January 31, 2024

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Express View on student suicides: After Niharika

2 min read

I am a loser. Worst daughter… This is the last option,” wrote Niharika Solanki, who died by suicide in Rajasthan’s Kota on Monday in the second such incident reported in the city this year. The 18-year-old, the eldest of three daughters of a security guard, had been preparing for the Joint Entrance Examination (JEE). Solanki’s desperation echoes that of many other students whose inability to crack high-stakes competitive examinations such as JEE and NEET has seen a disquieting spike in student deaths in the country.

Last year, Kota — the ubiquitous pit stop on this arduous road to “success” — saw 29 student deaths by suicide reported in its many coaching centres, the highest ever in a single year. The National Crime Records Bureau 2022 annual report, released in December last year, showed that students and the unemployed constituted 7.6 per cent and 9.2 per cent of the total number of suicides, respectively.

This is, of course, indicative of a deeper malaise that begins at home, often as an ambition dreamed up by parents for their children and ends with make-or-break attempts at securing a seat at one of the hallowed institutions that promise upward mobility and job security.

The cost of aspiration is steep — interminable hours of studying in coaching centres away from home, loneliness and despair, and the unrelenting pressure of making it to a bigger, brighter future, not just for oneself but for one’s family. In his annual Pariksha pe Charcha interaction with students, Prime Minister Narendra Modi urged parents to not treat their children’s report cards as their calling cards, working instead on mutual understanding and realistic goals.

Reminiscent of his call to parents to hold their sons, not daughters, accountable in the context of incidents of sexual violence, in his inaugural Independence Day speech from the ramparts of the Red Fort, this was a reminder from the highest office of the land that change requires everyone to own responsibility, a conscious effort to open up minds, and rethink ways of seeing.

Festive offer

The future need not be one of anxiety and duress, of expectations so onerous that they become the sole metric of achievement for young people like Solanki. A recognition of potential can be a gesture of confidence but it can just as easily sharpen itself into a jagged edge of despair in a country of more than 1.4 billion, where over 50 per cent of the population is under 30, and where generating employment opportunities remains a problem in a fast-growing economy. To address the crisis, a lot more needs to be done — by parents, but also by teachers, institutions and policy makers.

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