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Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Blackouts at IIT Kharagpur: Initiative rolled out to engage students, help them deal with depression; but is it enough? - First Post

By Ila Ananya
In April this year, at the end of her four years at the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Kharagpur, 23-year-old Arushi Kesarwani saw something that she had rarely seen in her time there. At exactly 7 pm, the electricity was turned off, deliberately.

She remembers that some exams had ended that day. And now suddenly, there were no lights and no WiFi, so instead of sitting in their rooms and working as they usually did, students came out of their hostels in large numbers and spent their time doing nothing in particular. Some were playing antakshari. Many of them were walking around campus, and some were sitting in small groups outside their hostels, chatting and laughing loudly. Kesarwani walked around the stadium with her friends, listening to a DJ who was playing music there. “There was big junta there and it was fun,” she says laughing.

When the electricity was turned on 40 minutes later, everyone went back to their hostels and continued with what was left of their day. But Kesarwani remembers thinking that being outside like that felt different. She had got caught up on other things, other than assignments and reading.

This decision for a deliberate blackout came after the painfully sad stories of three students from the campus committing suicide this year (there have been two more suicides at IIT Delhi), obviously telling of a deep problem in educational institutions that we’ve known exists, but have never stopped to seriously address, perhaps until this year.

The perceived success of this one-day event at IIT Kharagpur convinced authorities that they should bust out impromptu decisions like this more often. The institute, in what is being seen as an unusual move, has decided to make these blackouts a regular practice.

Students say that the blackout/digital Sabbath is not yet an everyday session as a lot of websites have reported. But hostel wardens are going to turn the power off for an hour occasionally (“not to save electricity or cut costs,” Hindustan Timessaid helpfully), encouraging students to leave their rooms, devices and books and go out and talk to their friends. As Manish Bhattacharya, the dean of student affairs at IIT Kharagpur put it, this rule is for every student. “Once the lights are turned off, all the students are expected to come out of their room. Normally those students who spend maximum time in their room and do not interact with others, they are also forced to come out of their room and mingle with others,” he told Quartz.

When I first told friends about IIT Kharagpur’s new idea, most of them laughed. Some of the comedy came from us not having any idea what these sessions would be like — would students simply be forced to sit in the courtyard of their hostels and talk to each other while their warden watched over them? Would they go to sleep? Would they rather work?

Satinder Kaur, who is in her second year at the college clears up quite a bit of my confusion about the logistics. She says the blackout happened once (in April), where students were encouraged to go to the stadium on their campus while a DJ played music there. It hasn’t happened again since then, but Kaur has heard this is going to be done once a month, starting in the new academic year.

To Kesarwani, her college’s decision to have such sessions instinctively seems like a good idea. “When you start talking to your friends, there’s a very high chance you’ll realise that they’re going through something similar, or that they’re facing the same kind of pressures. It’s a reminder that these things will pass too,” she says. She believes they’re important conversations, especially when you’re in such a competitive place with hardly ever a moment when you don't come under pressure. And that pressure doesn’t have to be only academic. 

We saw this in the disturbing death of Manjula Devak, a 29 year-old IIT-Delhi PhD scholar who killed herself late last month, who was harangued for dowry by her in-laws. But the Kharagpur initiative hasn't necessarily found a lot of takers.
The idea of being encouraged to go listen to a DJ at the college stadium makes Kaur uncomfortable. “There are too many people,” she says, and that’s not her idea of fun. At the April event, she had stayed back in the hostel courtyard with her friends and had her own fun there. What was nice was having that alone time with them.

Kaur doesn’t think having an evening like this, where there is a DJ night, is necessarily a solution to depression and stress; she says people who are depressed aren’t going to go for the DJ night, and seeing a counsellor on campus would work better. 

Kesarwani herself knows students who say that they’d much rather be finishing their work, since the assignment deadlines aren’t going to go away. Even at the one day event in April, some people were irritated because the electricity was turned on after 40 minutes (rather than 30, like they’d been informed).

