'Our colleges aren't equipped to handle stress among students'

What the PES institution did initially was sad. While trying to defend itself, the management of PES Institute of Technology, in whose hostel the incident happened, failed to adhere to an ethical code. To frame a student by manufactured data is not correct. Besides given our cultural practices, we do not speak ill of the dead.

How could the institution dub a dead student a drug addict without evidence, make an allegation that the student was below average when he had scored 90 per cent in his PUC and misinform the public that he had shifted to a single room while he had been in an independent room all through?

Unable to face the public wrath, of students and of relatives, the college had to withdraw the allegations and agree to issue a corrective. The one silver lining in the entire episode was the admission by the CEO of the institution of the failure of collective responsibility in the institution, their lack of skills in handling the situation and to accept to right the wrongs. One must appreciate the institution at least for this noble deed! 

The students’ protests therefore were justifiable. They were rightly angered by the attitude of the college and the electronic media that carried false stories. Instead of finding out the truth, the various channels with an agenda of selling their stories relied on the official version given by the college.

For all of them, it was sensation and not the persons that were behind the incident. How are the students, parents and relatives of the deceased to be sympathetic to the media if the reports of the media were to ‘sell their stories’ instead of communicating the truth? It is not easy to find out the truth. It takes time and channels have to have patience. But they have no time to wait. If they delay, they feel their rivals will ‘scoop’ the story. Naturally, the students were angry and rightly expressed their anger.

This is not to make a case against the institution for the suicide of the student. Students in an institution come from different backgrounds. They would have grown up in different environments. In the years of their growth, some learn to ask for help when they are down in the dumps while many do not.

Inner turmoil
Unable to cope with the inner turmoil, individuals may resort to the tragic step. When one is completely helpless from within, the individual takes the final step. The taking of one’s own life is the most private of acts and the person alone can be held responsible to it. It is difficult to know how individuals respond to situation around. That is why, the responsibility is that of individual and the institution need not be blamed even if there was some provocation by individual teacher. 

However, institutions can assist individuals not to reach that stage. Appointing Counsellors is only part of the solution. Students in most colleges are afraid to go to the counsellors for fear of being noticed by their peers.

More than counselling, what the institutions need is a mentoring system. If every teacher becomes a mentor for a group of more or less two dozen students, it is possible to help out students to handle their stress. When the students leave their home what they miss is that bonding and succour in times of distress.

If the mentors are able to provide that acceptance and create a personal and human relationship among students and students and staff that newly established bonds would be able to come to the rescue of students who get alienated from themselves.

When students are emotionally disturbed, their academics decline. How can a college help out students like Pranay who as a result of emotional disturbances did not perform?

This is a challenge. At present our institutions are too formal and there is a big distance between the teachers and the students. It is this gap that needs to be handled for students to freely approach their teachers. Unfortunately, majority of the teachers come to the profession for employment.

Their interest is not in forming students. With that attitude it is not easy to assist students in their growth processes. Society needs teachers who can help students in their growth of heart, mind and body. Students need to learn their subjects. More important is that they need to be formed by mentoring, involvement and participation.

This needs an attitude of total acceptance of every student, ability to sympathise when they err or fail and to recognise them as ‘persons’ in the campus. This is the most practical way of ensuring prevention of suicides in the campuses. 

(The writer is with St. Joseph’s College, Bangalore)

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