In a desperate measure to stop students from taking their own lives, authorities in the western Indian city of Kota — the country’s famous academic coaching hub — have directed all local hostels, guest houses and other accommodation facilities to install specially designed spring-fitted ceiling fans in rooms.
The directive from the authorities came on Aug. 16, a day after an 18-year-old student at a test training school in Kota hanged himself from a ceiling fan in his room. It was the 22nd such suicide by a student in the city this year — the highest yearly toll since 2015.
The chief minister of Rajasthan, where Kota is located, held an emergency meeting this week and set up a committee comprising senior government officials, representatives from coaching schools, parents and doctors to address the issue of suicide by the students in Kota.
“We cannot allow the suicide cases to spike further. We do not want to see young students commit suicide,” said Ashok Gehlot, the chief minister. “The committee will investigate why the suicides are taking place and suggest ways to put a halt to these suicides.”
In the past decade in Kota, more than 150 students who were preparing to sit for entrance exams for engineering and medical colleges died by suicide. In most cases, they hanged themselves from the ceiling fans.
The spring-fitted fans that authorities have ordered to be fitted in the accommodations of students are designed to uncoil and lower the moment a load of more than 20 kilograms (44 pounds) is attached to them, making it impossible for someone to commit suicide by hanging from them.
When the spring uncoils, a sensor activates an alarm to alert people in the surroundings.
The police chief of Kota said the civil administration and the police have been jointly trying their best to curb student suicides in the city.
“After the [chief minister] held the meeting with senior officials on the issue, we have directed all hostels, guest houses and other places, where the coaching-school students stay in Kota, to attach the special spring and alarm-fitted devices to all ceiling fans,” Sharad Chaudhary, the Kota police superintendent, told VOA. “We have also directed our police forces to visit all accommodation facilities of the students and make sure that devices have been installed.
“With the help of these spring- and alarm-fitted devices, we are aiming to put a halt at least to those suicides taking place by hanging from the ceiling fans,” he said.
There are about 6,075 engineering and upwards of 600 medical colleges in India, where millions of students seek admission annually, usually after taking entrance tests such as the Joint Entrance Examination and National Eligibility cum Entrance Test.
Competition among the students to do well on the exams is tough. Kota is known for its 150 coaching centers, where over 200,000 students from across the country come every year, sign up for different courses and prepare for the entrance exams.
These students, mostly from middle-class families, stay in hostels and guest houses.
Over the past decade, Kota has often been in the news for suicides by coaching-school students.
Experts say that some students take extreme steps, such as attempting suicide, after being unable to cope with the pressure.
Dr. Neena Vijayvargiya, a Kota-based psychiatrist dealing with the mental health issues of many Kota coaching schools’ students, told VOA that in “99% of these suicide cases,” improper parenting was found to be the main factor driving the students to take the extreme step.
“Parents continue to pressure the students that they have to enter the top colleges, and that is the only goal for them,” she said. “The students fear facing their parents and society should they not get admission to top colleges.”
According to Vijayvargiya, every student, while depressed, may provide hints to their parents over the course of weeks or months.
Police chief Chaudhary said that parents can play a key role in checking the crisis.
“We are in the process of setting up a separate committee involving mostly the parents of the students to monitor the issue,” he said. “Also, we have decided to conduct a mandatory psychological assessment process for all students enrolled at the coaching schools, at regular intervals.”
Vijayvargiya urged parents not to pressure students to gain admission into the top colleges and to teach their children that “the failure to meet such targets does not mean the end of the world.”