On June 4, the results of National Eligibility cum Entrance Test (NEET) – the annual medical entrance examination by CBSE – were declared. This year, a total of 13,26,725 aspirants appeared for the national entrance examination for admission in medical colleges. Meanwhile, five cases of suicide have already been reported since the announcement of the results.
In Mumbai, Parth Bamaria, a 23-year-old MBBS graduate, jumped off his seventh floor flat in Kandivli on Sunday, two days after his NEET results were declared. This was his second attempt to get admission in a post-graduate course, but he did not succeed. According to the police, his suicide note said he was depressed. In Hyderabad, an 18-year-old medical aspirant Jasleen Kaur Saluja, who appeared for NEET 2018, committed suicide by jumping off a high-rise building on a crowded street on Tuesday morning. Police did not recover any suicide note, but suspect that poor performance in the entrance exam could have prompted her to take the extreme step. She was a student of the Sri Chaitanya College in Narayanguda. Another harrowing incident took place in Delhi, a 19-year-old aspirant jumped from the 8th floor of a building in Dwarka Sector 12, soon after the NEET results went live.
Just a few hours after the results were announced, another 17-year-old girl was found dead at her home in Villupuram district, Tamil Nadu on June 4. Police suspect that she had killed herself by consuming poison. Anitha was a daughter of an agricultural labourer, who had scored 98 per cent marks in her class XII board examinations, but had failed to clear the medical entrance exam. For nine years, before the introduction of NEET, the Tamil Nadu government had abolished the system of an entrance exam, granting admission to medical courses based on class XII state board marks – saying it allowed students from villages and small towns to enter medical colleges. Last year, when the all-India medical entrance exam was held for the first time, the Supreme Court had exempted Tamil Nadu from the obligation to conduct NEET. This year, it refused to do so. Anitha had approached the apex court and pleaded before the Court that poor students like her who lived in villages could not afford private coaching classes that rich students in cities could, giving them an advantage in the competitive exams. The Supreme Court, however, ordered last month that admissions in Tamil Nadu would not be based on Class XII marks, but on NEET, which Anitha was unable to crack, which might have led her to suicide. This incident has sparked protests in Tamil Nadu. According to Press Trust of India, students and activists took to the street, resorted to rail blockade, and boycotted classes in various districts like Tiruvallore and Kanchipuram.
In 2018, a total of 11.5 lakh students had appeared for JEE mains – the entrance examination for the Indian Institute of Technology; over 28 Lakh students appeared for the classes X and XII CBSE board examinations, while over 13 lakh appeared for NEET. These are the most high-stress examinations, and are seen as ‘gateways to success’ by a lot of people. Owing to the stress and pressure, examination-related deaths have become a fairly common phenomenon. In fact, in 2015, number of suicides related to examinations reached total of 2,646. Examinations that people from earlier generations would remember as a harmless affair, have become a big issue now. Coaching centres have popped up all across the country that prepare students for all kinds of entrance examinations. These centres often demand very high fees from the students, giving an unfair advantage to students that come from affluent background. As private institutions offer no reservation to the people from the marginalised sections, they often have all their hopes attached to admission in the government colleges; for which, one requires to score very high marks in entrance examinations.
Kota, in Rajasthan became a hub of coaching centres in the 1980s, and from then on, every year, more than 1,00,000 students head to Kota in order to prepare for engineering and medical entrance exams. Often, these students happen to come from humble backgrounds, where parents tend to take huge debts in order to pay the fees in coaching institutions. According to Kota Police data, 72 students have committed suicide in the past five years. Police officer Bhagwat Singh Hingad said that many students come from humble backgrounds and are burdened by expectations of the parents. He said, “Parents, on average, spend around Rs 2.50 lakh to Rs 3 lakh every year on coaching. When their children find themselves lagging, they feel guilty and can go into depression.”
The hopes attached with examinations, especially for medical and engineering colleges, have a lot to do with an imagination of the ‘good life’, approved and respected by the “society”. Parents want their children to prosper, have a comfortable life. In order to do so, they try to encourage them to study, they spend huge amounts of money on their education. What they do not realise is that they are putting their children under immense pressure. A well chalked-out path in India, for the ‘good life’ seems to be, to become a doctor or an engineer or get a management degree. In the process of imposing their plan of success on young people, they effectively trample their aspirations, make their whole life a scripted performance, isolating them from humanity.