Student suicides only a minor hiccup as coaching hub Kota marches on
Raunak Gupta has a dream. He wants to be a doctor. For the 17-year-old, a degree from one of the top medical colleges is the sure-shot way to a secure job in government-run hospitals, which in turn will ensure upward social mobility for him and his family.
Determined as he is, Raunak an above average student, also knows that mere school education may not help him achieve his dream. He also knows that the key to admission in MBBS and BDS courses in the best medical colleges of India is a good ranking in the national eligibility entrance test (NEET).
It was to gain that cutting edge needed to crack the NEET that Raunak, a resident of Gorakhpur in Uttar Pradesh, decided to head to Kota, the district in Rajasthan that is now known as coaching capital of India.
Gupta is one of the nearly 1.25 lakh students who have made Kota their temporary home while preparing for two of the country’s toughest examinations --- NEET and IIT-JEE.
Stories behind stories
Kota, with its coaching centres selling the success dreams, represents the perennial struggle of the Indian middle class and its aspirations to escape the life of mediocrity. Every time results of competitive exams are declared, the coaching centres come out with full page advertisements in newspapers highlighting their success stories. The ads invariably have stories written by successful candidates who detail how they wouldn’t have made it to the top without the help of the coaching centres.
The ads, however, don’t tell the full story. They don’t tell about the thousands who fail to crack the exams. They don’t tell about the students who didn’t turn out to be good enough to escape the life of mediocrity, and will live hating it. They also don’t tell stories of those who couldn’t cope with the competition and the pressure to perform and gave up, taking the extreme step of committing suicide.
More than 60 students took the extreme step in the past six years owing mostly to pressure or failure. Last year, 17 students killed themselves. At least 12 students have already committed suicide in Kota in 2017, the last being a medical aspirant from Bihar who killed herself days before NEET results were declared.
The suicides have naturally led to apprehensions among parents. When Raunak told his parents in April that he wanted to shift to Kota to prepare for the NEET, his father put his foot down.
“The moment I said I wanted to go to Kota, my father refused. He said there are a lot of cases of students going into depression and committing suicide in Kota and he suggested that I go to Kanpur instead,” says Raunak.
It took days of persuasion to convince his father, who owns a drug store in Gorakhpur, to let Raunak go to Kota for a year. He now has taken up a room in Kunhadi area, where a mini city has come up with tall, glitzy hostels and paying guest accommodations catering to the coaching institutes.
The city’s Indra Vihar area, home to the country’s biggest coaching institute with 79,000 students on rolls in Kota alone, bustles with activity on a summer afternoon, even as temperatures soar 40 degree Celsius.
Youngsters, entering their second growth spurt, walk hurriedly and purposefully, in greyish-blue uniforms, the colour of the trousers only a few shades darker than the colour of shirts. The teachers, all of them males, with six-figure monthly salaries, drive around in their swanky vehicles.
Newcomers to the city, usually couples along with their children, clutching handbags, ostensibly with money for coaching fee that is generally around Rs 1 lakh for a year, take breaks from the heat at roadside stalls offering sugarcane juice and mango shakes.
No full stop here
Kota’s “competitive atmosphere” attracts people from all parts of the country. The student deaths, however, has gained it some notoriety too.
For those who have been living in Kota for more than a year, a suicide and the subsequent media report means a frantic call from home. And most of the parents, according to students, have a standard way of addressing the concern – “he or she need not have committed suicide...you must not take any stress”.
“The concern is always there. My father tells me not to worry if I am unable to crack the exam,” says Vandana Bharti, a native of Saharsa, Bihar, a Class 12 student at a school in Kota. She is also preparing for the NEET.
Prabhat Kumar has reached Kota from Muzaffarpur in Bihar. He says his son wanted to come to Kota immediately after Class 10 examinations to prepare for IIT-JEE. “But I told him to wait for two years. One reason was the reports of depression and suicides that emanate from here,” says Kumar, an advocate at Muzaffarpur civil court.
Kumar adds that he would have been fine with his son pursuing a graduation degree and that his son was free to come back home anytime he felt he was unable to handle the pressure.
Antaryami Kaushik, a resident of Sri Ganganagar is in Kota to get his 16-year-old son admitted to a coaching institute. Kaushik says his wife will stay with their son as he prepares for IIT-JEE. “The son of a close friend is also staying here with my son. My wife and my friend’s wife will alternately come and stay here with the children,” says Kaushik, a teacher in a government college.
Kaushik adds that the main reason he wants his wife to stay with the children is the disquiet caused by the reports of suicides.
Life moves on
While the fears do encroach upon the hearts and minds of parents, it has not deterred them from sending their children to Kota. Incidentally, none of the students HT talked to said that they were forced into the competition by their parents.
Kota has six to eight major coaching institutes, apart from some 35 minor ones, according to district administration.
“The coaching industry in Kota has grown consistently in the past decade, both in terms of enrolment as well as the number of coaching institutes. Many a times, a group of teachers defect from a major institute and establish their own setup, so the number keeps growing,” says Rajeev Jain, professor of management studies at University of Kota.
Allen Career Institute, the biggest player in the coaching industry, has 79,000 enrolled students. The number was 60,000 three years ago.
Another major institute, Resonance has some 25,000 students at its Kota centres. The institute too has registered a growth of few thousand in the past three years, an official from the institute said.
As the evening approaches and the temperatures dip, more uniformed students appear on the streets. Some hang around food joints, some go about talking on their cellphones -- one goes around fidgeting with a Rubik’s cube – while a giant TV screen plays promotional videos with bytes of former toppers vouching for the coaching institutes.
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