There is something of the Roman god Janus about Kota. Janus, the two-faced. Janus, the god of beginnings as well as endings.
Kota is a bustling town some 250 km south of Rajasthan capital Jaipur. Over the past couple of decades the town has changed from an industrial power house to an educational hub.
Kota where every year thousands of aspiring minds descend to study and crack various entrance exams. Kota is the town where bright young sparks come with a dazzling future in their eyes.
But beneath this veneer lies a bitter truth. Kota is slowly becoming India’s suicide capital. Kota — the beginning of a dream, also the end of a life.
This year alone 15 students have taken their lives. India Today TV visited Kota to check on the pulse of the town and its young denizens.
Every year lakhs of students from across the country come to Kota to enrol in the multitude of coaching institutes to crack the entrance exams to engineering and medical colleges.
To support them, a market that thrives and feeds itself on the coaching ecosystem has developed. There are several houses, apartments, housing societies, eateries and restaurants have cropped up to cater to the needs of the students.
For many students it is the first time they have stepped outside their home towns, living away from family. At times the surroundings can feel alien. The emotional pressure starts to build up from the beginning.
And then there is the huge difference in the quality of education at the school level and that needed to crack premier engineering and medical college examinations. Students need to hone their skills and there is enormous pressure to excel in the competitive exams.
Some students India Today TV spoke to said that the kind of contextual and logical understanding of the subjects that is required for preparation of entrance examinations were missing during their primary and secondary education that they received in their home states and that is why they feel extremely difficult to cope up with the exam preparations in Kota.
“Many students are not very strong in the basics. There is a difference in the skills for cracking Boards and these entrance exams,” Apoorva Arora, an IIT aspirant, tells India Today TV.
“I came to Kota from Bihar to prepare for IIT [Indian Institute of Technology],” says Chandan Kumar. “The last time I took the exam, the result was not as per expectations. So thought I’ll give it another shot.”
The peer pressure that some students preparing for various competitive examinations, including those for the IITs and the AIIMS, is so huge that some of the students are unable to cope up with it and wilt under it.
Added to it is parental pressure to succeed. Far away from home, under emotional and psychological stress, they sometimes do not know who to turn to in the hour of crisis. At such a young age, unable to handle stress, a number of students take the extreme step of ending their lives.
Some of the students know that their parents have taken loans or have mortgaged their property to fund their studies. And that sometimes act as an additional pressure.
A student has to shell out anything from Rs 1.5 lakh to Rs 5 lakh a year to prepare for the competitive exams. For those who come from financially weak background, sometimes the kind of monetary investments that their families make to let them study in Kota adds to the stress.
“Firstly, students who come here should be screened to find out the aptitude and whether the child has a history of depression or psychiatric illness. If the student is not fit for a particular field, then career counselling should be offered and the suitable field [of study] pointed out. Secondly, child guidance clinic should be held regularly for the children,” Dr ML Aggarwal, president, Hope Foundation, said.
Hope Foundation, an NGO, works with children and young people.
“Sometimes peer pressure increases. We try to counsel parents not to put additional pressure on the children,” says Nitin Vijay, chairman, Motion Private Education.
But till that state is reached, Kota will continue to be the beacon of the beginning of a successful life or the cliff where many bright sparks fall off unable to withstand the pressure.