Trigger warning: Mentions of suicide

Every year, over two lakh students flock to Kota for NEET and JEE coaching, aspiring to get into the top engineering and medical colleges in India.

However, only a few get into the top institutes, while most others are not well-equipped by the parents, education system, and society to handle failures.

In January 2024, two students in Kota, Rajasthan, died by suicide, contributing to the already high number of such incidents in the coaching city — In 2023, Kota witnessed over 29 student suicides.

The concerning rise in these incidents prompted the authorities in Kota and the Rajasthan Government to initiate actions in response.

In June 2023, ASP Chandrasheel Thakur established a dedicated student cell to address the situation. He leads a team of trained individuals, both men and women, tasked with talking to students and managing their concerns.

The student cell operates a 24x7 helpline with three helpline numbers. Additionally, there is a control room where police personnel are assigned to address callers.

The ASP mentions that they receive nearly seven calls daily from students dealing with mental health issues.

“Our team is working with students, identifying mental health issues, and just offering a listening ear to them. We look for red flags or symptoms of depression when we interact with students,” says Thakur.

He adds that the team, in plain clothes, speaks to hostel wardens, mess staff, and dabbawalas to identify children with nutritional issues. “Food is a very important factor for these children,” he says.

Deeply disturbed by the rising student suicides, Shashi Prakash Singh, a NEET coaching teacher, took a sabbatical to solely focus on counselling students.

According to him, these suicides are an indicator of a larger mental health issue amongst students. “The mental burden on girls is much more than boys,” he shares.

“Boys will be asked to look after the family business, be it a small shop or a farm. Girls are not even given that option. They are asked to clear the entrance or threatened with the punishment of marriage,” he adds.

He advises parents to tell their children that “it’s okay to fail” and to let them choose other career options. Telling a barely 15-year-old child that one exam is the do-all of their life can lead to catastrophic consequences, he warns.

“A child will try and reach out for help about a hundred times before they take that step. We must address this problem as a society and help children battle depression,” says Singh.

“All of us can’t become doctors and engineers. Some of us will be successful, some not. Keep a Plan B ready,” says Thakur, adding that the student’s cell has reached out to over 80,000 students so far.

Dr Neena Vijayvargiya, a psychiatrist in Kota, says, “We have to accept that competition is inevitable. Put in your best, work hard, but don’t lose heart if you don’t get what you want.”