Disclaimer: This is rehashed from an article I wrote in March 2017 for GineersNow. Some parts are added or edited for clarity.
Not every kid wants to become an engineer.
That is what essentially the district collector Ravi Kumar Surpur from Kota in India said in a letter, as a response to the increasing suicide rate in the Rajasthan district by entering engineering students who are forced by their parents into taking the course. The case of 17-year-old Kriti Tripathi was the last straw.
Tripathi jumped to her death from a five-storey building in Kota on April 28, 2016. She is not the first person to commit suicide due to the Joint Entrance Examination (JEE) Mains, which is a nationwide engineering entrance examination.
Despite scoring 44 marks higher than the 100-mark cut off in the JEE Mains 2016, she felt that she was forced into liking science. Her mother was to blame for this, saying, “You manipulated me as a kid to like science… I took science to make you happy” in a suicidal note that is 5 pages long.
Tripathi also wrote about planning to commit suicide in April 22 but was prevented by a friend.
In the note, she advised her parents to allow her younger sister to study whichever field she likes.
Moreover, Tripathi urged the government of India and human resource development (HRD) ministry to shut coaching institutes as soon as possible. “They suck,” she penned. Around 150,000 students reach Kota every year to enroll themselves in the coaching institutes to pass the JEE Mains, and at least 56 students have killed themselves in the last 5 years.
Surpur did not take the alarming situation sitting down and wrote the 5-page letter just three days after Tripathi took her life away.
He told The Telegraph that his letter was one of “the multiple interventions we are trying to do to ease the situation that has arisen because of the constant stress and competitiveness the students face in the run-up to the actual examinations…. Doing it through the age-old classical letter seemed the best option to us. So we have [dispatched] the letter to the institutes which would deliver them to the parents either through email or through post.”
Here is the letter, originally posted in Scribd:
On behalf of Kota City, I take this opportunity to welcome your child to a city of wonders which processes the young minds of this country and fuels their passion to become the architects of Modern India.
My humble request at the beginning of this letter is to read this with some patience and time and it would be ideal if both the parents can read this together.
It is the dream of every parent to see his child touch the pinnacles of success and reach places which only few can afford. Every parent plants a seed in the mind of the child which over a period of time bears fruits but after careful nourishment and tendering since the seed is so tender that any mishandling may fail us from realizing our dream.
It is a very difficult situation for parents to leave their child in a place where they do not live and things become still difficult when the purpose for which the child is left behind is for dedicated and committed efforts in scaling excellence in education.
When parents look at the huge billboard signage/hoarding/ newspaper clips depicting pictures of young beautiful children who have achieved what they dream for their child, the resolution to inspire and motivate their children becomes still stronger.
Good career in the field of Engineering & Medicine, as the case may be, is more or less like certain insurance in terms of decent earning and living standards. I sincerely think that in most of the cases, this is the very reason that makes us dream such careers for our children.
There is nothing wrong in thinking on a certain kind of Assured Career Insurance for one’s child since limited resources and high degree of competition demands one to think ahead of times.
However, I think we all agree that the world too has changed drastically in the last 15-20 years so much so, that most of the facilities and services that were available for a limited few are now available to many due to the huge progress in technology which was witnessed in this period.
Art, Entertainment, Professional Sports, Literature, Health & Fitness, Entrepreneurship, Journalism, Photography, Event management, Music, Adventure, Destination tourism, etc, to name a few too witnessed immense growth in comparison to the bygone era.
Many of these even created a new niche which not just nurtured creative potential of the human mind and its capabilities but also were very successful career options.
Well, the point is not about asking you to see them as better options but certainly to see them also as options.
It is a matter of fact that today, young children are facing immense amount of pressure relating to their academic performance and due to the same many of them go through various levels of stress.
Even if we consider that a certain element of stress would exist in competition parental support, care and the right kind of family situations would help the child to cope with any difficult situation.
However, current reality is that due to the lack of right kind of conditions and support systems, many children are going through stress uncared and unattended for and in a few cases such situations disabled the children to such an extreme extent that they committed suicide…
Don’t get frightened suddenly as to what is being said about your child… Your child is perfectly safe and sound and you have no reasons to worry, but you have reasons to have concern of your child which I believe you will understand as we read my letter further.
I consider myself a very unfortunate person because I got a chance to read around 20-25 Suicide Notes of Young, Brilliant, Beautiful and Wonderful Children.
Am I giving so many adjectives to such children because they committed Suicide?
I am sorry. Answer is No… They were in fact, as I said earlier, Young, Brilliant, Beautiful and Wonderful Children.
A Girl with an amazing command of English language in her suicide note (grammatically perfect 5-page Suicide Note with beautiful running handwriting) thanks her mother for giving up her career for raising the children… Subtle hint that she was pricked on this matter again and again.
Another girl wants her grandmother to become her mother in her next birth. Another requests her parents to allow her younger sister to do what she likes and not what they like. One tells candidly that he was manipulated to study science which was not his taste. Many simply write in fewer lines that they could not fulfil the expectations of their parents. Rather few say they were not really capable of doing what is being asked for by them.
