Making of a tragedy

The recent suicides in elite institutions like IITs and IIMs are worrisome and raise several questions. Due to the high-profile nature of these institutions, suicides within their precincts gain wide publicity. It is possible that there are as many or more suicides in lesser-known institutions in medical, engineering and management disciplines. Many students face immense pressure in many of these and a few succumb tragically to cutting short their lives. Each life lost is precious for parents, friends and family, teachers and institutions, and society at large. Those around are traumatised, wondering what went wrong and if some sort of timely help could have averted the worst. In most cases, institutions rarely have an open attitude towards discussing student suicides, resulting in an eclipsing of the incident, and a head-in-the-sand attitude until the next such case occurs.

According to WHO, India has one of the highest suicide rates worldwide, with about 40 per cent people who commit suicide being under the age of 30. The focus has been on farmer suicides as these have political resonance and their causes can often be traced to economic crises and government policies. The death of a farmer is often the death of a breadwinner, impacting immediately the livelihood of his or her dependants. Though youth suicides outnumber farmer suicides, little attention has been paid to the risk factors and the causes of suicide in this demographic. Attention to student suicides is paid only around board exams, when stress levels across the Indian urban middle class are high or when a student at an IIT, IIM or the AIIMS, commits suicide.

Institutions conduct internal inquiries and come up with the usual factors of stress, inability to perform, parental pressure or issues of failed personal relationships. Some observers have noted that many Dalit students have committed suicide in elite institutions, pointing a finger at stress experienced due to caste discrimination. Others point to fear of failure and dismissal once admission has been gained. No doubt, individual psychology plays a role in every case.

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