As coaching becomes a trend in India, thousands of students are getting themselves enrolled in coaching institutes. However, with that, comes a stream of psychosocial problems that have been consistently ignored. These institutes tend to handpick a few ‘intelligent’ students, create a separate group, and hone their brain for the toughest exam scenarios. Majority of students that don’t ‘make the cut’ are stuffed into other groups, and fail to get any attention from teachers. Instead of the intended benefits of coaching, it lands them into a deluge of psychological issues.
In Kota, the Coaching Capital of India, the rate of suicide among young students is increasing yearly, as the cut-throat competition gets tougher. In 2017, the reported number of suicides was 7, however, it increased to 19 in the following year. The problem is further exacerbated, as students who have grown under the shield of ‘snowplow parenting’ fail to cope, and fall into a vicious cycle of dejection and self-abuse.
In 2016, I was admitted to a coaching institute in Delhi. Like thousands of small-towners who want to breathe in the pulse of a metropolitan city, I felt on top of the world. But my happiness did not last. A makeshift bumpy road led us to the Dayanand Hostel which was still under construction. It was inside a big city, yet the buildings were dusted in poverty. With the smell of paint flooding our nostrils and the screech of drilling machines cutting through us, all I kept repeating to myself was what I knew best, having grown up in a typical Indian household: “Your parents are doing a lot for you, a lot of money is being spent on you”.
After the first month, things started to miserably fall apart. My longing for home increased leaps and bounds. In addition to the obvious physical distance, I also started to fear the loss of my identity, and things around me seemed to be fading away.
Students at my coaching institute came from reputed convent schools, fluent in English with their resumes dusted liberally with gold medals. As I got to know my hostel-mates a little more every day, I started to ask myself, “What did you achieve in your whole life?” I had no answer to these questions.
After the initial month, the coaching institute started holding tests. I did fairly well in the first few, but then my performance started dwindling; this really disheartened me. I was disturbed by the fact that other students, with access to the same teachers, facilities and education were performing exceptionally well. This sense of unhealthy competition started becoming toxic, and I started having recurring nightmares where I watched people stomping on my back, securing ranks in good medical colleges, while I lay battered in one corner. I would wake up shivering and was unable to go back to sleep. When I tried to study, I would feel sleepy at my desk, and would have another nightmare; this time of my parents being cremated.
My results continued to deteriorate further. One day, after I scored inordinately low marks on our daily test, I remember calling my grandmother and crying so loudly, that people came out of their rooms to see what had happened. The only thing that I managed to say with a choked throat was, “Please take me from here or else I will suffocate and die.”
The coaching institute itself had a very inhospitable environment. My hostel room could accommodate only a single bed and a study table. It had no windows for air and hence got damp and soggy even with the slightest drizzle. Additionally, even though we were charged exorbitant prices, the food available lacked taste or nutrition. The milk, lentils and curd were watery, and they provided uncooked chapatis.
The students in the hostel tried to persuade me to not study and would force me into watching porn or masturbating. If I resisted, they would bully me for my bald head or gestures that they labelled as effeminate. When they saw me unaffected initially, they started writing obscene comments on benches and toilet walls. (I remember one, “Woh Chakka Hai” which translates to “he is a transgender”.) Bullying and harassment are not uncommon in hostels. The horrors of ragging faced by Aman Kachroo at Dr. Rajendra Prasad Medical College, Tanda, led him to suicide. A harrowing death of a 12-year-old child in Dehradun, after being killed by his seniors sent shock waves through the nation.
“Bullying in hostels can start from milder forms of verbal abuse and go on to become physical violence and sexual exploitation,” a research study conducted by Broadway warned. Another research concluded, “The perpetrators of bullying are the students who have faced it at some point in their life.”
I spent two years amidst this internal and external blood-curdling pressure with the support of my parents, family and good teachers. They would heal my bruised soul with their caressing voice, mild touch and a strong sense of support. Eventually, I did get into my dream school, Maulana Azad Medical College.
I strongly believe that my story would have been completely different if I had not spoken about my problems. There are thousands of students who are undergoing similar difficulties in these institutes, and their mental health struggles consume their self-worth like termites. Sometimes, it may be difficult for your parents to understand you, but the only thing that life has taught me is that no matter what, they will always be behind you in your darkest days.
Rather than feeling stifled by your inner demons, fight them by talking, raising your voice and finding solutions with your parents, family and all your well-wishers.
Kinshuk Gupta is a medical student and an emerging writer. He uses the scalpel of his poetry to write about his experiences as an undergraduate medical student. His poems have been widely anthologized all over India and abroad.