Kota: 8 died since June 24, at least 45 others appraoched helpline | Latest News India - Hindustan Times
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Kota’s cry for help: 8 died since June 24, at least 45 others told helpline they didn’t want to live either

By, Jaipur
Aug 31, 2023 12:03 AM IST

As an HT analysis of all 23 student suicides in Kota in 2023 showed, more than half involve minors, 12 died by suicide within six months of arriving in town.

In the 55 days between June 24 and August 18 this year, eight students died by suicide in Kota, part of the 23 such deaths that have taken place in 2023, already the highest since the district administration began collecting such data in 2015. But in a sign of just how deep the mental health crisis in India’s coaching hub is, in those 55 days alone, Kota Abhay Command Centre — a special students’ cell set up by the police on June 22 that works to prevent such suicides — intervened after distress calls from 45 more students who were contemplating suicide.

Over the years, Kota, over 300km from the state capital of Jaipur, has turned into a coaching factory of sorts, producing toppers of competitive examinations. (File)(Pradeep Gaur/mint)
Over the years, Kota, over 300km from the state capital of Jaipur, has turned into a coaching factory of sorts, producing toppers of competitive examinations. (File)(Pradeep Gaur/mint)

As an HT analysis of the 23 student suicides in Kota in 2023 showed, more than half involve minors, 12 died by suicide within six months of arriving in town, and many were from families that are either poor or part of the lower middle-class. On June 22, by which time there had already been 13 deaths in Kota, the district police set up a 11-member cell headed by assistant superintendent of police (ASP) Chandrasheel Thakur, that also has three inspectors and seven constables to try and prevent such cases. The cell has a helpline number that has since been widely publicised in town, with distress calls received on the district collector’s public helpline numbers also forwarded to it.

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The cell’s monthly reports for the last two months, between June 24 and August 18, seen by HT, shows that the department intervened in 45 cases where they received calls that suggested callers that were under severe depression.

To be sure, there have been two more student suicides after August 18. ASP Thakur estimated that the cell has received between 10 and 12 more distress calls in the 10 days since August 18, but this can be confirmed only when the consolidated monthly report is put together.

Thakur said there were also at least 150 distress phone calls from students every month on the district collector’s helpline number. “In the first eight months of 2023, we must have received around 1,500 such phone calls on that helpline number,” he said.

Over the years, Kota, over 300km from the state capital of Jaipur, has turned into a coaching factory of sorts, producing toppers of competitive examinations such as the National Eligibility Entrance Test (NEET) for admissions to India’s medical and dental colleges, or the Joint Entrance Examinations (JEE) for engineering colleges.

But it has a dark side, a crushing environment of pressure where several students are unable to cope with the expectation from their families, the loneliness at such a young age, or the relentless competition. Data from the Kota administration says there are 225,000 students that study in the town and live in over 4,000 hostels and 5,000 registered paying guest accommodations.

Senior police officers said that their interventions come in a range of ways, including rushing to the locations where the callers are and preventing them from taking the extreme step, or looking for them after they have gone missing. On July 31 for instance, they rescued one student after they received a phone call from the hostel owner that the boy had locked himself in the room from the morning. “The student complained of stress due to the pressure of study, after which we rescued him, spoke to his coaching centre and referred him for psychiatric therapy,” Thakur said.

On July 20, a student locked himself in his rented room after calling his parents and telling them “he wants to die.” “He was depressed that nobody had visited him from home for four months. We rescued him,” an officer said.

In another case in June, a local SHO chased down a student who had gone missing from his hostel, after the helpline got a phone call from his friends. “When we rescued him, he said that he was about to jump into a canal. He could not take the pressure anymore,” the SHO, who did not want to be identified, said.

Thakur surmised that with most of Kota’s students coming from poor or lower middle-class families, there’s also a lot of distress coming from their knowledge of the loans their parents have taken to send them to test-prep schools. ASI Sanju Sharma, also part of the cell, said that she once rescued three NEET students from Bihar. “All they did was cry and say they did not want their poor parents to die because they had failed. We sent them to a psychiatrist who had to counsel their parents too.”

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