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Home > 2023 > Student Suicides in India | Sonu Chauhan

Mainstream, VOL 61 No 17, April 22, 2023

Student Suicides in India | Sonu Chauhan

Saturday 22 April 2023


by Sonu Chauhan *

According to World Health Organization (WHO) data, every year, more than 700,000 people commit suicide worldwide, and around 77 per cent of the suicide cases are reported in low and middle-income countries. The most common causes of suicides are depression, illness, pain, stress, alcoholism, financial crisis, family issues etc. The number of suicides and their causes differ according to geographical locations, economic conditions, social and cultural status, age groups, gender and other parameters. 

The National Institute of Mental Health defines suicide ‘as death caused by self-directed injurious behaviour, with intent to die as a result of the behaviour.’ Whenever an individual commits suicide, people generally try to find out the cause of the suicide that led the person to end his/her life. The act of committing suicide rarely happens all of a sudden; in fact, suicidal tendencies in a person develop over a period of time by ‘thinking about, considering, or planning’.

SUICIDE, ALL OVER the world, has been interpreted and theorised from different perspectives. However, the study of suicide by French sociologist Emile Durkheim is considered a foundational study that is based on rigorous research. Durkheim, in his book, Suicide: A Study in Sociology (1897), concludes that the major causes of suicide lie in the social dimensions rather than ‘individual temperament’.

 ‘Importantly, Durkheim was not interested in the subjective appraisals (that) suicide decedents provided for why they chose suicide, but rather saw suicide, like alcohol abuse or homicide, as a symptom of collective breakdown of society’ (Mueller et al., 2021). He observed in his study that the rate of suicide depends on the degree of social integration and regulation in society. Furthermore, Durkheim categorised suicide into four groups based on the level of social integration and regulation: Egoistic /Altruistic suicides and Anomic/Fatalistic suicides, respectively.

Student Suicides in India

In India, every year, more than 100,000 people commit suicide due to family and marriage issues, illness, drug abuse and alcohol addiction, indebtedness, unemployment, poverty etc. Farmers’ suicide in India is one of the most debatable issues, where hundreds and thousands of farmers end their lives due to indebtedness, drought, flood, crop failure, not getting the minimum price for their crops and several other reasons. Similarly, in the last few years, there has been a significant rise in student suicides in the country, where teenagers and younger people are ending their lives due to exam pressure, unsatisfactory grades, ragging, loneliness, discrimination based on caste, class, gender, language, ethnicity and other factors. ‘According to the NCRB’s Accidental Deaths and Suicides in India (ADSI) report, 2020, around 8.2 per cent of students in the country die by suicide’(Sarveswar & Thomas, 2022).

The incidents of suicide cases in IITs, NITs and in medical colleges have become more frequent in the last few years, where students end their lives due to discrimination, ragging, stress, poor academic performance etc. Parental ambitions make young children move to places like Kota (in Rajasthan), and other eduhubs, in order to prepare them for the National Eligibility cum Entrance Test (NEET) and Joint Entrance Examination (JEE). These teenagers are burdened with the many aspirations and expectations of their families and teachers — to perform well in the classrooms and do brilliantly in the entrances.

Most children are born average. This suffices for general life skills. Some of the children excel in certain areas of academics or sports or other aesthetic fields and are brilliant when they choose their areas of aptitude. Most children, therefore, fail to meet the expectations of their families, relatives and teachers and start suffering mentally, emotionally, and psychologically when forced to perform brilliantly in areas where their skills are average. In 2022, as many as 15 students committed suicide in Kota due to academic pressure, isolation, stress etc.

‘The type of education system, especially the examination-centric education, pressure of studies and performances are critical factors in students’ suicides’(Pandey, 2017). The fear of board examination among school students is still visible, where the families, school teachers and relatives expect the kids to score above 90 per cent marks. Recently, a 15-year-old girl student in Rajasthan committed suicide by hanging herself because she was stressed by the fear of not being able to score more than 95 per cent marks in her board exam. This fear is not confined to class 10 and class 12 students. Nowadays, even primary class students fear school where they are burdened with lots of homework, assignments, tests and exams. The education system is not only seizing the joy of childhood, but it is also making them mentally and emotionally weak as well. Children, from the very early years, are being trained to be meritorious, studious and champion; and they are constantly reminded of this by their parents and teachers.

