13-year-old Palanki Saritha was a Class 9 student from the Government High School in Ullipalem in Andhra Pradesh’s Krishna district
On Monday, after being chided by her uncle and other family members for her poor performance in Mathematics, Saritha consumed pesticide in the morning before leaving to school.
Following this, Saritha collapsed in her classroom and was rushed to a Health Centre in Guduru. Later, she was taken to another centre in Avanigadda, where she was declared brought dead.
Saritha was the latest victim who couldn’t handle the academic pressure and tragically ended her own life. However, her case is far from a rarity in the two Telugu states of Telangana and Andhra Pradesh.
A larger problem
Both the states of Telangana and Andhra Pradesh have been witnessing regular student suicides over the past few months. According to estimates, at least 50 teenage students have ended their lives in recent times, raising serious concerns about the education system.
Student unions have alleged that corporate educational institutions do not abide by the rules of the Education Department and push students into mental depression, which causes them to take the extreme step.
While Akhila Bharatiya Vidya Parishad (ABVP) declared a state-wide bandh this week to protest against the steady increase in the number of student suicides, the Students’ Federation of India (SFI) opted for a more unique protest, handing out roses to lecturers, and asking them not to harass students.
Last week, four intermediate students committed suicide on a single day. They all had three things in common -- parental pressure, depression, and poor academic performance.
Following protests from activists and students, the education ministers of both the states convened a meeting to identify the reasons for the crisis and prevent the suicides.
The main offenders are generally Junior Colleges, where every second of a student's life is dictated.
Sri Chaitanya and Narayana, two major institutes that provide Intermediate education, are often known to be notorious for the harsh conditions that they put students through.
The students, especially those who live in hostels, are made to follow a rigorous time schedule, leaving no time for the child to rest or play. This stress often takes a heavy toll on the mental health of the students.
Additionally, the institutes are also known to oppose co-ed classes, with boys and girls taking the same course, made to sit in different classrooms.
In August, activist Achyuta Rao from the Balala Hakkula Sangham (BHS) moved the State Human Rights Commission (SHRC) on the issue, following which a notice was issued to the two state governments.
“The main reason for the suicides is pressure. The colleges control every second of the student’s hostel life. These junior colleges lack professional teachers and employ unprofessional junior lecturers. Over and above that, the children are not even treated like human beings. None of their concerns are addressed, and they are just herded into class every single day, like animals,” Achyuta had said.
Speaking to TNM BHS President B Anuradha Rao said that although there were several norms that protected the interests of the students, all of them were violated by corporate institutions.
“In the urge to become a popular institute, students are forced to study for more than 15 hours, which is inhuman. Both the governments [AP and Telangana] have failed in implementing the rules which dictate a mandatory counsellor in each institution, and gives adequate time to relax and play,” she pointed out.
Ashish Naredi, executive member of Hyderabad Schools Parents’ Association (HSPA) said that everyone including the students and parents were stakeholders in this.
“The coaching institutes should definitely relook into how they operate. Pressurising students will not yield a better result. Few centres aren’t even giving holidays to the students, which puts pressure on students. Even the parents should ease the students,” he said.
Govts take note
Facing flak from all sections of society, several authorities in the government are taking note.
AP Education Minister Ganta Srinivas Rao said that the students are stressed out over the rigorous time-table followed by the educational institutions.
“Students are studying from 4:30 am till 11pm with two breaks of 15 minutes each and lunch break of 30 minutes. They are totally stressed out. We asked them [educational institutions] to reduce the study hours and introduce an hour of yoga or sports or TV. Colleges must have counsellors to take care of struggling students,” he said.
Srinivas’s Telangana counterpart, Kadiyam Srihari, warned that the state would shut down corporate institutions if they violated the norms laid down by the government.
At a review meeting, he told officials, “Inspect the schools and colleges. Study the teaching methods and come out with suitable guidelines so that students can learn in a peaceful and stress-free atmosphere.”
Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu has also warned corporate institutions against harassing students. He also directed the Board of Secondary Education to remove the ranking system as a step to prevent student suicides.