RESPONDING to the investigation by The Indian Express on student suicides in Jawahar Navodaya Vidyalayas (JNVs), the HRD Ministry has set up a task force, headed by psychiatrist Dr Jitendra Nagpal, to look into the circumstances leading to such deaths and suggest ways to arrest the disturbing trend.
The ministry has also sought approval of the Department of Expenditure (DoE) for engaging two full-time counsellors — one male and one female — in each of the 630 JNVs, according to a statement issued Thursday.
On December 24, 2018, The Indian Express had reported that the Central government’s residential schools for talented rural children witnessed 49 student suicides from 2013 to 2017, including that of 25 Dalit and tribal students.
The investigation revealed that there are few trained counsellors on campus and that it’s largely left to “overburdened” teachers to look after the welfare of students.
Expressing “serious concerns” over these findings, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), headed by former Chief Justice of India H L Dattu issued a notice to the school education secretary in the HRD Ministry on January 1 seeking a response within six weeks.
The ministry has been directed to submit its response on: whether trained counsellors are available on campus; if there is dedicated staff to ensure students are not left alone in their rooms; and whether students have access to emergency assistance through counselling over telephone and a suicide hotline service.
The HRD Ministry’s statement came after the matter was raised in Rajya Sabha during Zero Hour by Congress MP Viplove Thakur.
“The schools were opened to promote national integration. Children from different parts of the country compete with each other to study in these schools and today the situation has come to such a pass that they are forced to commit suicide. This is a very serious problem. It looks like we have put our next generation into such a mental quandary that they are being forced to commit suicide,” Thakur said.
“No effort was made to understand what has led to this situation. No effort is being made to understand the backgrounds of these children, not even principals and teachers are trying to do it,” she added.
Responding to her concerns, HRD Minister Prakash Javadekar informed Parliament that his Ministry has set up a committee to look into the matter. “I agree, there shouldn’t be even one student suicide. Let the committee submit its report, we will consider its recommendations. We are also trying to engage counselors in each school,” he said.
Reacting to the development, a JNV principal, whose school witnessed a suicide in 2017, told The Indian Express, “This is definitely a step in the right direction. Our students are staying away from family. JNV teachers already have a lot of responsibilities. A full-time counselor is definitely needed on campus. Having said that, (we) should also try to recruit hostel wardens as soon as possible.”