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When social pressure kills

  • Published at 07:34 pm May 7th, 2017
When social pressure kills

In Jamalpur, an SSC candidate, after learning that she did not pass her exams, jumped in front of a train and killed herself. Her aunt was also killed when she tried to save the distraught girl.

In Jatrabari, Dhaka, a student committed suicide after he failed to get the coveted Golden GPA.

The thought that came to mind as I read the news was: Society, at least here in Bangladesh, puts too much pressure on young students to perform in academia.

The result in some extreme cases, such as the two described above, is death. But in between, there are countless shades of despair.

Like the son of a person I know who was not content with his A grade because, in his words, A plus eluded him.

While countless students are happy with their results, there are many who are made to feel that they have failed in achieving what was expected of them. When the social pressure becomes too much, young minds decide to take extreme measures.

Who is to blame?

I personally believe that a lot of the blame lies on the parents who, often for their own glory, exert unnecessary pressure on their children.

If the young boy or girl is titled more towards the arts or humanities, parents force him/her to take up science because society, in its black and white definition of everything, deems students of humanities as fools.

This is not a new phenomenon and, when I think back to my days in school in the mid-80s, I recall quite distinctly that, out of pressure from families and peers, students were forced to take up science and a dreaded subject called Elective Mathematics.

Pity, here in this society, two contrasting outlooks persist: We want to see youngsters take up science but, when it comes to corporate hiring, the emphasis is on English proficiency -- and Elective Maths is hardly taken into consideration.

In the past, parents selfishly and overtly used their children to enhance their social position and, unfortunately, they still do, in more covert ways. Perhaps they don’t realise that their demands, no matter how sweetly put, often translate into parental pressure.

In some cases, especially for students in English-medium institutions, I find that the pressure is so overpowering that youngsters are detached from common sports and entertainment.

Yes, it’s a competitive world but why take away the fun of being a teenager?

From time to time, I talk to parents with teenage sons or daughters and it appears that their main concern is the academic excellence of their child.

Whether their children can take the pressure or not is the least of their worries. Their rationale: If the other kid can take it and perform, so can you.

For the two young persons who committed suicide, the pressure to deliver must have been enormous

The death within

Some do the extreme, others die within. Forced to take subjects they abhor, young minds can become resentful.

I have seen educated parents do the same as uneducated ones -- creating pressure for better grades and imposing their wishes on the child.

A telling account from my time in high school should drive the point home: One time our class teacher asked us what we aspired to be when we grew up and she added: “Do you want to be a doctor, engineer, an architect, or a government official?”

Framing the question in this way made it seem like those were the only plausible options. If we look around carefully, this trend still persists.

By presenting only a few known professions before the child, we are forcing him/her to take one and not think about anything else.

For the two young persons who committed suicide, the pressure to deliver must have been enormous. They were indoctrinated over time to believe that unless they got what was expected of them, their lives were meaningless.

A drastic act like suicide can only be considered when a person feels utterly bereft of hope.

While the papers have dutifully reported the news of similar tragedies that have been happening over the years, sadly, there is little to no societal effort to tackle or understand such acts among young people.

Grades are not the end of the world

When we were teenagers, life was made to revolve around divisions in SSC or HSC; who got star marks and how many letters (80 plus marks ensured a letter in a subject) was the talk around us, creating an invisible pressure, but so many years later, we find, these matter very little in the vast canvas of human tribulations.

Academic results are but one factor in professional life -- employers look at many others during recruitment.

When it is commonly understood that not everyone is academically inclined, teenagers’ lives will become a blessing. Some will excel in academia, a few may become star footballers, some other kid may show aptitude for the arts or interest towards theatre.

Many will try to become the top cricketer but only a few will make it to the zenith; but for those who will play in the mid-level and never be a celebrated sportsman, life need not be a failure either.

S/he did what they wanted to do and whatever they achieved is a success. Hence the player who spent most of his adult life playing for third division clubs and then retired with a small stationary shop in his area is certainly not a failure. Some may never become a celebrity, but can still lead an ordinary happy life.

Destiny is an enigma

Not everyone will drive a BMW; and by the way, the first boy may end up being a corporate dog but the last boy, whose name was once synonymous with failure, and was seen spending time on the roads with reprobates, can, due to a twist of fate, become a top public figure, flag flying on the car, police in front and back, everyone using “Honourable” before his/her name.

Lekhapora kore je gari-ghora chore she” (those who excel in education, can afford cars and carriages), goes a popular Bengali proverb but if we look at the current world, we find that those who put education behind sports and other passions also drive the best cars, those who did not even go beyond SSC, opting for a film career not only live in luxury but are seen endorsing top consumer products.

I have countless such tales of ignored rascals who have outshone all the academically brilliant later in life.

By the way, to my teacher’s question I answered: “I want to be the captain of Bangladesh Laaldol” (Bangladesh Red team in football, comprising the best players) at which everyone laughed.

Towheed Feroze is a journalist working in the development sector.