Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Suicide at IIT Bombay.

A very disturbing news has reached me - a 4th year student at IIT Bombay committed suicide after getting XX grades in three courses. XX is awarded when your attendance falls short. The news reached me via various IITB mailing groups, a bit of googling lead me to this TOI report. Excerpts -

Last week, fourth-year physics student Vijay Nukala, known on the campus as 'Nuke', committed suicide after being failed in three courses because of poor attendance. Regarded by all as the campus' networking wizard, Nukala had not scored high enough marks in his IIT-JEE entrance to get into computer engineering, his first love. Nukala had to make a presentation on the first stage of his project report the day he hanged himself in his room. His professors were aware of the stress the boy was under-as a precaution, they had asked his father to be in Mumbai last week.
This is definitely very sad but still worse is the attitude of admin@iitb. The mailing groups are circulating an email, supposed to be written by Sharmila, a professor at the humanities department. The content of the email -
A student dies under tragic circumstances on the 16th and we greet it with silence. There is no official announcement. No postings in IIT-general, in IIT-discuss, in discuss-faculty. No condolence meeting.

Any question we ask into this silence runs the danger of sounding melodramatic. And of disrupting the professionalism with which we go about the business of exams and evaluations. But let us run that risk. Was this boys life so dispensable, so forgettable that we do not even want to mourn him? Is ANY life dispensable?

When Bombay drowned earlier this year we as an institution looked the other way for the most part. (True, there were a few students who got together and organized relief work on the strength of their own will, but as an institution our only response was silence.) It could be argued that we cannot respond to every issue and tragedy out there. But this student was one of our own. I do not know why he felt so alone and lost that he thought he should end his life. We need to recognize however that by doing so he sent us a vote of no confidence. He told us that we, as an institution and as people he knew, did not offer him hope. This is a terrible indictment.

What is to be done? I do not quite know. But surely we need to mourn him. We do not seem to have paid him enough attention when he was alive. Surely we cannot ignore his death as well? We need to also actively explore ways in which we can establish support groups at all levels in hostels, departments. These have to be professional(from what I can gather we have one counselor for so many, many students and staff) and personal. From conversations I have had since yesterday I hear that there have been other attempts, that depression and stress is more present than one imagines. That students have dropped out of courses (at least one student has left this institution because he was maligned for his sexualitygood grief!). That students die in different ways. I do not of course know how to deal with all these issues. But I strongly think that it is not by institutional(ised) silence.

sharmila
I don't know her personally and I can't vouch for the fact that it was she who penned it down, but I agree with each and every word above. We've two equally serious issues here - 1) the suicide and the events which depressed the young man to such levels and 2) the apathy shown by the IIT by not even acknowledging the disturbing event (as per the mail above).

As per this Mid-day report suggests, the stress in schools has risen to killing levels. The stress on an IITian can get even worse. Back at home they are hailed as if they came down from planet Krypton. Parents, relatives & peers expect them to keep outperforming just as they did in school or in IIT-JEE exam, what they don't consider that here the competition is many times tougher. Such expectations put a student under immense stress. For most of the students in IITs, IIT is the first place where they are challenged academically. Till then, during school, they were among the toppers - without breaking a sweat. But forced to work hard by the raised bar & dropping down to the lower half of the class can be a worry. I've seen all kinds of responses to this new challenge students face - some plainly give up, some take up the gauntlet and study harder. As such a semester can be stressful but an XX grade can be even worse. Typically it means that the student must take the classes again next year with junior students. It can cost one the jobs s/he might have bagged during campus placements, if awarded in the final year. Same thing might have led Nakula to this tragic decision. This isn't the first suicide at the campus, last year a girl student from hostel 10 killed herself and I've heard that there were few more attempts this year. Here I would like to state what one friend told me once - "When we look back at times when we were in trouble, those troubles look quite modest in the hindsight. That should teach us how to deal with problems & problematic times." My final year project was extended and I was supposed to stay there in summer and complete it, I was the last one to get a job in our batch - still when I look back now, all I remember is the good times Dev, Pankaj and me had in the lab that summer. I'm very sure if Nakula had waited and thought over the situation, he too would've came out of this mess. We've had some examples and all of them are doing good.