“It’s (the blackout) something we’ve been thinking about too,” says Prerna Singh, who’s in her final year at IIT Gandhinagar and will graduate later this year. But like Kaur, Singh isn’t so sure, and nor are her friends. “Most students were concerned about the time to finish their submissions,” Singh says. Then, after a pause, she adds to what has seemed a bit comical to everyone outside of the IITs reading about the enforced socialising aspect of this rule, “We aren’t so sure about this idea of a forced interaction either. What if someone just prefers keeping to themselves?” What they would like to see are more open spaces for people to interact in, places that they’d automatically add to their daily rhythm and visit with friends.

According to National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) data, there were 8,934 student suicides in 2015. Of these, 2.8 percent were at the graduate level (including IITs). Back in April, various IITs across the country had suddenly woken up to the growing number of student suicides when an IIT Council met to discuss new initiatives that would help students deal with stress and depression.

The solutions ranged from the more standard parent-teacher meetings and counselling at IIT Delhi, to the setting up of centres for music, dance and art at IIT Guwahati, and then extended to less common initiatives like tree hugging, alternative therapy, and Reiki (with courses on the “theory and practice of happiness”) at IIT Kharagpur. They’re different from initiatives that some institutions abroad have taken — following multiple suicides in 2015, University of Pennsylvania for instance started a blog for students to discuss problems related to mental health, started a peer counselling programme, and encouraged the posting on “ugly selfies” on Instagram as a response to the perfectionism otherwise expected of students. 

In the same year, many colleges in the United States also showed a travelling exhibit to students, where over a 1,000 empty backpacks were arranged with stories and photographs of students who had committed suicide.

I went to a boarding school that had what we called 'Asthachal' every evening. We’d all climb up to a spot, and everybody would sit down, some on rocks and some under trees, and we would all watch the sunset in silence. It was calming in a way that not many other things were. IIT Kharagpur is probably right in choosing to give its students breaks like these, but perhaps institutions need to think beyond them. Colleges would do better if they asked students what they’d like, because they’re the ones dealing with the pressure to stay afloat and appear like they have every aspect of their lives together. And to most, IIT Kharagpur’s plan is welcome but not enough.

The Ladies Finger (TLF) is a leading online women’s magazine delivering fresh and witty perspectives on politics, culture, health, sex, work and everything in between.

Published Date: Jun 26, 2017 07:48 pm | Updated Date: Jun 26, 2017 07:57 pm

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Students stressed, IIT-Delhi considers online counselling - Indian Express

Two suicide-related incidents this year prompt move. On May 30, PhD scholar Manjula Devak was found hanging in her room. The IIT Director, however, had said cited “personal problems” as the reason. In March, a first year student had allegedly jumped from the hostel building, but survived. Some peers had alleged it was due to academic stress.

Written by Aranya Shankar | New Delhi | Published:June 23, 2017 4:48 am

The institute is in talks with a service provider. (Archive)

Following A suicide and an attempted suicide on its campus, the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Delhi is considering starting free online counselling from the next semester. The institute is in talks with a service provider for the same, officials said, adding that it would be in addition to its existing counselling services. According to officials, suicidal tendencies could be a result of stress due to academic pressure. On May 30, PhD scholar Manjula Devak was found hanging in her room. The IIT Director, however, had said cited “personal problems” as the reason. In March, a first year student had allegedly jumped from the hostel building, but survived. Some peers had alleged it was due to academic stress.

Speaking about the initiative, Associate Dean, Student Welfare Sangeeta Kohli said, “We currently have more than 1,000 students attending counselling sessions and just three counsellors. They sit five days a week from 9.30 am to 5 pm and their schedules are packed. We’re in talks to start online counselling from the next semester. This would help in reaching out to more students, since many don’t come because of the stigma attached with seeking psychological help.” She said the institute had taken inspiration from IIT-Madras — which was the first to start such a service among the IITs — through a tie up with YourDOST, an emotional wellness platform. She said, if finalised, the service would give students the option to chat online with therapists.