There is a perception in our society that children and younger people do not suffer from mental illness and stress, and talking about such stress is considered taboo in Indian society. Anyone suffering from mental illness and anxiety, that person in our society is considered to be suffering from insanity. People forget to differentiate between mental health and insanity. According to the website, ‘Mental Illness is usually a broader and more inclusive term than Insanity. Insanity is usually reserved for describing severe conditions involving psychotic-like breaks with reality, while mental illness can include both severe and milder forms of mental problems (such as anxiety disorders and mild depressions).’

Mental Illness and anxiety among children are a fact in the contemporary world, where children suffer from abuse, domestic violence, bullying, loneliness, parental separation etc. These days, children are forced to move out of their hometowns and familiar schools and are shifted to another city to prepare for competitive and other exams. The separation of children from their family members, friends, and village or city makes them depressed, and they start suffering from homesickness. Additionally, they are burdened with lots of class tests, assignments and other result-related work from their coaching institutes. Children in the early stage of their life cannot bear such a burden, and they finally take the extreme step of killing themselves. They do not find anyone to share their thoughts about mental Illness and anxiety, and they suffer from it.

The rising suicide cases in Kota (Rajasthan) are a prime example of where children are ending their lives. Most of the time, the children in such coaching hubs suffer from the guilt of not performing well because their parents have spent so much money on their education by taking a loan or selling a piece of land. When they fail to do well in tests and clear the entrance or do not score good ranks, they start suffering from mental Illness and anxiety. Over time, such stress and Illness become severe, and they take extreme steps when they do not find any support or hope in their life.

Caste Discrimination in Educational Institutions

The caste system is one of the core components of Indian society, which is based on hierarchal discrimination, and misplaced notions of purity and pollution. The entire caste system is divided into four varnas, Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas, and Shudras. There is the fifth varna called, Outcastes or ‘Untouchables’. The practice of untouchability, discrimination, and violence against Dalits in the country is still prevalent despite various legislation, laws, and court orders. Every day, we get news of caste atrocities from different parts of the country, where they are attacked or killed for going beyond the traditional caste confines.

In the last few years, caste atrocities against Dalits students in schools, colleges, and universities have increased, where they face physical and verbal attacks, discrimination, humiliation, and isolation on the campuses. They face obstacles in making friends, interacting with professors and teachers, asking questions in the classrooms and tutorials, isolation in common rooms and canteens etc. Most Dalit students face many difficulties in getting roommates in the hostels because upper caste students do not want a Dalit roommate. Such incidences in universities and college campuses have become very frequent in the recent past. Even elite educational institutions of the country are not free from such discrimination.

Not getting equal opportunities and treatment on the campuses, Dalit students start suffering from mental illness, anxiety and depression. They face such discrimination and humiliation on an everyday basis, making their mental health unstable. For various reasons, such students hesitate to share or complain about discrimination to the college or university administration as often the authorities themselves harbour bias. In case they do report discrimination, the administration hardly ever take any action on their complaints. Surveys have found such bias to exist across the country.
Recently an 18-year-old Dalit student committed suicide at the Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay (IIT-B) campus by jumping from the eighth floor of his hostel building. The student committed suicide due to caste-based discrimination by those who said they were his friends and roommate when they learnt that he belonged to Scheduled Caste. The changing behaviour of his friends and roommate became unbearable, and the student started suffering from depression and stress. The student shared his grief with his parents and told them how he was being treated differently by friends and his roommate, after revealing his caste identity.

Caste-based inequality, the notion of purity and pollution, and the sense of superiority are so prevalent in society that it has now reached universities and college campuses. In today’s India, untouchability and atrocities against Dalits is exercised in various forms. Dalit Students in universities and colleges are humiliated on their entrance rank, exam grades etc., and they face discrimination throughout the duration of their courses and student life from fellow students and faculty members. Such humiliation and exclusion make the Dalit students suffer a sense of inferiority and depression. Such mental issues and anxiety become severe in the absence of timely counselling and guidance.