One trend that concerns me is the rise computer usage in IIT. I've witnessed the internet being brought to IIT Bombay. When we were in the first year, the net speed was just a little more than a crawl. Very few students had computers in their rooms, the computer center was the main resource center available to student to work on their projects and reports. Of course we CSE guys had separate labs in our department too, but the speed was not any better there. I remember when I bought a computer in my second year, we contributed money to the wing-router-fund which was utilized to buy a hub and students did the networking to get their machines on the LAN. In my third year every single room was provided an internet plug, the institute paid for the infrastructure. Additional bandwidth was bought and the net speed went zoom. In our fourth year the number of computers in a hostel were almost tripled when compared to the second year. According to the TOI report -
Students and faculty members admit that all-night (and sometimes 24/7) hacking competitions, gaming competitions, music downloading and file-sharing, chatting and blogging are taking a heavy toll at the elite campus-affecting attendance, grades and even personal lives. IIT-B authorities are now forced to admit that it's a problem. "It's a very big problem. For the last one or two years we've been seeing these guys sleep off in class or be present physically but not mentally. But now they're even not showing up for cultural activities or on the playing field,'' said Gopalan.
A loner in campus would've sounded like an oxymoron in our times, but it seems to be a matter of concern now. A pep-talk by a close friend might have saved Nakula's life.

Finally, the refusal of IIT authorities to take this issue up for discussion is baffling. They can't just brush it under the carpet. It is a very serious issue and has already taken lives. Authorities must come up with some solution for reducing the stress levels. While it depends on the individual for the most part how s/he deals with the stress, some counseling by peers and professors can help. Incidentally, IITB has one full-time counselor for students, two psychiatrists and one psychologist attached to the IIT Hospital, how easily reachable they were is another question. I understand that perhaps the family too didn't want much publicity about this unfortunate incident, neither did IIT. But the issue remains, they have to first acknowledge the problem to come up with a solution.

Update: Hindustan Times has an article about this here.

21 comments:

Amit said...

I feel sorry for Nakula. Its true when u said that a pep-talk by a close friend might have saved his life. Its really very disheartening to see the students going for these extreme ways. The administration needs to do a better job of posing as a well-wisher to students. And Sharmila is very much right in saying that IIT community can not ignore the incident as if it is not concerned at all.

Raj said...

Very sad, indeed.

Pankaj Jain said...

This is real sad. The decline in outdoors activity with the advent of high bandwidth and ppl remaining in their rooms. It just kept getting worse. our seniors said it looks quieter in hostels now. And we say that to our juniuors now.

BTW jaat boy put it very tactfully that me and Dev were also on extended final year projects.

Namit Chaturvedi said...

It's not just sad, it's outrageous. And more than anything it's pathetic that IITs, and the mindset of students and profs here have come to the point where it can drive individuals to such desperation.

Ritesh said...

I have some comments. Too long to fit in here - so wrote a post: http://riteshm.blogspot.com/2005/11/suicide-at-iit-bombay.html

thedq said...

I am actually surprised that this is the first suicide at an IIT coming out in the open. My friends tell me that suicides have happened many times in all the IITs.

BD said...

@thedq

This is not the first suicide that has come out in open.Just 2 years ago IIT Kgp saw a suicide incident.

Anonymous said...

IIT Kgp averages one suicide per year - and this has been going on for a long time. It went down during the time I was there - it was one every two I think and we did have internet connection at that time. Thankfully though that it did not diminish the quality of life (in terms of outdoor activities) on the campus.

Varun Singh said...

I didn't witness any suicides at IITB during my four years there, but last year one girl killed herself and one punter tells me that there are a few more attempts this year. IIT's attitude was just the same when the girl died - they tried to hush and brush it under the carpet. I hope this is an aberration and not a trend.

Doctor Bruno said...

The same phenomenon happens in Medical College. All the students of a medical college were either toppers (or rank 2) in their school and they cannot just digest the fact that they are in the lower half of the rank list

And compounding the worry is the fact that the pass percentage in medical colleges are less (compared to engineering).

Imagine the school topper who went to medical college fail in the first year exam, while the rank 2 candidate who studies engineering (because he did not get medicine)get 85%

Anonymous said...

I think you should be more responsible while posting hearsay in your blog. Esp. when you have some readership (I reached here via Amit Verma's Blogmela).

Here is the dead student's academic record. The XX was probably the last straw, but he had many chances to get his act straight, and find a place for himself in this world

-excerpt from a faculty member's post on the newsgroup-
"At the end of Third year summer, the student had a CPI of 4.05 and had a
backlog of eight courses having earned six FR grades and dropped two
courses. Number of FF grades were quite a few and he had been clearing
them in summer every year. Till recently, he had picked up XX grades in
two laboratory courses (ME --118 and EP-213) which he subsequently
cleared. Before the endsem began he was awarded one XX grade in a
Departmental course."

Hope that helps you to see that assumptions don't help you much, however
convinient they may be and however heroic your stand may look.
-end of excerpt-

As for the "callous" nature of IIT authorities, please read the following post made by the Dean a while back regarding the entire matter.

