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It’s our failure Prerna, not yours


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Mummy, papa, mujhe pata hai ki main jo kar rahi hoon woh galat hai, lekin maine socha tha ki agar main sare subjects main pass nahin ho payi to main jaan de doongi aur main maths aur chemistry mein fail ho gayi. Goodbye.

That’s what Prerna Rai (14), a class VIII student of St Paul’s School in Ghaziabad, near Delhi, wrote on the wall of her bedroom before committing suicide on October 2.

Short, direct and to the point. No place for ambiguity in her mind. Prerna, which means inspiration in Hindi, was clear about the reason why she was hanging herself – the inability to clear her exams.

A report in The Indian Express newspaper quoted a relative as saying: “Prerna was a hardworking child, but she couldn’t perform well in her studies. She always felt ashamed for this. Before every exam, she used to shut herself in a room. She kept to herself.”

Shame – that’s a big word in this country and region. We are always under social pressure; the need to do well in a country where getting into a school or college has become as difficult as climbing Mount Everest.

Her family said they didn’t pressure her. One can’t even begin to imagine what her family must be going through when they found Prerna’s body on the morning of October 3.

But, what about us, the larger society in which millions of children like Prerna go to school, take exams and hope to DO WELL in life? Where does our responsibility begin? Isn’t it just possible that Prerna may have had learning disabilities and was unable to cope with academic pressures?

Educationist Anil Sadgopal has pointed to the need to look beyond the immediate case to fix responsibility in cases of suicide by children and young adults.

“We are often misled when we get trapped in the immediate circumstances of a particular case. It is more the result of the malaise in our education system and therefore, also in the social and economic system,” Sadgopal had told the Pioneer newspaper.

The Prernas of India are simply not equipped to deal with the constant and mounting demands made by what passes for an education system. Class VIII studies in this country are tough – you are doing a number of subjects and the maths and science is getting complicated.

In 2010, India’s National Crime Records Bureau said that 2,479 persons aged between 15 and 29 committed suicide where the cause was “failure in examinations”. In 2008, the figure was 2,189.

Of all the 1,34,599 suicide deaths in 2010, nearly 36 per cent were in the age group of 15-29, showing just how vulnerable this section was to the pulls and pressures of different kinds in everyday living.

India proudly boasts of its demographic dividend. That 70 per cent of the country’s population is 35 and below; as many as 225 million are in the age group of 10-19.

“It is the population of young people, which constitutes, for India, a potential demographic dividend and / or a challenge of mega proportions, if not properly addressed and harnessed,” a recent report prepared on India’s commitment to the Saarc social charter said.

In July, the Caravan magazine reported the case of Anil Meena, a Dalit, or oppressed caste student, of the prestigious All India Institute of Medical Sciences in Delhi. Like Prerna, he too, had hung himself.

This is what the magazine said, “Nobody will ever know why Anil Meena committed suicide: he didn’t leave a note, or confess his intentions to friends or family ... about whether caste had played a role in the administrative decisions that fed his depression, and whether the administrators could have done more to prevent him from taking his own life.”

Young lives are being wasted on a daily basis. Many of them are victims of a marks-based education system that is heartless and cruel. You can put in your best efforts, but still not be able to cope.

We have failed Prerna. Her death is final, irreversible.

But, can we do something for the tens of thousands of Prernas in the making?


Amit Baruah is an independent, Delhi-based journalist. He is the author of Dateline Islamabad and reported for The Hindu newspaper from Pakistan.


The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Author Image

Amit Baruah is an independent, Delhi-based journalist. He is the author of Dateline Islamabad and reported for The Hindu newspaper from Pakistan. He tweets @abaruah64.

