From life to death in 15 minutes. Lasya had been excited, curious, anxious, full of anticipation and tension, waiting for her intermediate board exam results on 18 April. The internet connection at home was down so her father, Sudhakar Rao, checked the result online at an internet centre in Secunderabad. The chartered accountant was shocked to find that his daughter who had scored 85 per cent in her class X board exam in the ICSE stream in 2017 and 80 per cent in the first year of intermediate (class XI), had failed in Mathematics 2B, scoring just 9 marks.
The parents decided not to break this news to their only daughter immediately. They told her she had scored low marks and they could send the paper for re-evaluation or she could take the supplementary exam. They hoped they had reassured and convinced her. Lasya went into her room. Just 15 minutes later, her mother found her hanging from the ceiling fan using a saree in the room.
Her uncle, aunt, cousins, extended family in the same building rushed Lasya to Yashoda Hospital in Secunderabad, where she was declared brought dead.
How much Lasya’s parents, Sudhakar and Sridevi, wish they could turn the clock back just those 15 minutes.
“Our daughter was always a meritorious student. She has never encountered failure, so it was difficult for her to accept,” the mother told people who came to offer condolences.
In another part of Hyderabad, Telugu Desam Rajya Sabha MP CM Ramesh’s nephew (sister’s son) Dharma Ram had secured a decent 78 per cent in the first year of Intermediate despite meeting with an accident because of which he could not attend Narayana junior college for two months. This year, like in Lasya’s case, Maths 2B paper proved the trigger. He scored 18 marks in the exam and in anguish, he jumped off the fifth floor of an apartment building.
A few days later, Dharma Ram’s score in IIT-JEE Mains was announced. He had scored 85 percentile. His lecturers at the junior college are in a shock, having always known him to be a brilliant student. His IIT score proved he was not a 18 marks student.
In their grief and sorrow, Lasya and Dharma Ram’s families are all by themselves. Perhaps even blaming themselves for not preparing their children to face failure, which they now realise is an important life skill. In a world that only celebrates success gauged by the artificiality of a marking system, there seems to be little patience or empathy for the also-rans and worse, failures.
No one even dares to spell out what if the children had in fact, not failed at all. What if some technical errors of the system had unwittingly pushed their children to embrace death. What if a contract given to an agency, clearly not suitably qualified to handle intermediate board exams, had ultimately cost the lives of 26 children in Telangana. Students who blamed themselves for their results and chose death over a life that threatened to humiliate them for not faring well in exams.
The media has moved on, the headlines have changed.
Chief minister K Chandrasekhar Rao ordered free re-evaluation of the papers of all the 3.28 lakh students who had failed. `Re-evaluation’ as a term is a sham because all they do is to check if every answer has been marked and whether the totalling of the marks is accurate or not. It does not check if each answer has been correctly evaluated or not.
In any case, the Board of Intermediate Education has said that none of the 26 students who committed suicide have passed. What parents are now demanding is to get a copy of the answer sheet. To know for themselves the truth of what their children, now no more, had written.
It is a fair demand. In the interest of transparency, why shouldn’t the Board put it out if they have nothing to hide?
The distressing part is the implied suggestion. That when failures kill themselves, the blood is not on the system’s hands, so it is okay. Almost as if to convey that the failure of a student is not the system’s responsibility. The parents and the school/college take the blame. It is shocking that the Education ministry does not feel a sense of shame when one in every third student in Telangana fails.
No, Sirs, it is NOT okay. It was your responsibility to ensure counsellers were in place to take care of students so that they do not take any extreme step in a state of panic or anguish. It was your responsibility to anticipate that when 3.28 lakh of the 9.74 lakh students who took the exams, fail, there is every possibility of such a drastic reaction.
The first 24 hours on and after 18 April, seven students killed themselves. By the time, the chief minister’s office ordered free re-evaluation of the papers of those who failed, the number was up to 17. Even after that, nine student suicide deaths have been reported.
The chief minister is a well-regarded father figure in the state who could have himself appeared on television/radio FM, Facebook and newspapers, or ordered top bureaucrats to reach out to the students and their families, to appeal to them not to panic and reassure them that all their concerns would be addressed. “I am there” is the message that ought to have gone out.
Instead, the children overcome by shame, panic, anguish were allowed to throw themselves in front of a train or find the nearest rope to hang themselves by. If there is one instance where the Telangana government has let down its students, it is in this instance. Forget providing jobs, you should have at least tried to save lives.
The results to the class X Telangana board exams will be announced on Monday. It is important that the 15-year-olds have their parents by their side, to ensure that in the event of failure, they do not sink.