-Dean's post-
It is obvious that a lot of people have raised a number of issues
relating to the sad end of a young life. I wish to make it
abundantly clear that if there was one "authority" who had to be
responsible for communicating the news of Vijay's death to
students, it was me alone. It would be wrong to blame anyone else.
However, there were a number of compelling reasons as to why it was
not done right away:

1. My own feeling was that with exams on, it was not proper to
disturb students who were anyway going through a low then. I saw
that abundantly on the night of 16th, both in the hospital and
later at the Hostel. Just ask what his wing people went through.
Adding more to that list was undesirable.
2. Vijay's father wanted a bare minimum of his friends to know and
to be there. He did not want any news being made of this event at
any cost. So the question of posting till Saturday morning did not
arise; that is when they left for Vizag.
3. Between Thursday evening and Sunday morning, mothers of atleast
three IIT students called and after seeking details and also
expressing their concerns on what needs to change, told me to keep
it low and make sure that their wards are least pained by the
happenings in their neighbourhood. This echoed with my own thoughts
and made it easy for me to think that I was doing the right thing.
4. We have never had a system or protocol on communicating such
matters, trust me this experience on what the students really
desire, and a need to end rumour-mongering now tells me that even a
two-line note on the event would have been fine.

As for reports appearing in the media, some statements are true and
some "edited" or even made up to create more hype. Nobody wants to
talk to them when going through this kind of a phase. While I was
reluctant to speak to them, the PRO's office told me that the death
being in student space, I should talk to them just so that "no
comments" does not add more dimensions to their attempts in making
the news more sensational. It was never my intent that students
learn more through the media than a direct reporting from someone
within the system. In fact, on Monday morning, Vijay's father
called and I had to convince him that inspite of best efforts to
keep it down, the press had done the damage.

If you feel that these are excuses and question my motives, then I
have nothing more to add. If you believe the above reasons, but
feel that my judgement was bad, one can still debate on how to
change things for the better. This is a serious incident, I do not
think anyone in the Institute wanted to sweep it under the rug. In
fact, after the semester begins in January 2006, there will be a
review of how we can try and hopefully avert or prevent such
tragedies, to the best we can.

I will be posting a mail on the condolence meeting being proposed
for Saturday separately. I will send the details tommorrow after
finalizing the venue and time. One request, do not react to the
post on the mail on the condolence meeting, say what you want to
this post. In the end, may be we can devise better ways to handle
delicate situation as this one, as we move along.
-end of Dean's post-

Get your information right before writing mis-leading information and pontificating on the IIT life. I am a little surprised cuz you seem to be from IITB yourself. Suit yourself.

Anonymous said...

Its sad that a person had to kill himself because he felt alone. Like you said, if there was someone to console him and give him pep-talk, this might not have happened.

I disagree with your reasoning about the internet in each room as a possible cause for suicides. I studied in Australia where every room in my hostel had broadband. Sure, there was intense gaming competitions and lots of surfing and wasting time, but, what I saw wasn't people becoming loners, but close friendships being formed.

We as Indians have to stop treating college children as babies and try to control what they can do and cannot do. Let them make their mistakes and let them learn. They will spend too much time on the internet, and they might fail - but next year they won't and that is what is important. As parents, we have to stop pressuring them _not_ to fail. Failure is OK. As long as you learn from it and move on.

Your point on the pressure on those students is a valid one. They're so used to being on top that its hard when they are put among so many other people used to being on top. Its something they will have to learn to deal with again. Parents can support them, but they still have to learn to deal with it themselves.

Kayser

Anonymous said...

Apologies for being rude and short-sighted in the previous comment. I wrote the comment before reading the follow up post. You seem to have covered most of the angles related to this sad episode. Apologies again.

It'd help if you delete both the comments. Suit yourself :)

-Same Anonymous

Anonymous said...

Hi
I think we have all missed a big point in this discussion above i.e.
"Why the hell did a computer genius like him take a subject like Physics when he was least interested in Physics?"
Ans-Becuz he didn't get anything else as he wasn't in top A.I.R 100.
Which brings out the useless method by which the IITs allot courses.If a student can solve tough questions in Physics , Chemistry and Maths(after being coached for 2 yrs),would they make better Computer Engineers?
I can't understand why the IITs don't allot courses after 1st year and after holding various aptitude tests.

Charu Majumdar said...

boy, IIT is a cruel place... my stay at IIT kharagpur was so miserable..
sufferred from depressions almost all through my b.tech years...
I think IITs (in fact all colleges) should have some serious counselling facilities
available to students where the students can talk about their fears/feelings/stress etc.
Just a listening ear could have avoided the suicide of nukul. this is really sad.
However, the students are to blame too... i faced many bullies who harrassed other
students and gave them a hard time... the general culture in IITs (at least in KGP)
is to *condone* such behaviour as examples of mahco-ness ("studness" or whatever).
I hope the students too will realize the gravity of this and do everything to
reduce stress...

kaa said...

the real point to note here is that there has to be a problem present. Now we should not jump to conclusions about what exactly the problem is, and open minded discussion is needed. the computers and internet maybe one of the many problems.

well here is another guy who thinks comps are the reason. http://www.samarthbharat.com/directoriitb.htm

Anonymous said...

