In a recent interview with a private channel, Chetan Bhagat, a best-selling author and an alumnus of both IIT and IIM, expressed the view that many parents in our country tend to fixate on the idea of their children becoming doctors or engineers. This fixation may limit their imagination when it comes to considering alternative professions. Bhagat made these remarks in response to a question about the alarming rate of suicides among young aspirants, as young as 15-16 years old, in Kota, the epicentre of coaching for these rigorous examinations.
A few years ago, Chetan Bhagat tweeted that marks in examinations don't really matter. Nevertheless, for engineering and medical aspirants, life revolves around marks and percentages. Parents often have uncompromising attitudes, insisting that their children should prioritise cracking these examinations above all else, even if it means disregarding the rest of the world.
Should we presume that all 25 of these coaching students — primarily NEET aspirants — who chose to end their lives in Kota this year had no potential for success in life? It’s not that. What they feared was the consequences of a possible failure. Perhaps they couldn’t come to terms with the harsh reality that failure is treated with utmost seriousness in our society and is simply non-negotiable. Who knows, some of these students might have had inclinations towards music, sports, journalism or painting, but they had to sacrifice these passions at the altar of parental expectations. According to several top coaching institutes in Kota, parents refuse to accept feedback provided to them and want their children to stay the course in their preparation for engineering and medical entrance exams.
All of these students who tragically took their own lives were emotionally fragile and lacked adequate coping mechanisms when they encountered difficulties related to adaptability and adjustments. They likely understood that due to immense parental pressure, they couldn’t confide in or discuss their problems with their parents.
It is no secret that students in Kota follow demanding coaching schedules, dedicating 13 to 14 hours daily to their studies. They go at it as if their lives depended on it. They are mentally conditioned by the coaching centres to be uncompromising, or unyielding in their pursuit of success. They often refrain from socialising with other students as it is deemed a waste of time. Chetan Bhagat in the interview also said that the entrance exams for engineering and medical courses are designed to reject. In other words, not everyone who comes to Kota with a dream of making it into these highly sought after courses succeed in cracking the IIT and NEET. Despite being aware of these pitfalls, parents continue to push their children into pursuing these courses, subjecting them to heavy emotional and psychological trauma. For these parents, a lucrative career in medicine or engineering is the sole focus, with nothing else beyond it. There is nothing wrong when parents tell their children to shoot for the moon. But that should not be at the cost of one’s life.
A couple of months ago, a leading national daily carried an interesting report on parents of a state paying additional fees to enrol students as young as 5 years old in budget schools and coaching centres in the hope that they will get the best education to crack competitive exams more than a decade later. Thanks to the growing craze for careers in medicine and engineering, coupled with the popularity of JEE and NEET foundation classes, overambitious parents are leaving no stone unturned to ensure that their children become techies and doctors, with the hope of earning astronomical salaries and achieving higher social status. It wouldn’t be inaccurate to suggest that the age of innocence is fading away, as children are being pushed to behave, think, and act like mature teenagers from as early as the age of 5, all in the pursuit of success and a brighter future.
Imagine how parents are systematically eroding the childhoods of today’s kids, who can’t even contemplate participating in sports activities or enjoying quality time with their parents. In their eagerness to see their children succeed in cracking the IIT and JEE, some parents tend to forget that life offers a kaleidoscope of opportunities and options. It is important to remember that life does not begin and end with a career in engineering or medicine. Let us refrain from blaming the congested coaching centres in Kota for the issues that plague our education system. A significant portion of responsibility must also be attributed to parents who, in their pursuit of excellence, often push their children into these intense environments. Some parents seem to believe that their obligations end once they enrol their children in these highly competitive courses, leaving them to fend for themselves. It remains to be seen whether such pushy parenting practices will change in response to the recurring tragedies in Kota almost every month.
The writer is a senior journalist based in Delhi
Suicide Prevention Helpline no. | AASRA