The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Comments (23) Closed

Sasikanth Oct 08, 2012 02:20pm
unless the commercialized education system is completely eradicated and any efforts on these matters however stong will be futile..
MANISH Oct 09, 2012 04:44am
what you said is true. but this is something we learn as we mature. how to make a child understand this, is the real trick. and, it's even more difficult to convince their parents, that even the moderately performing one's have great careers ahead. myself being product of the same system, i know the pressure is insurmountable. and, though these guys and girls become successful in life, but they find it very difficult to enter into relationship, and even difficult to be committed in it. on the whole we get a dysfunctional society, yet in a population of 1200 million, these thousands are not even a trickle.
Sandeep Oct 08, 2012 10:04am
Education in India needs to undergo a reform to ease pressure on the students. The focus should shift to "learning" and not scoring high marks. I know some schools have started grading system rather than marks but that is just like a drop in the ocean. Some may argue that the current system has created a culture of good education based on competition which has yielded good results and has also been acknowledged worldwide, but the mental pressure to get through the schooling years is very enormous, many parents and students cannot handle it.
Syed Oct 08, 2012 01:45pm
I like it, I exactly think the same way for my only daughter
Sandip Oct 09, 2012 12:13am
Been through it. Dont know how i sustained it, but it was depressing. Even in grade 3 or 4 when i didnt understand percentage I was told that my percentage was low and it was emense pressure. Trying to not repeat same thing for my daughter. Ensuring that she has everything in her life I have put her in school where only marks dont matter and they have lots of extra ciricular activities. Lets hope I dont put my daughter through what I have been.
Faraz Oct 09, 2012 04:59am
You are right, I agree but don't you think our education system generates such enormous and unnecessary pressure/stress that is quite difficult to manage for a fledgling student.. I agree, a larger part of responsibility does lie with parents in current circumstances but you have to make the system flexible so that the problem can be prevented rather detected and mitigated by the parents.
Sanity Oct 08, 2012 09:00am
Very depressing.
Sachin Oct 08, 2012 09:01am
I agree. For a below average student like me, school educational curriculum and pressure to perform was traumatic. Although I managed to get education from top universities in India and USA, my nightmares are still made of school exams. I also can vouch for similar experiences of my friends who by the way are very successful in life in spite of scraping through their prescribed education. With regard to article: Author have articulated the problem efficiently, however I would have loved to see some remedial recommendations.
Indian2905 Oct 09, 2012 05:46am
Really , Its heart breaking . In India most of the parents decide what their children will do . Its rubbish . How anyone can decide anyone's future . And parents desire is not going to end here , even they are also pushing hard for the best colleges .So eventually cut off marks goes high . For example in Delhi University some of the colleges had cut-off marks of 100% . I mean , if you have scored 95% or less , then you are not going to get admission in DU . 90%-95% even you are not going to get any A+ colleges . Less then 90% " You are finished " . In India children success is nothing but a pride and social issue for parents . Super duper hard competition , Less standard college with respect to population and parents quest making Indian youngsters nothing but overloaded and frustrated .
farkhunda Oct 08, 2012 11:10am
Parents should not give much pressure towards their child if something is in her luck she will get it.
Cyrus Howell Oct 08, 2012 02:26pm
She may have been a victim of dislexia. Of course the parents will say they did not pressure her but she did not want to live in front of them as a failure in their eyes. If parents love their child he or she is never a failure. Children should be made to know this. Similar incidents like this happen in China. In the United States young people commit suicide at 17 or 18 when the real pressures to attend a good university have begun. Some suburban parents require their children get into medical school after their four years of undergraduate study. This idea is presented to them before leaving high school, or middle school if you will. Some kids will always fall victim to the pressures. Usually girls rather than boys.
lalit bagai Oct 08, 2012 10:00pm
india is not a great country. this is the truth, of which the leaders especially are to blame
anil Oct 08, 2012 10:01am
