In Rajasthan’s Kota — India’s coaching district for aspiring engineers and doctors — two suicides within four hours on Sunday took the tally this year to 23, the highest ever recorded.
Avishkar Shambaji Kasle, 17, from Maharashtra and Adarsh Raj, 18, from Bihar both died in two separate incidents in the city on Sunday. The former jumped from the sixth floor of his coaching institute’s building while the latter hanged himself at his rented apartment.
In 2023, there have already been 23 suicides, compared to 15 in 2022. December 2022 was the deadliest month, with three suicides in a single day. Data shows that the number of suicides has increased by 60% since the COVID-19 pandemic. However, that jump in deaths is due to the fact that the number of students in Kota declined in 2019 and 2020 during the Covid pandemic.
In 2017, 10 students ended their lives in the city compared to 12 in 2018 and nine in 2021.
Speaking to NDTV, Dr Bharat Singh Shekhawat, head of the psychiatry department at Kota Medical College, said that there needs to be a comprehensive change in the approach of both the coaching institutes and the parents to curb the alarming rate of student deaths.
“The number of suicides by students in Kota is the highest this year. We have been presenting suggestions to the Rajasthan government for 20 years, but no action has been taken,” Dr Shekhawat told NDTV.
“During the COVID-19 lockdown, there was no pressure on students as they had the support of their families and were at home. However, after the lockdown, the pressure has returned, and that umbrella support has gone.
“Students who are admitted to coaching institutes at the age of 15 or 16 are too young. They miss out on the benefits of school, such as extracurricular activities and friendships. They are also under a lot of stress due to the rigorous coaching schedule.”
Dr Shekhawat suggested a minimum age for admission at Kota’s coaching institutes so that the students are not thrown into the rigours of academia before they have matured.
“Coaching institutes should also regulate the coaching industry and ensure that the institutes provide a healthy and supportive environment for students,” he said.
Every year, over 2 lakh students move to Kota to prepare for competitive exams such as the JEE and NEET. Following the recent surge in student suicides, authorities have asked coaching institutes to suspend routine tests for the next two months.
In an effort to combat the increasing number of suicides, spring-loaded fans were installed in all hostels and paying guest (PG) accommodations in Kota. “Anti-suicide nets” are also being installed in balconies and lobbies of hostels so that students cannot jump to their deaths.
Hostel owners have said that the exercise to install nets and spring-loaded fans is being carried out with the aim of making their premises “suicide-proof”.
“We have installed huge nets in all lobbies and balconies to block students in case they jump from higher floors. These nets can hold weight up to 150 kg and also ensure that students do not get injured,” said a hostel owner, as quoted by news agency PTI.
Authorities have also passed directions to provide mental health support to students.