‘LET ME SLEEP’....alas!... It said it all!

| | Harpreet Kalra
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‘LET ME SLEEP’....alas!... It said it all!

Monday, 19 August 2019 | PNS | Harpreet Kalra

India’s premier engineering and technical institutes have seen a rash of such deaths in the past couple of years, raising questions about the high-pressure environment young students were being subjected to.

Despite substantial attention to the problem of suicide among college students over the past several decades, reports on the extent of the problem have been largely inconclusive

In March, a student of IIT Delhi jumped off from the fourth floor of a hostel inside the campus. Nitish Kumar Purti, an engineering physics student had joined IIT Delhi in 2016. Police said Purti was depressed as he was forced to take up the course and was unable to cope with the pressure.

The same month, a final-year engineering student of NIT Warangal in Telangana allegedly committed suicide by jumping from the fifth floor of his hostel building on Sunday evening.

Authorities have tried several measures but have struggled to cope with the rising tide of such deaths, attributed also to the lack of counseling and support services on campus. IIT-Madras instituted a probe last year after two women committed suicide inside campus. Also last year, at least eight students killed themselves in Kota, Rajasthan’s entrance test coaching hub.

IIT Hyderabad student hangs himself in hostel , writes in suicide note that he wasn't able to meet his parents expectations. This is alarming and here is my perspective, something that I had jotted down a few years back.

Partially, Indian Education system, Family expectations and the media are responsible for the suicides of students

A 20 year old, IIT Kharagpur student found dead on the railway track.

A 22 year old, IIT Kharagpur student found hung in his room, his suicide note said - Let me sleep.

Do you see a pattern here?

“Not able to meet the expectations” is the reason for most of the suicides. A few of my friends who were clinically depressed in college also thought that they will never be able to meet the expectations of their family and their younger self who entered IIT thinking he’ll bag a salary package of 1.5 crore.

Students attend university at a developing stage of their young adulthood – and making this transition from home life to university life can be emotionally challenging. Leaving behind existing support networks can also be highly difficult for students.

Many students come from complex backgrounds where mental health issues have already manifested. And while there is a stereotype that students just “drink and take drugs”, this obviously isn’t the case for all students – which makes a student’s circumstances potentially complex.

University can be a difficult time for many students.

The demands of academic life and the pressures of financially making ends meet can also be a real problem for students

Some Statistics:

The package of 1.5 crores is a U.S profile which includes your base salary, joining bonus shared in the next four years and relocation bonus. Also, this salary in USD is vaguely converted to INR without considering PPP, taxes, appraisals and various economic factors. The remaining profiles in India are usually less than 10 lakhs PA if you aren't from Computer Science branch making the average salary to 7 lakhs approx if you remove outliers.

This package is merely obtained by 10 students who are extremely good at Computer Science amongst the 1000 students who sit for placements. That is just 1 per cent.

Media says.... "21 year old IITian bags  a package of 1.5 crores in Google. Little 16 year old Raju reads this news and gets excited to be prepared for IIT. Little Raju’s paren ts also think that all their adversities in life would be solved since Raju will be earning a crore soon.

Little Raju’s relatives keep pestering and complementing Raju and his parents that they are going to become rich soon.

Raju enters IIT Kharagpur, the first month of which he realizes that the maximum package from his department was 9 lakhs. He gets devastated for a while because the news always said 1.5 crore but understands the gravity of the situation and grasps the behind-the-scenes dynamics.

Raju enjoys his life but he is still devastated, living in denial, getting depressed and commits suicide with a chain of depressing events a priority.

Raju enters fourth year and his parents still think that he is going to earn a crore soon and start pressurising and pestering him. Raju bags a job of 7.5 lakhs, the second highest in his department but is still a failure in his parents eyes because he did not earn what the paper said."...

Raju is sad, hits the lowest point in his life and hangs himself since he will never be able to meet the expectations of his family.