Dean, Students Affairs, T R Sreekrishnan said the number of students seeking counselling has been “consistently growing” in the last few years. Kohli said first year students, in particular, found it difficult to handle the academic pressure. “Students work very hard to get into IIT, and then they want to relax. They don’t realise that they need to at least keep some minimum pace (to keep up)… There is so much freedom in the hostels that suddenly they’re not able to handle it,” she said.

“In the first semester, particularly, many of them don’t know how to handle it. Once they don’t perform well, they start feeling the pressure… They try to escape this mental stress because they don’t know how to handle it. Some stop attending classes… The situation gets worse and stress builds up. It becomes a vicious circle,” Kohli added. The Dean also pointed out that “overindulgence” in extra-curricular activities by some students could also cause problems. “There are so many extra-curricular activities… So they start focusing too much on that and start neglecting academics,” he said.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Lights Out: How IIT Kharagpur is responding to increasing occurrences of student suicides - Indian Express

Recently Indian Institute of Technology, Kharagpur has taken to turning off the power for an hour every evening.

By: Express Web Desk | New Delhi | Updated: June 21, 2017 4:08 pm

The matter of student suicides is a real threat that educational institutes must cope with proactively. Recently Indian Institute of Technology, Kharagpur has taken to turning off the power for an hour every evening. This is not to cut costs or save electricity, but to encourage students to take a break from increasingly secluded hostel lives driven by virtual lives on laptops and internet, and instead come outside and socialise with one another over tea and coffee. The idea behind this is to counter seclusion and isolation which contribute to feelings of anxiety. By mid-2017, IIT Kharagpur has already seen three students, including an M. Tech student, commit suicide.

Once the lights are turned off, all the students are expected to come out of their room. Normally those students who spend maximum time in their room and do not interact with others, they are also forced to come out of their room and mingle with others,” Manish Bhattacharjee, Dean of students affairs at IIT Kharagpur, told Quartz.

Across the country, IITs have seen a rash of suicides and attempts and depression is frequently quoted as a leading cause. According to the National Crime Bureau Report, in 2015, 8,934 students committed suicide and according of another report in 2012, the suicide rate in India is among the highest in the world, a large portion of which is in the age group 15-29. As the mental health crisis is making itself felt among students, the institutes have been jolted into taking some preventive measures. The approaches are various, multi-pronged and they aim to make student lives more wholesome, while providing ways to manage stress, the prime source of which seems to be work pressure and an intensely competitive climate for grades and placements.

It has included making parent-teacher meetings part of the curriculum and making more counselling facilities available to students, which have generally been inadequate so far. IIT Kharagpur, for instance, has a dedicated Facebook page where counsellors are available 24×7. In 2016, 3000 out of total 11000 students are known to have reached out for help over it. The institute also set up the Rekhi Centre of Excellence for the Science of Happiness last year which organises workshops and talks about the science, theory and practice of happiness and well being. In IIT Guwahati, a performance arts facility called ‘Center for Creativity’ has been opened where students can dance, sing and play musical instruments. Tree-hugging sessions and communication with alumni who have dealt with depression have also been organised and facilitated.

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Wednesday, June 21, 2017

India’s top IIT has an unusual solution to tackle student depression: Turn off the power - Quartz

June 20, 2017 Quartz India

Lonely and despondent. (AP/Saurabh Das)

One of India’s best engineering colleges is working to prevent student suicides by pulling them out of loneliness and depression. The Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Kharagpur, wants students to interact more with each other instead of living cocooned lives on campus. And to nudge them towards this, hostel authorities simply switch off the power in the evenings.
Every evening, an hour of blackout is imposed in the hostels so that the occupants come out of their rooms, leaving behind their laptops and the internet, at least briefly, and bond with their peers.

“Once the lights are turned off, all the students are expected to come out of their room. Normally those students who spend maximum time in their room and do not interact with others, they are also forced to come out of their room and mingle with others,” Manish Bhattacharya, dean, students affairs at IIT Kharagpur, told Quartz in an email.

This is expected to create a healthy social life on campus to potentially tackle depression, which intensifies with seclusion. Such depression, along with academic pressure, is said to be a major cause for instances of student suicide in India.

