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It’s our failure Prerna, not yours

October 08, 2012

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.