Despite substantial attention to the problem of suicide among college students over the past several decades, reports on the extent of the problem have be inconclusive.

youth of this country are, in effect, sending our planners and politicians a strong message. But is anyone listening?

How do we read the connections between these varieties of tragic on-campus Indian suicides? Is there, in other words, a "string" that links them - or not? Of course, the circumstances were diverse and we must be careful not to homogenize differences of gender, class, caste, geography and a myriad other factors. Each death is as individual as the life that it ends. That said, we must take cognizance of some pretty alarming nationwide statistics, especially given our uniquely populous young demographic.

In 2011, WHO declared India the "most depressed country" in the world. Their case is convincing and blows many myths. Contrary to expectations, for example, "advanced" nations like the Netherlands and the US have rates of depression that, at 30% of the general population, are almost double those in "developing" countries like China where it is about 12%. 

India, however, bucks the emotional trend as it does the economic one. In this respect, India appears more like a developed country than a developing one. A conundrum. But the resolution to this odd, oppressive puzzle may well lie, prima facie, in actually linking these twin factors of an economic "high" and emotional "lows".

It's as plain as pickle is spicy to even the most casual of culture-tasters that Indian society as a whole is undergoing unusually rapid social change in these tumultuous first decades of the 21st century. Large-scale urbanization is now juxtaposed in our social experience against a distressing landscape of rural desertion and farmer suicides; we are everyday witnesses to the powerful centrifugal forces of regionalism pulling away from any simple centripetal narrative of nationalism; and, simultaneously, we find Constitution-backed reiterations of gender, caste and religious entitlements being wholly undermined by mounting evidence of real-life mob-rule and medieval-sounding diktats from community "leaders".

Most of all, media rules. Images of devastating violence, including barbaric beheadings and BMW mow-downs, regularly appear onscreen cheek-by-jowl with titillating visions of glamorous life-styles and magic celebrity status. Facebook has become the new stage for the performance of life and death sagas.

In all, we seem to have a classic death-wish scenario here, where those delicate supple strings that have long held the marvelously composite civilization of this subcontinent together are stretched so taut that they are in danger of snapping.

Can we really expect our population, many of whom have come of age only in the last couple of decades, to be blithely immune to these enormous stresses, both virtual and lived, local and cosmo?

These are generations in the 15-45 age-range. All the campus suicides I mentioned earlier fall in this category. Statistics tell us that, in 2012, 68% of all suicides in India occurred in the combined age-groups 15-29 and 30-44. That is, there were about 46,000 or 34% suicides in each bracket, amounting to 92,000 or almost a lakh. Moreover, over 80% of these suicides were literate. This is cause enough for alarm but it still does not take into account another worrying set of figures that relates directly to the recent IIT's.

Stop this pressure on your kids. Know the real numbers. Please have realistic expectations.

University campus counselling facilities are faced with a sharp increase in students seeking assistance. This is a positive sign – many students are seeking help. However, our concern must be with those students who are passive in seeking help, those who may find themselves in a desperate position, where they see no way out and opt to end their lives.

How do we reach them? Increasing the capacity of campus counselling services may be part of the response, but not the only response. Universities must grapple with what it means to create inclusive, caring institutional environments where the well-being of each member of the campus community, is of utmost importance.

This requires a new approach or perspective that champions reaching out for help. A university-wide approach is needed that must include all stakeholders, including students and experts, who must join the conversation and actively commit to being part of the community-wide solution. Strategies must consider the broader context, and must also include helping students develop their coping skills, learning how to build resilience and emotional intelligence. For universities, this may require a new way of being.

Beyond the university, we must all commit to building a more caring society. Government, business, civil society, families and friends must join hands in realising that this is essential if we are to build strong communities. I really do believe that if we do not commit to working together towards addressing the mental well-being of students, and putting an end to student suicide, our collective futures may be compromised.

This column is a plea to all current and future college students and their families to deal openly and constructively with emotional, social and academic turmoil that can sometimes have heartbreaking — and usually preventable — consequences.

The views expressed in the article are of the writer.

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