“Sab pointless hai masti karo, fuck IIT,” is a famous dialogue in a recent coming-of-age film, All India Rank. The intensity with which the dialogue is delivered in the movie speaks volumes about the pressure students undergo in coaching centres. This was cinema. Now coming to the real world, a 20-year-old student, who was preparing for the National Eligibility Entrance Test (NEET) died by suicide in Rajasthan’s Kota district two weeks ago.

This is the sixth such incident in coaching institutions this year.

Tooba, a 20-year-old student, was preparing for NEET for three years from 2020. She was compelled by her parents to study medicine and appear for NEET but it was just not her thing and eventually it led to her deteriorating mental and physical health.

“I was depressed for two years. I even got jaundice and pneumonia. In fact, I still take anti- seizure and anti-depressants,” says Tooba.

The last annual report of the National Crime Records Bureau finds that a total of 13,044 students took their lives in India in 2022. That year, suicide by students constituted 7.6% of all suicides in India.

Tooba was 17 when she first went to a coaching centre. Ever since then she has always had a fear of underperforming and disappointing her parents.

“The coaching centres compel you to compare yourself with your peers and that’s what led to my fear of failure, self-doubt and confidence issues. I was also scared of disappointing my parents, as they had invested too much into this emotionally as well as financially, and all these things collectively push a person towards taking their life.”

According to new guidelines announced by the Union Ministry of Education, coaching centres can no longer enrol students below 16 years of age.

Tooba is now pursuing her undergraduate in biotechnology and thinks the whole coaching centre culture should be eradicated altogether as it would save students from mental health issues.

In the current financial year, just 1.41% of the total health budget has been allocated to mental health care.

Hadia, a B.Tech student from IIT Delhi, reveals how getting into IIT is worse than all the preparations and entrance exams because of the high competition.

“If there’s anything that compels students to kill themselves, it is toxicity and competition in IITs. Especially, if you’re a shy person or an introvert that too from a minority community, there are chances that you might get stepped on literally. I’m a Muslim and if there’s anything that helps me throughout it’s my family and a very close friend,” she confides.

Having a therapist or counsellor is a must in every school, college, university and especially in the IITs and coaching centres, adds Hadia.

Sajida, 38, a high school teacher says she’s not in favour of coaching centres at all.

“Schools and self-study is more than enough for students up till Grade 10. Maybe after class 10 they might need coaching in certain subjects but other than that there’s no need,” says Sajida.

The teacher thinks that the education ministry’s decision not to let coaching centres enroll students below 16 is something that will save future generations from a lot of mental health problems.

“I think the peer pressure and staying away from family during coaching and all these factors add to the mental stress that a student is already going through. It starts from the family, and it’s parents’ responsibility to let the kid choose what they are good at and try not to force kids to fulfil their unfulfilled dreams.”

The guidelines also stipulate that batches of students should not be segregated on the basis of academic performance as it leads to excessive pressure on students, affecting their health. Batches are to be formed in the order of entry or admission of the students and not to be changed for the course duration.

Mohammad, a 21-year-old engineering student, says how despite being very passionate about getting into an IIT, batch segregation made him feel under confident and which eventually took a toll on his mental wellbeing.

“I took my coaching from one of the best institutions in Delhi and yet I failed to qualify my entrance test. There used to be two batches, Illuminati Batch and Citadel of Excellence batch. In the CoE batch, classes were led by founders and core faculty members. But the Illuminati batch was not taught by any of them and I was in the Illuminati batch. This distinction made me feel very apprehensive and anxious,” he recalls.

“I was struggling with so much pressure that I even thought about running away from home. Thankfully, my siblings helped me out during that difficult phase, but everyone is not lucky like me. Had it not been for my family, I too might have done self-harm.”

Mohammad says there’s too much hype about getting into the IITs, there’s a life outside IIT as well and we can get education from anywhere, if we are dedicated enough.