March 16 was marked as a black day in the prestigious National Law School of India University, Bangalore and left the entire country aghast.
Kanishk Bharti, a third-year student, was found hanging from a ceiling fan in an isolated section of the campus. Living in an unfrequented floor, the incident came to the notice of few students, only because of the stench.
Apparently, Bharti’s parents had called a few students and asked them to check on their son because they had not heard from him for a couple of days.
Bharti’s parents were deeply concerned about their son because he suffered from mental health and stayed away from school for two years after completing the first year.
According to his peers, Bharti was a Dalit student from Uttar Pradesh. In his second year, he developed a great deal of mental stress (even diagnosed with schizophrenia later) and became a bit of a recluse. He went home for a while and so was held back a year. His parents got him the help he needed and so, he returned. But a couple of months later his parents took him home again. The second time he went home, his classmates were told that he may not return.
However, he returned to the campus after a gap of nearly two years, feeling healthy and happy.
THEN WHAT WENT WRONG?
• His peers became his seniors and he had to go back by almost two years in his course.
• The news of his poor mental health spread in the campus and no one wanted to share a room with him.
• He was given a room on the floor above the college mess / dining room with only one adjacent room, and that too was vacant.
• His request for a roommate was not heeded by the management.
• He cleared all the examination papers but one— and that too he missed by just two marks!
• His appeal for ‘two marks’ fell on deaf ears, and the examination council did not approve his written request.
• He took his medical records and visited the professor who graded the exam but apparently two marks were a lot to give!
How can a prestigious law school, such as NLSIU be so insensitive?
It was quite irresponsible on the part of the administration to have not responded to his requests. For someone who was already fighting mental illness, lack of empathy and understanding was ruthless to say the least.
The Institute follows a trimester system. In the 90-day schedule, students have to submit four research papers and take eight exams. Three months are not enough to do justice to any of the subjects they learn and it becomes quite a burden for some students. Failing a subject can be overwhelming and very stressful. Lack of a coping mechanism in the campus further pushes them towards depression.
Moreover, students in the past have tried to appeal to the administration to do something about the gruelling trimester system, but the same has been declined on the grounds that the Institute is ranked among the top law schools in the country. Changing the semester system would mean risking the ranking and performance as a school.
HRKatha not only decided to write about this ghastly issue but also speak to the HR fraternity.
Prabir Jha said that he is deeply distressed about the incident and that lack of empathy is a growing challenge, both in educational institutions and also at the workplace.
“The indifference, insensitivity and the complete bureaucratic mindset of ‘going by the book’ is not an acceptable alibi. These guys just have to show better empathy, support and understanding, or quit sitting pretty,” says an agitated Jha.
Prince Augustin, group human capital, Mahindra & Mahindra, holder of an LLB degree himself said that psychological counselling and hope bridge programs are very crucial in educational institutes to debottleneck stress.
“The way our society is evolving, people make unreasonable demands on themselves. Mental health is becoming an issue, and the need of the hour is to have safety nets, at workplace, educational institutes and families. Depressions are also on the rise, various studies are indicating that mental health will plague our societies and one in five will suffer from some form of mental disorder or other,” remarks Augustin.
Ravi Mishra, senior VP and hr head – SA & ME points that several cases of students taking the extreme step has plighted reputed institutes such as IITs in the past. Mishra comments,”I feel our education system is failing the student body. I remember back in the year 2006, while interacting with primary school children- one to one, I had a frightful experience. The kids told me that they were tortured by their teachers, some even shared ghastly stories about the principal and sports teacher. I used my influence to force the principal and the offensive teachers to resign.”
India lacks sensitivity towards conditions associated with mental health. The willingness to even comprehend how terrible mental health issues are is missing in most campuses. “I am aware of some schools where everyone is enabled to succeed and then finds their place under the sun. I also know of others where professors and college administrators make fun of these patient-students. And they get away with it. Why?” questions Jha.
India has the highest suicide rate in the world among the youth standing at 35.5 per 100,000 says Emmanuel David, director Tata Management Training Centre.
David adds, “First and foremost, Parenting and early schooling should help the child become a teenager distinguishing from failure to being a failure. The whole approach to comparison and competitiveness tends to label people as ‘failure’.
“I think it is a wakeup call for learning institutions to work on the tensions between excellence and empathy, uniformity and uniqueness. Employee Assistance Programs in companies have helped to create a safety net of counselling and social interactions, institutions should do the same.”
Mishra sympathetically says, “when Bharti got a seat in the reputed law college, neither him nor his parents would have thought that the journey he set off would lead to doom.”
Let #MentalHealth be a #NationalConcern. Join the chorus. We just need to stop the indifference that is rampant on campus.