The Kota Quota

“The other students who have a smartphone are leading a smart life and scoring around 90 per cent marks, but I am not”.

The above line is an excerpt 15-year old Devesh Kumar’s suicide note, who ultimately succumbed to the pressure which stemmed from some mock tests at his coaching institute in the fabled city of Kota, Rajasthan

India is a country where students first become engineers, and then decide what they want to do in life. To commence their journey, they turn to Kota, which is known as the ‘Coaching Hub’ but has another alias too—The Suicide Capital. While budding engineers in some of the most prestigious institutions in the country can flaunt their status for a lifetime, nobody really asks about those who are tied down by the band of mediocrity and live with it for long, or not live at all.

Being IIT aspirants ourselves once upon a time, we know the ceaseless effort that it takes to get into an IIT, NIT or BITS. Yet there are thousands, nay, lakhs of students who slog day in and day out at their coaching centres, only to realise that they are being forced to follow a line of thought that satiates the typical middle class Indian dream; to get into an IIT.

What is this ‘smart life’ that Kota’s students lead which Devesh Kumar talks about in his suicide note? Is the effort really worth the outcome? Is it acceptable that more than sixty students have taken their lives in the past six years?

Our tale begins back in 1991, when an alumnus from the Banaras Hindu University-Vinod Kumar Bansal founded the Bansal Classes Pvt. Ltd. in Kota, with the primary aim of helping prospective IITians realise their dream in an easier manner. Institutes like ALLEN did not exist even before this, but Bansal’s extraordinary methods of teaching, testing and revising were his claim to fame. Word spread quickly that if a student wanted assured success in the JEE Advanced (Erstwhile IIT-JEE), they needed to go to Bansal in Kota.

In late 2011, L.N. Maheshwari decided to monetize IIT-JEE coaching in a big way as he ‘bought’ teachers from Bansal by offering them six-figure salaries. ALLEN now flashed their faculty as being ‘Highly reputed Ex-Bansal teachers’ and started attracting the rank-hungry aspirants in masses.

Slowly, but surely Kota became the solution to every 11th grader’s problems, literally and figuratively, with other institutes such as Resonance, Vibrant, Aakash and Nucleus coming into the limelight. Allen Career Institute, the biggest player in the coaching industry, has 79,000 enrolled students and second in the field comes Resonance with 25,000 aspirants currently enrolled.

Obviously, with a large number of students clearing the JEE Advanced, come the much, much larger number of students depressed to a level where they feel suicide is the only way out. Since 2013 the number of students throwing away their lives has increased, with Devesh Kumar being the most recent case, bringing this year’s death toll to thirteen.

Here it is worth mentioning two categories of students who are most prone to taking such a fatal and irrevocable decision. The first category comprises those who join too early, for the ‘foundation’ programs, taking up a four-year course in ninth grade. These young malleable minds often face an added pressure of performing well in those final six hours, since they have spent four years training for D-day. The second category is the droppers, candidates who pursue a ‘thirteenth’ grade so that they can have another shot at these dreaded entrance exams, and they are more often than not caught facing the challenge of a judgemental society, something which only hinders their focus.

Coaching institutes are taking some major steps to curb this issue, such as organising motivational sessions, providing counsellor guidance and even having regular fun activity days. But this problem is one that need to be uprooted right from its base.

Parents play an extremely important role in finding a solution to this issue. They must realise that not every child can actually cope with the amount of stress that an environment as competitive as that of Kota, or any other coaching hub for that matter, has to offer. Moreover, it is highly likely that a student who goes to Kota never wanted to become an engineer in the first place, which is why he/she has resorted to the ridiculously overpriced coaching classes there. Over thirteen lakh students appear for the JEE every year, out of which only 10,000 make the cut after advanced. That’s a success rate of only 0.7%. According to East India Comedy’s news sketch show ‘EIC Outrage’, “You have a better chance of Emma Watson swiping right on your tinder than you have of making it to an IIT.”

The conclusion above is a very far-fetched (and slightly inaccurate) example, but does support the fact that it is extremely difficult to make the cut, and not doing so doesn’t mean the end of the world. Case in point—everyone at EIC is an engineer.   

But as thousands of students still pour out of the coaching centres at dusk, only to return to their hostels to study through the night, one should really ponder whether the time, money and effort is worth the agony of an apparently ‘smart’ life.

RIP Devesh. RIP dreams.  

By Rohan Kapur

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