The tragedy of Aritry Adhikary’s suicide
Labelled, in its aftermath, from being eye opening and shocking to cowardly and damning -the death of this ninth grader was tossed and turned and presented to fit a multitude of personal narratives. But what has this meant objectively, for discussions regarding both mental health and the education system in Bangladesh? Aside from sparking commendable discourse about the importance of mental health, it has brought to light the correlation between students’ declining mental health and the near-oppressive education systems in the country.
In numerous schools, the atmosphere is not one where children come to make mistakes and learn from them, but rather one where the error margin has been minimized to the point of being nearly non-existent. During what are perhaps their most impressionable years, students find at every turn that their mistakes threaten graver and graver consequences, most of which are unwarranted. It may be argued that certain measures are necessary and students must learn the consequences of their actions early on if they are to grow up to be disciplined individuals. However, when a student is afraid of showing up to school because of missed homework or coming home to face their parents after scoring poorly in a test, so afraid that the very thought results in a panic attack, one must begin to question what can and cannot be classified as disciplinary.
The disregard for human error is hardly the extent to which toxic atmospheres in schools are perpetuated. Mockery and belittling of students who fail to keep up with class toppers is not unheard of. Moreover, the entire worth of individual students and their educational journeys seems to be put into their academic prowess and the money one might earn as a result, leading to the devaluation of one’s education to only its monetary worth. Consequently, one does not need to seek too far to find a significant portion of the youth who are not allowed to or are too afraid to pursue an education in what they are passionate about, lest it earns them less than their peers who have opted for more lucrative lines of study.
Imagine having created an atmosphere which limits the visions of students to such an extent that they are unable to see past their conventional academic worth, that a mistake which results in a transfer certificate is the peak of social dishonour. This is the current state of the country’s education system. Suicide is perhaps its most striking consequence, but it is not the only worrisome outcome. Countless students silently suffer from various mental illnesses which are aggravated if not directly caused by this system.
Another aspect of mental health that materialized manifold after Aritry’s suicide was its stigmatization. There were cries from religious individuals, older generations and even her peers, several of whom were quick to claim that “suicide is a sure-fire way of going to hell” or that they had “faced similar circumstances but never resorted to suicide”. A renowned Bangladeshi author, in a Facebook status regarding the incident, said, “Suicide is not the act of a brave person, it is the act of a coward.” He added, “If you commit suicide, [or] think about it, we are not with you. If you fight, we are with you.” Coming from influential individuals, this is deeply problematic. Although mental illnesses should never be glorified, it is necessary to understand that the fear of eternal damnation or being socially outcast is highly unlikely to act as a deterrent of suicide, and might even prevent affected individuals from reaching out at all. People who have reached the point of contemplating suicide are often emotionally vulnerable and in need of mental support more than anything else; telling them we are not by their side does no good. To anyone.
In order to combat ignorance of this sort, awareness and action are perhaps one’s best bets. One could endlessly play the blame game where one party blames the victim, another blames the instigators and yet another blames the system. While it is true that those who are to blame must be held accountable, it is equally true that punishing only who are caught red-handed is nothing but a short-term solution. To achieve lasting change, it is of the utmost importance that certain measures be taken to improve current conditions on a larger scale - this change needs to be both organic and holistic. And to do so, reform needs to be introduced gradually, with care and caution. For educational institutions, examples of this sort of change may be organizing mental health awareness seminars, appointing professional counsellors and making child psychology courses mandatory for teachers, especially those dealing with school students.
On a more general scale, the idea that being mentally ill or visiting therapists automatically insinuates that a person is crazy must be discarded. Needing treatment, medicine or even mere support for mental illnesses should be normalized, as should emergency help lines such as Kaan Pete Roi and social media support groups such as Healthy Minds (Mental Health Awareness Bangladesh) on Facebook. If a future without more cases such as Aritry’s is to be expected, creating an empathetic and inclusive atmosphere while dealing with suicide and mental illnesses remains of the highest priority.