He’d skipped dinner that night, his father remembers, and had been withdrawn: “I’ll have breakfast tomorrow.” He didn’t. The villagers found Chakkali Palle Raju hanging from a tamarind tree, three days after he was told he’d failed his economics and civics school examinations—one of at least 23 Telangana schoolchildren who committed suicide after receiving their grades.
Protests against the Telangana State Board of Intermediate Education and examination contractor Globarena have been ranging across the state. But there’s an even more fundamental question that’s going unnoticed: what kind of society teaches children their grades are more important than their lives?
The son of a washerman, and the first of his family to receive a school education, Raju wanted to become a police officer. “Now see what education has done to him,” his father says, breaking into tears.
“I would rather my son fail, become anything—a sweeper, clean toilets, beg —but I wanted him alive”, Raju’s father says. “I don’t care about these marks!”
For many families in Telangana, though, that isn’t true. Education is one of few pathways out of poverty. But government-run school standards are low, spurring many to join tuitions at education giants Chaitanya and Narayana. This option, however, is simply unaffordable for underprivileged children like Raju.
Some parents, like Raju’s father, believe this is a Sisyphean task. “I knew my place in society,” he says. “If my son failed, I wouldn’t even mind. It is the class we belong to. No one cares if we pass or fail.”
But many other parents place enormous pressures on their children—and themselves—in the hope of securing some mobility. Jamuna, a police constable guarding the Board of Intermediate Examinations’ gate againt protestors, earns `15,000 a month. She’s been thinking of taking a loan that would allow her 15-year-old to join Chaitanya.
“I am a parent too,”, Jamuna says. “To see these children stand in the scorching heat with some hope that they will get justice pains me.”
The tragedy in Telangana, it’s becoming clear, was facilitated by large-scale negligence in the marking process. Three days before he killed himself, Raju had travelled to Hyderabad, using his savings from odd-jobs, to apply for re-evaluation—his first ever trip outside his own taluka. He passed both the examinations he’d earlier been failed in: the news, though, came after he’d killed himself.
Evidence of monumental errors in the evaluation process is mounting. In one case, a student given a zero received 99 out of 100 on revaluation.
There was, sources have told Firstpost, no written agreement between the state government and Globerama, which was hired to conduct the examination process end-to-end.
Teenager Manisha, one of the protestors outside the Board, is among those convinced the grades on her report card are wrong. For her mother, she says, the world has crashed and burned. She’s convinced the grade will end her hopes of a career, and independent life.In coming months, Manisha is sure, she’ll be married off and sent to Dubai, where a cousin lives. “If the Board has made a mistake, which I think it has, it will be responsible for denying me my life,” she says.
Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao had responded to the suicides by saying, “life is precious, don’t make a big deal out of marks.”
His words, though, are too little, too late, for far too many young people.
Divya Karthikeyan is an independent journalist based in Chennai
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