve or thirteen come to Kota. Surrounded by people with seemingly greater drive and ability, that’s when the new kids get their first taste of self-doubt, falling prey to mounting pressure within a month or two. Some stay for a year or more while others stay longer, preparing for the exam.
“The number of attempts a student can take depends on his/her financial background,” says Shubham Talukdar. Talukdar is from Siliguri in North Bengal and came to Kota a year ago to prepare for the medical entrance examinations, also a big part of Kota’s coaching industry. “If your father is not rich enough and you miss your only shot, it leads to depression,” he says.
Expectations are high. Students are ranked according to their performance by the coaching institutes. Parents – through phone calls or personal visits – keep track of their progress. “Sometimes parents call and even before they ask how you are, they ask about your rank,” says another student, Debjyoti Sen, also form Bengal.
Taking a toll
Students chart out their own schedules, sometimes forcing themselves into strict routines. For almost a year Manish* stuck to a punishing routine – from early morning till late at night, he wouldn’t leave his room except to attend classes or go out for a meal. Was he doing enough? Was he taking full advantage of all the opportunities? These thoughts kept coming to his mind.
Finally, a nervous Manish was taken to psychiatrist ML Agrawal by his worried landlady. He falteringly described what he had gone through. Son of a farmer from Bihar, he had to be treated for Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, a common disorder in which a person has uncontrollable, recurring thoughts. His dream of cracking IIT entrance had turned into an obsession.
“Weird thoughts used to come to my mind, and I would imagine them to be real,” says Manish. “It was getting difficult to differentiate between what was real and what was not.” One of the top rankers at Resonance, Manish is doing well after counselling, and has cleared the JEE Mains.
Social stigma associated with depression forces students to bottle up their feelings. “Not every case of depression leads to suicide,” says ML Agrawal, the doctor who runs the Agrawal Neuro Psychiatry Centre in Kota, along with a 24x7 helpline for students. “Students find themselves lonely with no one to talk to and that aggravates a condition that is treatable.”
Fear of failure
Then there is societal pressure. “There is always a fear of what people will say,” says Asgar. “For example, if I get into an IIT, my father will be happy and proudly tell everyone. But what if I don’t? What will he say?”
ML Agrawal points out that parents too contribute to building stress, often overlooking the interest and aptitude of their kids. “Also, the age at which adolescents come here is the time when they go through physical as well as psychological changes. Failing to understand such changes, they fall prey to misguidance or go into depression.”
Sixteen year-old Neha* from Udaipur shifted to Kota with her father a year ago and took admission in Aakash coaching institute. Neha talks about how she was told by her peers that cannabis would help her concentrate and also relax her mind. So she tried. “Weed and other drugs are easily available,” she says.
Separation anxiety, according to Agrawal, also affects both parents and children, making parents over-involved in the lives of their children. With everyone ultra-focused on success, perhaps we have created a system where students don’t know how to fail.
The Radha-Krishna temple in Kota’s Talwandi is a sombre testimony to this. A place frequented by youngsters in search of divine help, it is believed that whoever writes on the temple’s wall gets their prayers answered. And it is not just studies that they pray for. From life to family to relationships and heartbreaks, all kinds of messages are scrawled on the wall. It paints a grim picture of the life of a Kota student.
*some names changed on request