Suicides in  IIT Madras — A matter of concern

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IIT Madras [ Photo: Special Arrangement]

It is reported that four students of IIT Madras committed suicide in the year 2023, within just four months.  This is a matter of very high concern and needs to be investigated by experts taking a holistic view.  So far, all these suicides have been simply termed as “suicides”  and the matter appears to have been closed. Obviously, there should be a deep underlying cause for such sad events,  particularly since the students are in their teenage or early twenties and that too they study in an elite institution.  At the same time, it has to be noted that such student suicides have also taken place in other IITs in India.

IIT  Madras management does not seem to have come out with any credible explanation so far, for such an increasing number of suicides. The strategy so far adopted by IIT Madras to prevent such suicides appear to be only by way of providing counselling advice,  which may go only halfway.

It is known that studying engineering subjects in depth and understanding the concepts in full require hard work and a certain level of basic intelligence.

It is true that engineering subjects are the same whether taught in IITs or in any other engineering colleges under government or private management. However, when bright students study such subjects,  then their understanding and appreciation of the concepts could be better than the average student. Further, the standards of the faculty members in IITs, most of whom have good exposure in elite institutions in developed countries,  could be better in many cases than the faculty members of other engineering colleges. Therefore, the level and standards of teaching in IITs may be higher than in other engineering colleges.

IITs select students for admission based on competitive entrance examinations at all Indian level and mostly , the students joining IITs have higher level of understanding capability.

The fact is that 64.5% of the seats for admission in IITs come under the reserved category, where the students getting admitted in the reserved category could be scoring fewer grades in the entrance examination compared to the students admitted in the non-reserved category.

Reservation policy

CategoryReserved Percentage of Seats in Each Course
GEN – Economically weaker section (EWS)10%
Person with disability ( PwD )_5% in each category seats

In  studying the difficult engineering subjects  in elite institutions like IITs , the bright students are likely to maintain higher academic standards compared to the students with less level of understanding ability,  as reflected in their lower grades in the entrance examination,  than the students getting admission in non-reserved category. In such circumstances,  it is quite possible that some students could find it difficult to understand the nuances of the subjects and cope with the demand from the faculty members.

While IIT  management and faculty members treat all students in the same manner and provide the facilities to all students without any difference, the understanding ability of the students could certainly be different, particularly when some students get admission under reserved category compared to students who get admission only on merit basis. This scenario may create a feeling of diffidence in some students leading to frustration in their mindset.

Further, all students in IITs have high level of career expectations and many of them get into best of jobs in India or abroad or go abroad for higher studies in prestigious institutions.  While such opportunities happen for bright students with high academic achievements, the other students may not equally get such opportunities. Given the fact that the students are in their teenage or early twenties, students tend to compare each one with others.

All students in IITs know the opportunities ahead of them and would do their level best to reach the best of academic performance. Some students may not be able to reach the level of academic performance they desire to achieve, particularly in comparison with other students due to their lack of understanding capability, which may be lower in some cases. For such students, the fear of not landing the best jobs would be a matter of utmost anxiety.

In such elite institutions like IITs , when some admissions are based on a reservation basis, it is inevitable that the understanding ability of all students will not be at the same level. This is the problem in introducing a reservation policy for admission in elite institutions like IITs, where the faculty members are of a high standard and facilities are modern and adequate and expectations from future employers are high.

The objective of this article is not to discuss the merits or demerits of the reservation policy in educational institutions.

On the other hand, the aim is that there should be a dispassionate analysis as to whether reservation policy has led to such suicides in IITs. If this is so, then some steps would be needed to provide specialized coaching for students getting admitted on the basis of reservation. It is not clear whether this would be practically possible.


N. S. Venkataraman is a trustee with the "Nandini Voice for the Deprived," a not-for-profit organization that aims to highlight the problems of downtrodden and deprived people and support their cause and to promote probity and ethical values in private and public life and to deliberate on socio-economic issues in a dispassionate and objective manner.

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