Authorities in India’s Kota city have directed hostels and guest houses to install spring-loaded fans in a desperate attempt to stop pupils from taking their own lives.
The directive comes after an 18-year-old pupil died by suicide on Tuesday.
It was the fourth such death in August and the 21st this year – the highest in eight years in the city known as the “coaching factory”.
The city, in the north-western state of Rajasthan, has been rocked by about two dozen such cases this year involving schoolchildren hanging themselves from the fans.
Kota is known for its innumerable coaching centres. Thousands of pupils come to the city to prepare for exams.
“Kota is an education hub but 15-20 students have committed suicide this year. To prevent such mishaps, the district administration has decided to install the spring device,” senior police officer Brij Mohan Bairwa told The National.
“We are making it mandatory in all hostels and PGs and everywhere where students stay. We have directed police to visit every hostel and accommodation and make sure the device is installed.”
The spring-loaded fans are designed to uncoil when they detect a load of more than 20 kilograms, Mr Bairwa said, effectively detaching the fan from the ceiling if someone attempts to hang themselves.
They will also have sensors that sound an alarm in the event of an attempted suicide.
“If anyone attempts [suicide], the fan will break and the student will survive. We can prevent suicide cases with the device,” he said.
The move comes amid mounting pressure on pupils to achieve good grades to pursue careers in engineering and technology.
India has the world's largest number of engineers and more than 6,000 government-approved engineering institutes.
Pupils have achieve high marks to secure admission to the colleges, with the Joint Entrance Examination one of the country's most popular.
There are about 2.4 million students enrolled each year in engineering and technology courses at various government and private institutions, the Human Resource Development Ministry has said.
Competition for places is intense due to the large number of applicants, expensive private colleges and limited seats at government institutes.
Every year, hundreds of thousands of pupils apply for the entrance exams but only 20,000 to 25,000 pass the exams and are eligible to enrol with top institutes such as the Indian Institute of Technology.
To prepare for the entrance exam, more than 200,000 pupils from far and wide, mostly from middle class families, sign up for months-long coaching classes in Kota and stay in tiny rooms.
However, over the past decade, several pupils have committed suicide after coming under immense pressure to pass the exams and meet their families' often unrealistic hopes.
In the last eight months, at least 21 schoolchildren have died.
Many experts criticised the government directive, saying it was a temporary measure to deal with a serious issue, but Mr Bairwa said the device would help to bring down such cases.
“It is one of the measures to prevent suicides. Along with this, we are also in touch with NGOs and experts to provide counselling to students,” he said.
A 17-year-old pupil from impoverished Bihar state died by suicide in a hostel on August 11. Another suicide was reported on August 3. Both pupils had arrived in the city four months ago, police said.
At least 15 pupils died by suicide in Kota last year while 18 such deaths were reported in 2019, 20 in 2018, seven in 2017, according to police data.
No suicide took place in 2020 and 2021 as the coaching centres were closed due to Covid-19 restrictions.