The unfortunate incidents of school and college students committing suicide in Tamil Nadu have concerned authorities all over the country. Around five such incidents happened in July, three on the same day. National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) chief, Priyank Kanungo himself visited the districts of Kallakurichi and Tiruvallur, where the commission has taken cognizance of the matter, to look into the ground reports.
The first incident was reported from the town of Kallakurichi where a class 12 student was found dead in her hostel premises on July 13. Her parents suspected foul play in her death while police and the school said that she jumped to her death from her hostel room. A note found in the student’s room alleged that she was ‘tortured’ by two teachers in the school, which led to her suicide. Her death led to violent protests and 5 school personnel were arrested, including the principal and two teachers.
On July 25, another 17-year-old was found dead in the hostel of a government-funded school in the Tiruvallur district. While speaking to Times Now, Priyank Kanungo raised concerns over students committing suicide in schools and care homes. Highlighting the two things which have come forward in the (Kallakurichi) incident – that the student was in school uniform and it was nighttime, which implies something suspicious, he said that the committee showed concern in this matter.
After this incident, various protests took place around the town, with some becoming violent, and people even burnt school buses. According to reports, police took action against the protestors and arrested 300 people, including 20 minors. This act was condemned by the NCPCR Chief who said that they have raised dissent on how children, who were protesting, are being treated as criminals by booking them under stringent sections of the IPC.
The second incident of suicide took place in Tiruvallur where a child was living in an orphanage The NCPCR Chief clarified that the girl was living in a missionary-run orphanage, and not the school hostel as had been reported. The orphanage had not been paying attention to rules, did not have any official records, and neither did they have any individual daycare plans in place. He raised concerns about the ignorance of the Child Welfare Committee (CWC) and has started preparing a report which will be sent to the central government as well as the Tamil Nadu government to take appropriate measures on the same.
In a third case which happened on 26 July, about 400km from Sivakasi district, a class 12 girl died by suicide at her home in Cuddalore. Police said initial investigations indicated that the girl was under pressure due to the monthly tests underway at school and had fought with her mother over her studies.
On the same day, two more suicide cases were reported- one of a class 11 girl who was found dead in her home in Virudhunagar district’s Sivakasi and one of a class 12 boy from Karaikudi in Sivagangai district who was found dead in his home. According to an HT report:
“There is a suicide note which clearly says that he did not like the Biology-Maths group. His parents are blaming themselves because they wanted him to take the group,” T Senthil Kumar, superintendent of police (SP) Sivagangai district told HT.
According to the police, all these students came from lower-middle class or poor backgrounds and according to the initial investigation, at least three of them took this drastic step due to academic pressure mounting on them.
The NCPCR Chairman also questioned the education system of Tamil Nadu, which puts students under immense academic pressure, and the way they commercialize the success of high-scoring students by putting up boards with their pictures.
Raising concerns about the school timing, he said that it is universal that school studies duration should only be limited to 5 – 5.5 hours and he had suspicions about the Kallakurichi girl being in her school uniform at 3 am in the night when she was found dead, saying that the education system has somehow lapsed.
Countering CM MK Stalin who said that “students need to grow not only physically but they also must be mentally strong”, the NCPCR Chairman said – “then what is the government going to do? You’re pressurizing the students that they must mentally be strong, that also shows how they are being pressurized now. When are they (the Tamil Nadu government) going to take the responsibility? I request him that when speaking about children he should think before saying anything.”
According to National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), Tamil Nadu recorded the fourth highest student suicides among all states in the country in 2020. It is distressing that students are being put under so much pressure that they decide to take the ultimate step to end their lives. The state government needs to take a look into their education system and needs to get rid of the flaws that are driving students toward this path.