All of them thought that Death was a much peaceful and effortless action than going through this dilemma of artificially doing what parents want them to do.
As they say “Tip of the Iceberg” reveals little and hides mountains within, similarly apparent Suicide Cases reflect numbers but reality or the hidden mountain is all those children who did not opt to take this extreme step but certainly are going through stress/worry/anxiety due to pressure on performance.
Many Parents cannot believe after the disaster that it was their own child who took such a drastic measure and I don’t mean to hurt their sentiments any further but the reality is that the child was mentally looking for some blade of grass which a drowning man searches for. That blade of grass could have been your simple appreciation of his efforts… your solacing words of comforts of asking him to do his best and forget the results your absolute unconditioned appreciation of his extraordinariness.
In return, what the child got was threats of performing still better…psychological manipulation by repeat and re-telecasting of the hardships you have gone through for the sake of family. comparison with better performers (neighbors, relatives, children of colleague, ancestors…could be anyone) sharing imagination on the loss/notional gain of social status being dependent on child’ s performance.
We need to understand that statistically speaking not many children commit suicide in comparison to the total number of children coping with such academic pressure if we analyze the numbers but life analysis tells us that their hopes and dreams are overlooked and hurt many a times. So it is high time we pause and contemplate a bit. I need to take a pause here since I hear many of you saying kids do not like many things which are good for them. So the question I tend to hear from you is… Should parents go children’s immature ways? Not necessarily.
Well let us try to see what all good things they resisted… Eating right, sleeping right, talking right, behaving right, seeing right, listening right, reading right etc.
Child actually observes parents and never follows anything blindly. Moreover, there is one thing which is certain… Child analyses and looks at the parents to see whether in case any of those things preached are followed by parents to begin with and if so..Whether their parents are really loving, joyful, peaceful and happy by doing so.
They tend to pick up only those habits of their parents that make them happy and peaceful…In case you have seriously messed up situations, your child may even not like you.
It may appear strange and extremely annoying… But there is a possibility of your child not liking you… This comes in many forms and shades. Absolute dislike, not liking few traits of yours, not liking you by comparing you with someone better, not liking you for your over protective care and concern which you may think as love but is suffocating for the child, not liking you for your double standards (we may have…) etc.
So, is it the objective of this letter to make you realise that your child dislikes you?
Answer again is a big No.. Your child does not dislike you… I am just making a point that unconsciously we may have created such a situation, which we need to undo…
Children are parents’ responsibility and we are no one to teach a parent their responsibility nor do we intend to do so… Parents really think good for their children’s future but the point I need to make is that your dreams are always limited to your experience of what is good… what is successful… what is the best thing… Well, the truth is your child may surpass your imagination and reach places which you never even dreamed of…
We all come from different segments of the society in terms of social & economic status, culture, religion, belief systems etc. However as far the natural principle of upbringing a child is concerned they remain the same everywhere.
I am not an expert in Parenting nor have many credentials in “Right Child Care Practices” and I fully understand that different kind of children need different kind of interventions yet I would request you to divert little attention to these fundamental aspects relating to child management.
Creating the right kind of atmosphere for the child to grow and flower in home by making home a really happy, loving and peaceful place to live.
Understanding the needs of the children. There are two extremes in this case…Making the child go through terrible hardships to realise “Your” dreams is one end and the other end is over-pampered care… Both of them definitely do not work.
Take time to switch from teaching mode to learning mode from the child since children show you the way to be really happy and peaceful at times…Instead of learning form them we tend to always assume the role of teacher/preacher.
Allow the child “to be” on his own terms and here I mean especially the child’s engagement with nature and world around and empower them with the right kind of communication skills which are more accommodative. Interaction with the other gender due to their coming of age is not an aberration but a normal process, which you can keep a note on but not try to prevent it totally.
Spend time with children without complaining of your office, life situation, problems, hardships all the time. It may be really too late before you want to spend and there is no more time available with the child. Why? Because we may have made him just like ourselves in an effort to tutor him. We certainly are not the benchmark for the child. Many a times, we may be regressive rudimentary types in comparison to the ability of the child.
Just a final thought. Are we interested in making the child realise “Your Dreams” at any cost or should it be like creating such situations that the child realises “His/Her” Dreams?
I could have simply attended a Parents Counselling Session during admission and spoken on these issues but usually it so happens that in such gatherings we are conditioned and influenced more by impression of the person sitting next to you or people who think different.
Nothing wrong in disagreeing but it is best to disagree on own terms instead of getting influenced by others. Finally, I would like to tender my unconditional apology for taking your time and telling you things about Child Management in which I am no expert and my words in this letter have been gathered by my limited experience in Kota dealing with similar cases and certainly there are great men who have inspired me to put my thoughts before you.
Be the Best Parent in the World!!!!
I am sure there is no competition there
Dr Ravi Kumar
District Collector, Kota