Exams Kill Funeral Procession

Today, as part of the Shikshantar Hacking the Education Fellowship that I’m a part of, we did a two hour funeral procession for the 9,000 plus students who have been murdered (or committed suicide, as others say) by exam and education-related stress in India during the last year. About 20 of us set out to walk around the famous Fateh Sagar lake in Udaipur with signs, candles, and music. We also wore black headbands in solidarity — with each other, with those who have been murdered, and with all students who are currently struggling in the system.

Each sign represented a real opinion about the violence that this system is doing to the youth, but they also served as invitations to others to come and share their own stories. One of the most powerful moments came when we all stood in a line together, holding our signs in silence. Dozens of people gathered and began reading the signs. As they read them, you could feel their eyes and minds connecting what was written with their own stories of struggle due to the education system — their own, a brother, sister, neighbor, friend, acquaintance, son, daughter. And because everyone has felt the pain, there was an incredible feeling of solidarity, with dozens of people of all ages joining in with us to march.

We heard stories of people who have been through the system and felt their insides rot from all the pressure; we met youth who are currently in it and are desperately seeking alternatives; and we spoke to parents with young children, who want their children to live meaningful and happy lives, but who are already aware of the extreme pressure to come.

We even met people who knew Kriti Tripathi, the 17 year old girl, who took her own life on the 28th of April of this year. In the note she left behind, Kriti wrote, It’s not because of bad scores in JEE Mains (entrance exams for IIT). I was expecting worse. It’s because I’ve started hating myself to the extent that I want to kill myself.”

We held this funeral procession in honor of Kriti and the thousands of other youth, who have been murdered or are in the process of slowly having their passions and sense of self murdered from the inside out by this schooling and examination system.

Our fellowship is named “the emperor has no clothes” for the story by the same name. The story is as follows. A greedy and self-absorbed emperor is given new clothes by weavers, who tell him that they are invisible to those who are unfit for their position or incompetent. Although he couldn’t see the clothes and felt as though he wasn’t wearing anything, the emperor, not wanting to appear stupid, declares “ah, these knew clothes are so beautiful.” All of the kings ministers and the general public also seeking to look smart and to say the “right” thing, also comment on how wonderful the emperor’s new clothes are. Finally, a small child, seeing the emperor, says “the emperor is naked!”

Like the naked emperor, this educational mass murder continues on silently, year-after-after, with many people aware that it’s happening, but few people raising voices, as it’s become normal; there’s a strong sense that this is just the way it is and that there’s no alternative. Like the public in the story, we are often both victims of the system, yet we also reproduce it whenever we buy into the system, encourage friends and children to join it, or even congratulate those who get good marks within it. True, government plays a big role in creating and propagating this system, and government is amorphous and difficult to approach. Yet there are ways; there are ways for us to become the child and expose this system for what it is, naked, in all its raw ugliness.

So if we believe that murder is a terrible crime against humanity and that there should never be another story like Kriti’s again, then we have to start today. We have to pull back the curtain, begin organizing, and build communities based on support and love for one another.