Convention has treated disability differently, rarely realizing that a disabled individual may have the same wants and aspirations as anyone else. So while the unfortunate news of Upasna Sahoo, a student of economics in St Stephens College, rocked the college corridors, many may have assumed it to be a case of prolonged depression, finding its ultimate expression in the suicide which was cloaked in the garb of academic failure.
However, on probing further, I realized that she was just one of us, with the same aspirations and expectations. While many of us would have moped about our results, she went a step too far, too soon.
I guess it might sound a bit clichéd to mention that her friends fondly remember her as outgoing, friendly and smart, but Upasna was just that. A regular with department and college functions, she had also gone on a departmental trip to Orchha the year before. Even the personal talks with friends never once brought on the suggestion of a tinge of regret or sadness. Never the one to complain, she had adjusted well in college. A pleasant girl with formal training in classical music (her voice modulations were known to be perfect) there were somethings in her life which were going for her. Why then did she take such a drastic step? Surely, she wasn’t a failure. Furthermore, she surely cannot be blamed.
Student suicide cases in the daily newspapers rarely touch us. It is only when the news is close to us that we stop and take notice. While debates about the academic system and pressure of marks have long being going on, with recommendations and counter-recommendations, the final result often does the trick. Failed. No statement of marks, no deferred pass, just a plain and simple F which could agonize many a student, and brand them as utter failures. Once the damage is done, all we can talk of next is what could have been, the bright future decorated with success and happiness, eliciting pathos at every thought of a life gone by.
Like every such incident, the blame can squarely be placed on society, which places a taboo on students who have not performed academically. Besides, in this CV driven culture, no company would appreciate the big bad F gracing any mark sheet irrespective of the student’s basic intelligence and talents.
Where is the second chance that we so often talk about? Where is the opportunity we harp about, so optimistically? Where is the understanding of a life with much more beauty to it than a year gone waste?
While we are continually reminded of over all development with academics being just a part of life, it has rarely been ingrained in our mindsets and system. The admission process continues to be heavily mark oriented. You can either apply through academics, sports or ECA. Never is an impressive combination of the three accepted. So why be hypocritical and talk about all round excellence? While the rat race for marks continues, we seldom stop to look. The cruelty is sufficiently shown in the ease with which a student is failed, who is rarely given an opportunity to prove his/her merit to avoid any Fs in report cards which often reflect badly at the time of placements.
For the few who are able to cope with it, there are many others who are unable to forgive themselves for their dismal performance, and that is what we need to deal with. Assisting students with special needs, accounting for their disability, identifying and developing their special faculties are measures that should be adopted before being so cruel and abrupt as to judge them on their academic performance.
So while we remember Upasna, let us take a re-look at the system that creates many such Upasnas, and shatters the hopes of friends and family alike, whose life long grief and remorse can never be fully understood by the untouched ones.