Thursday, July 28, 2005

The desire for highly-paid jobs and the demands of overbearing parents has caused a suicide epidemic among students in India

Peter Foster:

Adolescent girls are up to 70 times more likely to kill themselves than in Britain, research has shown.

The figures have led to calls for a radical overhaul of India's equivalent of the A-level, the CBSE.

The exam, which comes at the end of 13 years of intensive schooling, offers a lucky few the chance to take the opportunities thrown up by India's position as a rapidly emerging economic power.

But for those missing out on a "golden ticket" to a better life there are heavy costs, both financial and emotional.

Almost daily, there are reports of suicide by youngsters unable to bear the shame, or the fear, of failing to get to university.

Conversely, students who go to India's leading institutions, which rival Harvard and Oxbridge for excellence, are lauded as high achievers who command enormous salaries when they land jobs with multinationals.

The stories are as commonplace as they are heartbreaking. That of Sudhanshu Pandey, a 17-year-old from New Delhi stood out when his suicide note was published in Indian Today.

"Bye everybody, I am committing suicide," he wrote before hanging himself from a ceiling fan by his mother's saree. "I have decided to end my life because the pressure has started to get to me and I cannot take it any longer.

"I love my family and I hope they will understand."

A study in Vellore, south India, published in The Lancet last year showed suicides among young women (15 to 19) running at 148 per 100,000 population, against 58 per 100,000 for young men.

In Britain, the rate for young women is 2.1 per 100,000, against a world average among all age groups of 14.5 per 100,000. Young Indian men are almost 30 times more likely to commit suicide than their British counterparts.

The figures have caused alarm at the intolerable burden imposed by the hothouse approach to schooling.

Misguided parents are at the heart of the problem, said P V Sankaranarayanan, of Sneha, a charity that runs a helpline for students in Madras.

They are often so desperate for their children to succeed that they take time off work to "actively manage" their child's study while other family members take on extra jobs to pay for private tuition.

"The pressures are manifold," Mr Sankaranarayanan said. "Will I gain my required marks? Will I satisfy my parents? Will I get on my preferred course? And if they don't, often the feeling is of overwhelming shame and guilt."

For girls, that pressure to succeed is even greater than for boys, a factor that explains the huge discrepancy in suicides between boys and girls, says Dr Anuradha Bose, a paediatrician who contributed to the Lancet report.

"The girls feel extra pressure because at the first hint of failure they are removed from school, while boys will receive any spare resources a family might have for extra help and tuition.

"The girls meanwhile, have few options except marriage - often at a young age - and domestic service. Suicide is one way out. If this was an infectious disease, we would be looking for a vaccine".

South India suicide is world high

Indian teens have world's highest suicide rate


At 8:52 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Asians seem to have a bent for this kind of thing -- Koreans are also killing themselves when they fail to get into the right college.

I've often thought that the ultra-competitiveness of college entry you see in the US today -- test preparation, etc -- correlates in time, anyway, with the big upsurge in Asian immigration. Many of these kids are intelligent -- e.g. over 40% of students at UCLA are Asian, although Asians are less than 20% of California's population -- and have added to the pressure around all of that. I just don't remember it being such a big deal when I went to college in the late '70s.

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