It is the time to embrace western education practices where noone forces you to well and Only will power drives the student .This is the reason why they keep producing nobel laurates despite lack of hard-labour culture.The earlier we understand , the lesser will be the suicide cases.
errorwithrequest Oct 08, 2012 12:47pm
Its called "Suicidal Tendency" and the education system is just one of the pleas. "If I dont achieve this then commit Suicide" can errupt at any point of time in the life-span. Its all about handling the stress. And the responsibility completely lies with the parents......
Faraz Oct 08, 2012 09:14am
Provoking article to make things better in the education system even in Pakistan. " Many of them are victims of a marks-based education system that is heartless and cruel." Not only this system produces such tragedies, it's also not effective enough to make any impact on the overall growth of the society and its future generations.
VP (Florida) Oct 08, 2012 04:33pm
Absolutely agree, the pressure is too much on young minds of India. The competition to win the race is way too much..I see some changes being already made, instead of ranking system, the grade system is introduced. Population explosion is also linked to this, the gap between demand and supply is too much.... Little surprised, the way it get portrayed in Pakistan news paper website. Look at yourself and try to bring in things that is facing your society. If any comparison is made with Pakistan education system, India is 100 % better. No fabrication of history and facts are put into the history book...
Kumar Oct 08, 2012 04:25pm
Very sad situation, and some reforms should be made but in my view, this should be done without touching the core - do not forget that Indian education system produced great minds. I have recently attended a international conference on current hot area "Big Data" in San Jose where the panel are supposedly the best in the world, came from companies like Google,yahoo,facebook etc., And of the 12 in the panel, 10 are Indians (studied in India).
Sunil Oct 08, 2012 04:19pm
Huge population + limited resources (jobs, decent colleges) + Rapid globalization = Rate race for marks and entrance exam ranks!!
AHU Oct 08, 2012 03:08pm
I had always been an A student but got a C grade (barely passed) in my Intermediate Exams 20 years ago. Every day when I used to wake up in the morning I had a suicidal tendency. I stopped going out to visit relatives and meet friends. In the absence of any psychological counselling at school, I was only going down hill. One of my uncles (who would occasionally come to visit) came to my room and persuaded me in doing two things: One was to start praying regularly and the other was to re-appear in all subjects of the Intermediate exams next year. I did both and although I could not get very high grades the second time, they were sufficient to get me in a 'General Purpose' university. That foothold was enough and to cut a 20-year story short, I got a PhD in Computer Engineering from a well reputed US university last year and am working in the high paced embedded systems industry. Sorry to bother everyone with my story, but I realize that my fate could have been very similar to Prema. May she rest in peace.
Sumant Oct 08, 2012 03:30pm
I don't think its the educational system as it is lack of opportunity and the herd mentality.If parents and students realise that weakness in one subject may be a sign of strength in another then its highly unlikely that will have the low self esteem and parental pressure that results in suicide.
raika45 Oct 08, 2012 09:54am
Some children have an aptitude towards science subjects and some for the arts.Not all children are good at both.The education system and parents should realize that.Pushing kids to do well in everything is beyond such kids.Parents should not want their own best.Some kids in these times know better as to what they are good at and excel in that.There are those, who no matter how hard they try,find comprehending the schoolwork daunting.Not everybody is born alike brain wise.Parents have to accept the facts of life.I had a tough time with my child. He would refuse to do his work He did just enough to pass his exams.Computers was his love.Could spend hours at it.Today he is a senior executive in an IT firm.Good job and good pay.Listen to your children and hear their future plans.They may surprise you.Getting good marks is not the only thing.
GIRIN Oct 08, 2012 02:21pm
It is true but what is the way out ?
kumaarsauraj Oct 10, 2012 12:46am
If parents won't decide, who else will decide? A 14 years old kid? Would you let a 14 years old kid to make decisions about your life? If not, then why would you let him make decisions about his own life? A person is not allowed drink till he is 21, he can not vote till 18. Society does not trust him with those decisions, but let him make decisions which will affect his whole life? If you leave it up to the child, every child in the country will pursue the path to become a Cricketer, a Film Actor or a Fighter Pilot. Nothing else.