50 suicides in 2 months: How junior colleges in AP, Telangana are torturing students

My friend became a statistic, a contributing '1', to a large number of students from these junior colleges who kill themselves every year.
50 suicides in 2 months: How junior colleges in AP, Telangana are torturing students
50 suicides in 2 months: How junior colleges in AP, Telangana are torturing students
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The recent spate of student suicides in Telangana and Andhra Pradesh have left me overwhelmed, and take me back to a time when I was 17 years old - the trauma of a time that I’ve only realised in retrospect.

I was an Intermediate student in one of the two junior colleges which are famous in Andhra and Telangana for, and I don’t exaggerate, torturing students in the name of providing them an education.

It was the first day of my second year there.

"Where's Sandeep? He passed right?" I asked my classmates, only to be told that he was not going to return.

Sandeep had hung himself in his house, shortly after the results of the first year final exam were declared, as he had performed poorly.

I didn't know how to react. His smiling face flashed in my mind, and I couldn't comprehend that he was gone forever.

The engineering and medicine factories

To many, Sandeep had become just a statistic, a contributing '1', to a large number of students from these junior colleges who kill themselves every year, unable to cope with the stress. Through the years, the situation has remained as dire as it was when I was 17.

In fact, in the last two months alone, activists say that more than 50 students have committed suicide across Telangana and Andhra Pradesh, a significant number of them from these junior colleges.

These ‘intermediate colleges’ in the Telugu states are ruthless. Children here are treated like study machines, forced to mug up and rewrite entire answers word for word.

Rote learning is incentivised, and the 'kalasalas' as they are known in Telugu, only have one goal – to make sure every student gets into an engineering or medical college.

Additionally, the students are highly discriminated based on their 'marks'.

There were three sections in the college where I studied, as I had picked engineering – Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), All India Engineering Entrance Examination (AIEEE), and the state-level Engineering Agricultural and Medical Common Entrance Test (EAMCET).

The students could join any section they chose, as long as their parents paid for it. However, poor academic performance would result in demotion, with EAMCET students getting the worst teachers, and the best teachers reserved for the IIT students.  

Corporal punishment is rampant

Students are 16 years old when they join, and have already undergone rigorous tuitions and coaching classes, before they are herded into these prison-like environments.

Corporal punishment thrives inside these institutions as a student can get thrashed for turning his head away from the class and looking out a window. Being guilty of such pleasure myself, I have received a fair share of such beatings, with dusters thrown at me, and rulers broken on my hand.

Others who committed the even graver act of cracking a joke in class, were beaten till their shirts tore, and physically kicked out of the classroom, where they fought to hold back tears.

From personal experience, the junior college I studied in was hosted in a single building with large glass windows, with the bottom two floors reserved for girls and the top two floors reserved for boys.

Each floor of this building, had a 'floor monitor' - an unqualified professional whose sole job was to moral police the students, and ensure that no one stepped out of their class in the gap between two periods.

Co-education was a distant dream in these educational institutes, and any boy and girl seen talking to each other would be reprimanded by the teachers. The institute also ensured separate canteens for boys and girls, to ensure that they didn't mingle!

The boys were told that the girls were a 'distraction' from the studies, and I have since learnt that girls were told the same about the boys.

No wonder then, that this culture of separating the genders would become a factor in promoting my own classmates to leer at girls at the bus stop and make shockingly sexist remarks, when they were left into the real world after college.

Controlling every second of a student’s life

Despite all this, I was among the fortunate ones, as day scholars could leave the institute and go home every night.

The students who lived in the hostels had it way worse. Every second of their life, from when they were woken up at 5am, to when they slept at 10pm was controlled.

For these teens, their timetable had no space for rest or play. Many students were forced to sit through 'study hours', that involved a warden breathing down their neck, as they stared at a book and tried not to doze off due to fatigue, for fear of being beaten to pulp.

Parents, too, to blame

In several cases, parents are complicit in pressurising the students, as they are constantly reminded about the large amount of money being paid for the 'education', and that the child's sole purpose in life was to score better.

Several parents would complain to teachers that they did not thrash the children enough, and that a little more beating would knock sense into the students.

No wonder then, that when the students do fight back, it is often in an extremely violent way, as highlighted by an incident in June this year, when enraged students allegedly locked up the building of a junior college, pelted stones, broke windows on three floors, ransacked offices, damaged furniture, overturned beds, broke switchboards, and smashed tube lights, besides throwing a water tank off the roof of the building.

All this, because they had demanded 'homesick' leaves, but were denied permission.

As I read about each suicide, my heart breaks a little further, to know that nothing has changed in close to a decade, and these institutes continue to remain torture chambers for teenagers.

While I was fortunate enough, and had a support system at home to change my course and pick another stream after leaving the institute, many teenagers never get the chance and become just another statistic, like my friend, Sandeep.

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are the personal opinions of the author.

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