October 11: Sai Prajwala, an 18-year-old studying for the National Eligibility cum Entrance Test (NEET), goes missing from her home on the outskirts of Hyderabad. Police and authorities at the private college she was enrolled in say she was showing signs of depression and had lost interest in studies.
“They are killing students…please help the other students. They are suffering in the hostel. Close the college…” reads a note left behind by her. A 10-day frantic search by city police reveals that she had gone to a private hostel, claiming to be an orphan.
October 12: T Samyuktha, a Class 12 student, hangs herself to death at her hostel room in a private college at Madhapur, on the outer fringes of Hyderabad. A suicide note recovered by the police says she could not withstand the pressure of studies.
October 13: Alamati Bhargava Reddy, a 16-year-old Class 12 student kills himself after performing poorly at a coaching institute at Nidamanur in Krishna district.
Andhra Pradesh and Telangana account for one of the highest numbers of students clearing India’s toughest examinations but coaching centres and private colleges form the dark underbelly of this success, say activists and officials. Many colleges, along with anxious parents, often push teenagers to the brink of collapse with inhuman schedules, rote learning and punitive measures for poor performance. The reason: The institutes’ intake and fees are dependent on the number of successful candidates that can be marketed.
There have been 49 cases of student suicides this year alone, says statistics gathered by Andhra Pradesh Child Rights Association based on FIRs lodged by the police in states. “A majority of them are from corporate colleges providing coaching for engineering and medical entrance tests,” association president P Achyuta Rao told HT.
Last year was the most lethal for students – 293 suicides in Andhra Pradesh and 151 in Telangana. “In almost all these instances, police registered the cases under section 174 of the Criminal Procedure Code (suicide). No action was initiated against college managements,” Rao added.
According to estimates by college associations, nearly 200,000 students are enrolled in private coaching colleges across the two states. In comparison, India’s other big coaching hub – Kota – has 150,000 students and has seen four deaths this year and 17 last year, say police statistics.
Psychologists and experts say the blame lies equally with parents, college managements and the society, which values success in professional courses.
“Parents bring pressure on their children to achieve good ranks and get admission into prestigious institutions and college managements treat them like robots and make them work 16 hours a day, so that they can market their ranks. And students also feel the stigma of being looked down upon,” said N Radhika Acharya, a Hyderabad-based clinical psychologist.
The punishing schedules in most of these colleges contribute to the stress. Students begin their daily routine as early as 5.30 am and end their day at 10 pm.
“Except for breakfast, lunch, evening snacks and dinner, we don’t have any break. Forget recreation like sports, we don’t have any breathing time even for talking to our parents. We have to take special permission to go home during holidays,” lamented a 17-year old student of a college at Dilsukhnagar in Hyderabad.
“Colleges cherry-pick brilliant students, give them intensive training and achieve good ranks. They are least bothered about less performing students who suffer from poor confidence levels, which forces them to resort to suicides,” educationist Chukka Ramaiah said.
The top students are also given better food, more comfort and spacious rooms with fans.
Fees are tied to a students’ performance – ranging from ₹1 lakh to ₹2.50 lakh a year. If a student has performed well in Class 10 and is found to be brilliant in weekly tests, the colleges offer a discount of up to 60%. They also give cash incentives or full fee reimbursements for those securing ranks in the national merit lists of examinations.
The lack of scientific pedagogy is also to blame, say experts. “There is no communication between professor and students. Performance of students is judged only on the basis of weekly tests,” Ramaiah added.
The government knows this, and says it is taking measures to check the mounting suicides. “We are planning to launch a helpline for students,” said Andhra HRD minister Ganta Srinivas Rao.
But the colleges blame the parents for the debacle. “Parents, too, are exerting pressure on their wards. You can’t blame colleges alone,”said Telangana private college managements’ association adviser K Siddeshwar