In 2007, the Thorat Committee investigated the allegations of caste-based discrimination at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), Delhi, towards the SC/ST students on the campus. ‘According to its report, 72 per cent of SC/ST students said they encountered caste discrimination at some point in the classroom; nearly 85 per cent said SC students don’t receive enough time with examiners in comparison to higher caste students; nearly 40 per cent said questions put to them were generally more difficult; 69 per cent of SC/ST students stated that their teachers did not provide enough help; and about 50 per cent cited accessibility issues’ (Qureshi, 2023). The report’s findings clearly indicate discrimination against SC/ST students by the students and faculty members, denial of equal treatment and opportunity, and inaccessibility of facilities on the campuses. The committee had made various recommendations for creation of an inclusive environment for the SC/ST students on every campus sixteen years ago. Those recommendations still remain only on paper and have not been implemented in educational institutions.

There are many other reasons for suicide among students and youths that happen due to sexism, ragging, bullying, financial crisis, unemployment, etc. According to the Accidental Deaths and Suicides in India 2021 report, it was found that about 2.2 per cent of people died by suicide due to unemployment in the total percentage share of various causes of suicides.

Similarly, there were 1 per cent of people who committed suicide in fear of failure in examinations. Ragging in India was banned by a court order in the universities, colleges, and other educational institutions. Still, youths in the country face ragging in educational institutions, due to which they suffer mentally, physically and psychologically. Similarly, people from the LGBTQIA+ communitiies are among the most vulnerable on the campuses and outside of it, where they still face sexist comments, bullying, ragging, and inaccessibility.


The suicide of children and youth in educational institutions and outside of it really concerns society at large. Why are they ending their lives by committing suicide at such a young age? Why are our young generation so depressed and downhearted? Why are youth feeling disconnected from their families, relatives, friends and society? These are some questions that need to be investigated in order to curb such incidences.

‘Sociological theories of suicide, inspired by Durkheim’s original work, help explain how the external social world matters to individual well-being and psyche, thereby revealing the social roots of suicide’ (Mueller et al., 2021). Most suicide cases among youth and children in India happen due to low integration and high regulation. The children and youth generally stay away from their family, friends, and relatives for educational and other purposes, and they are most often unable to connect with anyone to share their thoughts, sufferings, and talk about other issues. Due to lack of proper guidance and counselling, they become mentally ill, anxious, depressed etc. Similarly, students in private educational institutions are guided under structured rules and regulations, where they are expected to perform well in the exam, score top ranks in the entrance and secure better employment in the future. In most cases, such expectations badly harm the students mentally, physically, and psychologically.

‘Suicide is being identified as a critical issue of public health’ (Pandey, 2017). Suicide is also a social, economic and political issue for the nation that needs to be controlled by a multi-dimensional intervention. The most important way to control suicide cases is to build strong ‘social connects in communities’. When individuals are connected to their families, relatives and peer groups, the incidences of suicide are less.

For this, there needs be a conscious creation of friendly environment where children and younger people can discuss their anxieties, depressions etc., without any stigma or taboo. Educational institutions should be egalitarian and create an inclusive and friendly atmosphere on campuses for vulnerable and marginalised communities. Additionally, a functional helpline and immediate response services should be available for patients suffering from mental illness, depression, anxiety, and stress. The campuses should strictly implement anti-ragging and anti-discriminatory laws and respond in a timely manner to redress such complaints.

* (Author: Sonu Chauhan (Sonuchauhan9136[at] is a Ph D Scholar at the Centre of Social Medicine and Community Health, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi)


1. Crossman, Ashley (2020). The Study of Suicide by Emile Durkheim A Brief Overview. ThoughtCo.
2. Mueller A S, Abrutyn S, Pescosolido B A & Diefendorf S (2021). The Social Roots of Suicide: Theorizing How the External Social World Matters to Suicide and Suicide Prevention. Frontiers in Psychology,12.
3. National Institute of Mental Health. (2022). Suicide. Accessed on 5 April 2023.
4. Pandey Vinita (2017). Students Suicides in Institutions of Higher Education in India: Risk Factors and Interventions. International Journal of Social Work and Human Services Practice,5(1), 29—34.
5. Qureshi Arshi (2023). Caste On Campus: Dalit Students Face Exclusion, Alienation In India’s Higher Education Institutions. Article14.
6. Sarveswar S & Thomas J (2022). Academic Distress and Student Suicides in India: A Crisis That Needs to be Acknowledged. The Wire.
7. World Health Organization (2021). Suicide. Accessed on 5 April 2023.

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