Deaths of students

Students are committing suicides; it’s a national shame,
They should be brave,not should be tame.
They all are smart,intelligent and bright,
Why they are giving-up before any fight?
What is the pain ,they are trying to hide?
What is causing them to commit suicide?
Why they choose to be on their own?
Among so much crowd,why they feel alone?
These are the questions,needed to be answered,
Whatever are the problems,needed to be conquered
They should be taught,rules of life game!
They can still be winners,without money and fame!!
They should be made at ease!! So they can share,
They are India’s future,should be handled with care!!
To save their lives,we all should try,
We just can’t afford to let them die!!!

Vikram@metronirvana.com said...

Studies now show that stress is the root cause for more malaises than previously thought. Yes, Stress Kills!

Our fatigue is often caused not by work, but by worry, frustration and resentment.
Often fatigue at the end of a work day cannot be attributed simply to the hard work we've done. Our own negative reactions to the stressful, daily grind drain our energy and stifle our potential for success.

If you’ve ever felt there was something holding you back in life, ruining your plans and stopping you from being who you want to be, you were right. The fact is there is a single source of all your problems, stress, unhappiness and self-doubt. It’s called the reactive mind – the hidden part of your mind that stores all painful experiences, and then uses them against you.

The key to keeping your stress levels down is to stop trying to please the world and steal time for you.

Surprisingly why isn’t IIT utilizing the services of Stress Management professionals, and with this I don’t recommend Doctors or Motivational speakers.

Anonymous said...

You know what ??
Most of the profs at IITs are fucking assholes. !!
If you score less in one internal quiz, they will give such stern disgusting look such that either you will give up, or you will buck up n work harder to meet the challenge..!!
but the second case occurs rarely..!!
Once one goes to abyss, things looks more n more entangled..!!
The apathy of profs, exam loads, lack of close frnds all these factor lead a guy to solitude..where he/she is too weak to do anything..n simply want to give up the life..!!
The only best way to solve this is, care for those who couldnt get good marks, instead of discouraging them..!!
Marks doesnt always reflect the personality of students..!!
As an IIT student, I've got 0% as well as 100%..!!
The only difference I can see is, the co-operation and affable nature of prof..!!
The one in which I got 0, prof asked me about my CG, my AIR, my category..what the fuck..what do you think of yourself ma'm..I had been the best student of my school..how dare you could ask such bullshit...I was totally drowned..cudnt say anything..!! A sure shot to go to severe depression..Just gave up..somehow managed to pass the course...!!
That deadly shot made my worst sem ever..got 5.sm1..(Chetu bhai..Ab to Neha milegi na :P ) My classmates thought that I am one of the worst kinda student..they rarely talked to me..!! TOO ALONE....ISNT IT..??
Then I could understand that why does anyone commits suicide, I too was very close to it..but love to parents couldnt let me do it ..!!
the very next year, due to encouragement from parents, n few nice (n very very few, only 1 prof precisely) profs I got highest marks in many courses in the class !!
PPl now realized that I am also somebody in the class...I just wanted to shout,"fuck you all...!!"

Dudes, Its your life, dont let anybody simply come and fuck off it like a horny bitch..!!
Use it...fight n prove yourself..!!
Instead of committing suicide, work till last breath..!! Things will work out,take my words..!!
Fuck all the profs..all the rules...n system as well, if needed !!
but dont fuck your life...its uniquely unique..live it yaar..live it !! Otherwise no one gonna come n mourn at your naked dead body..!!
make them mourn before you die..make them mourn at their mistake of not recognizing you...fuck them all.!!
ALL THE BEST !!
Your Frnd @ IITM !!

Anonymous said...

FIrstly, Yes - this is a sad event. Any suicide is.

However, as a non-IIT person, I do not see any good reason why someone (even if he/she is going to complete IIT an year later) needs to kil themselves - Thye still are a housand times more fortunate than people like us who will have to slog it out all our lives to manage to get a decent salary.

The "IIT" stamp will always give you an edge in life - even 30, 50 years down the line.

How many of us know the grade point averages of Mr. Nilekani? one! At the end of the day, or even a few years down the line, it just won't matter. What will is that -

a) You were good enough to get into IIT
b) You share something with among the most active Alumni in India.

Somewhere, with all due respects..... it looks like these people who, sadly, killed themselves forgot how much more fortunate they are than 1 billion of their Indian counterparts.

Not to mention the fact that a seat of IIT went wasted. An opportunity lost for some other candidate whose life would have been made.

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