In 2015 alone (the latest year for which official data is available), 8,934 students committed suicide in the country, according to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB). About 2.8% of these incidents were at the graduate education level, which includes IIT students.

Every year, hundreds of thousands of students compete for a handful of seats at these premier engineering colleges. This intense competition continues even after securing seats, given that the IITs attract some of the most lucrative job offers in India. In addition, many students find it difficult to get used to life in a new town and handle responsibilities by themselves without support from family or friends. While most students fight the problems, a few wilt under pressure and commit suicide. At IIT-Kharagpur, two students committed suicide earlier this year. Other top institutes, too, have lost students to depression and stress.

Like the blackout project, IITs across the country have taken measures to tackle this depression, setting up creative centres for students to dance, sing, and play musical instruments or organising tree hugging sessions. The IITs also have counselling centres.

At Kharagpur, the students appear to be enjoying the “lights off” initiative, and more such activities are in the works.
The Rekhi Centre of Excellence for the Science of Happiness, the institute’s initiative to promote students’ well being, is helping out, too. It offers various courses, hosts regular workshops, and organises talks by researchers in the field.

“We hope that the courses will give them (students) deep insights into the theory and practice of happiness,” Priyadarshi Patnaik, faculty coordinator for the Rekhi Centre, said.


Asianet Newsable
In January, May and April this year, the faculty and students at IIT Kharagpur were faced with some really tragic news. On May 5, a fourth-year ...

Business Insider India
Just two days ago, the news of a depressed17-year-old boy - son of an IIT Bombay professor, committing suicide hit the national headlines. His suicide ...

The Asian Age
Mumbai: The recent suicide by the son of an IIT-B professor has prompted noted psychiatrist Dr Harish Shetty to write a letter the faculty of the premier ...

Monday, June 19, 2017

Why Is It That Even the Few Women Who Get into the IITs, Don’t Want To Join? - Ladies Finger

IT Khargpur. Photo courtesy: Biswarup Ganguly via Wikimedia CC by 3.0.

In 2016, the number of women who qualified to study at IITs was 2,200 (out of 10,500 seats). Of the women who qualified, only a much lower number of women decided to join — just 830 women (about one-third) took up the seats. Now, in an attempt to get more women who qualify to actually join colleges, Economic Times has reported that at least five IITs are considering providing fee waivers for women students.

This came after IIT Mandi, in Himachal Pradesh, decided to approve this fee waiver, along with providing a scholarship of Rs 1000 to every woman student starting to study there this semester (it’ll also be given to existing students who pass the semester).

Just the 2016 statistics of the number of women who took up courses at IITs are indicative of the very few number of women students in engineering colleges — IIT Mandi itself, has just 30 women students out of 500 students studying B Tech. Now, Delhi, Varanasi, Mumbai, and Ropar are planning to follow in these footsteps. Economic Times reports that Ravinder Kaur, who teaches in IIT Delhi, said, “Women do not get a level playing field when it comes to coaching or even funding for engineering at IITs” (it’s usually the sons whose education is invested more heavily in). This, it seems, is an effort to address this.

From the students who qualified through the JEE Advanced exams this year, 14 percent are women. It also seems like it isn’t only a fee waiver that colleges are planning — Hindustan Times reports that a new website that acts as a help desk was launched on 12th June, to provide women with access to information about life on campus, and studying in the IITs. They aim to address JEE (advanced) data that showed that fewer women opted to join IITs outside their homes or close to home towns because their parents were worried about safety, providing information about all the hostel and residential options that the college provides.

We all know how there are extremely few women in science, technology, and engineering fields. This has always been the case. Even inside colleges, the educational pressures remain, and when added to pressures from family, there are painfully sad stories, like the recent death of Manjula Devak, an IIT Delhi scholar, where her father said she had committed suicide because of demands for dowry. But this new effort being put in on various fronts to address a gender gap in education itself seems to be a great step forward — hopefully it will also begin to address discrimination that women face on the campus too.