This August month has so far seen three young student deaths by suicide in Kota, the coaching capital of India housing about 100 plus big and small coaching institutes and raised the toll of such deaths to 21 in 2023—highest in many years.
Like all such incidents in the past, this suicide death has also created a storm and fanned the same rage and raised the same old questions. But then Kota coaching factories survive and flourish each time after the storm fades away from public memories. Ashok Gehlot government in election mode these days, which is sitting on several recommendations of regulating these coaching institutes in the state more so in Kota, has this time around taken a serious note of the recent suicide incidents.
The Chief Minister Gehlot has ordered constitution of a panel under the supervision of Bhawani Detha, secretary of higher education, and will comprise various stakeholders, including representatives of coaching institutes, parents, and doctors to keep a check on such cases in future. Also, the district administration has ordered all the hostels to install a spring device on ceiling fans to prevent cases of suicides by hanging from ceiling fans.
Kota, which has the distinction of being the coaching capital for JEE & NEET and now CUET in the country with the presence of more than 100 coaching institutes (includes all prominent brands) and a student population ranging from 1.5-2 lakh studying in them, is simultaneously dubbed as the student suicide city a well. The student lives here are a perfect recipe for exciting and emotional plots as the popular OTT series Kota Factory and stories have caught it.
Now as per an X (formerly twitter) trending hashtag, Kota is also probably the city of untold teen pregnancies. As reported by several media platforms, the students in Kota who come in droves from other states are mostly teens and have to live independently away from their home. As such they are emotionally vulnerable. Typically, each of get into cramming 14-16 hours each day from very early morning. The pedagogy of rigorous cycle of internal exams at the institutions, competition, and pressure to succeed become too much for many children to manage.
One way of managing this emotion trauma is through developing friendships and relationships, typical of most residential schools. A trending tweet likened teen pregnancies and abortions in the city to an unnoticed industry. However, someone who claimed to have studied and stayed in Kota tweeted that in Kota only about 10-15 % boys and girls are in relationship. And 1-2 % might get pregnant not more than that.
I have studied in Kota and I can verify this 👍 pic.twitter.com/0OfApQCeEy
— Aryan Trivedi (@AryanTrivedi_7) August 19, 2023
I have also Been in koto from 2017-2020. There is nothing like that. Some cases are everywhere . In kota only about 10-15 % boys and girls are in relationship or even fucking . And 1-2 % might get pregnant not more than that. So, don't spread fake news.
— Aishwary Vardhan (@Aishwary987) August 20, 2023
As said above, this kind of fears (including drug abuse) and debates have been part of Kota narrative for years now and it is also a reality that Kota coaching factories are thriving, and the model is unnoticeably replicated at in several formats and places across the country.
If Kota story has to have a happy ending, then there is a need to address the fundamentals on which this is standing. First, the states notably Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and to some degree north Indian states need to frame a policy on this. The success of Kota is not due to welcoming coaching culture and a well-oiled coaching industry but due to perceived abject status of school education in schools in these states. Kota success stories have also unwittingly ingrained an urge among parents, who as community is growing and creating its own influence and hopes of ‘hell’.
The information about dummy schools is not hard to come by for any administration and everybody knows it is illegal. Then, why no action has been initiated. Ashok Gehlot acknowledged presence of class IX and X students in Kota institutes, can the states coordinate and find out schools where they are enrolled?
Second, fundamental in this story is, has coaching industry infiltrated the exam system of JEE and others. Some people point out that the industry has found a way of influencing exams and create their top ranks. This is a question of investigation and further discussion. At the same time the idea for a clone of National Talent Search Exam (NTSE) if incepted and institutionalized say at middle level and again at class X level for aptitude and psychometrics, will be able to filter out undesired entries into the ultimate entrance exams and give the testing agency a rich pool of proven talent.
The third fundamental is the economy that coaching institutes and other institutes support. Kota, which has been an industrial hub from textiles to stone and power, cement and chemicals, is now supported more by coaching economy. According to estimates nearly two lakh people are directly and indirectly employed in the industry by way of PG accommodations, support staff, food services and shopping in addition to teaching and other non-teaching staff at these more than 100 centres. This sort of ecosystem creates own hustle and attraction for investors including the local politicians. Kota is not alone in this, Dehradun, Pune, almost all south Indian mega cities, Delhi, Kolkata, Lucknow and others in some form or the other are also Kotas in some way.
While the emerging tech and trends are creating solutions to subdue this madness, there is a need to have declare such hubs as education zones and tighten regulations and policing. There may be a few successes that become full page newspaper ads for one day in a year, but for this one showcase, there are thousands of youths, who spoil their lives by pursuing something they were never meant for. The cumulative loss of hard-earned parental money must be staggering and put immense pressure on familial resources.
In conclusion, these cases of suicide are not just subject of mental wellness and cosmetic regulations but calls for deeper deliberations to save a big chunk of youth of this country as also salvage the prestige and purpose of examinations like JEE, NEET or CUET. Shouldn’t our schools be good enough to give wings to future of our children?