Covid-19 has not spared anyone in the society. The arrival and the spread of the deadly virus has affected people of all walks of life. While speaking about the victims, more often people refer to business groups and migrant workers. These two groups are inter-connected and inter-dependent. Student and non-student youth groups also come under the affected groups. The ‘depression level’ among them is on steady increase. We shall now see such groups one by one.
Group-1 : School/college students, whose lessons were not fully covered by their teachers, had to face their own problems. Some private and government schools/colleges conducted online classes during the lockdown period (mid-March to mid-June). Not every student has ‘internet facility’ at home. One former MLA in Karnataka said that more than 60 percent students are from rural areas where there is erratic electricity supply. In such a situation how can they attend the online classes? Those students who missed the online classes were terribly upset and went into depression mode. They are cut off from their family members, relatives and friends. One case of suicide was reported from Kerala. There are many students who suffer silently as their mental health is deteriorating.
Group-2 : School/college students, whose annual/semester/final exams were not conducted by March and are still pending, have been in constant tension. The states of Telangana and Tamil Nadu decided to cancel the 10th standard exams. The studious students were very unhappy as their dream of becoming state-level rank holders was not fulfilled. The average students are extremely happy and relieved from the burden of writing exam. Karnataka government has ‘adamantly’ decided to conduct 10th standard exam from 25th June to 4th July. The English subject exam of second year intermediate course was conducted on 18 June. 5.95 lakh students wrote this exam. These entire ‘exam dramas’ are going on in the backdrop of Covid-19 pandemic. The death toll has crossed a century and more than 8000 people are found to be coronavirus positive. We can imagine the ‘tension’ that the students, their parents and teachers are going through.
I belong to this group and hence I wish to share my own experience. As a final year BA Visual Communication student, I was well prepared for my sixth semester exams scheduled for 4 to 17 April 2020. Prior to my final exam, the Graduation Day was to be held. Along with my classmates I was eagerly looking forward to such a memorable event. After my final exam I was hoping to get a placement. Suddenly, the national lockdown announcement came as a shock. The future looks bleak and uncertain. After a long period of 3 months my college announced on 16 June that “offline exams’ are being planned and they are waiting for the ‘government guidelines’.
The following are my serious concerns and worry with regard to my graduation, final exam and placement:
· Questions like “what is next?”, “why further delay?” “when will it happen?”,” how will it happen?” are lingering in my mind.
· My anxiety creates fear that leads to tension within.
· Although I am preparing for exams but procrastination becomes pre-dominant.
· Most of my classmates have travelled back to their homes in other states. “Will they manage to come back to the college? Will I meet them again? Will we participate in the Graduation Day and final exams?” Questions like these are bothering me constantly.
· There is always a pressure of being productive and build up my portfolio. So, I took a bunch of online courses and the days I took a break to rest and did nothing else made me feel guilty.
· Completing my 3-year course, getting a suitable placement and start earning have been put on hold. Although this thought getting a job has always been scary, it is even more scary now, with uncertainty of my exams and my placement.
· Self-doubt prevails in my mind as many job-holders are already losing their jobs in the media field.
· In my family my father has been the only earning member. As a retired person he is now unable to take up part-time assignments due to continuous lockdown. All these years I have been leading a happy and tension-free life. Soon the responsibility of earning will fall on my shoulder. This thought is very scary. It is like a baby bird flying for the first time, all by itself.
· There have been many mixed emotions ever since this lockdown started. While worrying to stay safe from the coronavirus right now remains constant, there are so many more worries piling up, about the present as well as the future. And I hope that this situation does not become the ‘new normal lifestyle’.
I wish to give a few examples of my friends:
Ashok (name changed) from Kerala studies in my college in Bengaluru. He is my classmate. During the lock down he stayed in Bengaluru. He had to go through a lot of struggle. He was staying in a PG hostel that did not provide food. He did not have a roommate and hence he had to stay all by himself, in isolation. He was forced to depend solely on junk food, fruits and fast food like Maggi etc. He lost a few kilos of weight. More than the weight loss his mental health suffered due to his loneliness. Last week he managed to get back to Kerala. Since he is with his family, he is recovering slowly from his loneliness.
Tina (name changed) from Coimbatore studies in my college. She is in the 2nd year doing BA Visual Communication course. She applied for an E-pass and travelled back to Coimbatore two weeks ago. No train or bus service but only air service was available. The air tickets were super-expensive. She followed all the Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) given by the Tamil Nadu government at that time. She had given to the TN government authority the details of her parents, their phone numbers, name of the person who will pick her up from the airport and even the number of the vehicle that will pick her up. According to the SOP she was expected to be in home-quarantine and an officer would be sent to her home to check her status. When she reached Coimbatore, she was asked to undergo Covid-19 test and take quarantine in a hotel or a government school for two weeks. She preferred the hotel that was referred by the TN government. The hotel room was expensive but she had no other go. She could not meet her parents during this period. Indeed, it was not only a terrible experience for my friend but also an unnecessary tension for her parents and family members.
Many of my friends and classmates seem to have gone through similar experiences. We are all students living with uncertainty. And what I expressed about my personal situation during this lockdown, prevails with my other friends too. We all have more or less the same worries. We all feel that we are in the same boat in the middle of a storm-filled ocean with no idea about which direction our life-boat will go. We are at a crossroad not knowing where, when and how to proceed. We have nobody to turn to for consolation. We cannot count on our parents as they are facing much bigger problems. In the present scenario, we have become silent sufferers, not noticed by many.
Group-3 : The final year college/university students who have completed their exams are in dark. Most of them had attended interviews or done registration for placements. The students, whose placements have been confirmed, were waiting to start their jobs. Due to the slowdown of economy and long lockdown, many companies/offices/factories are implementing ‘retrenchment’ – sacking the existing staff due to less work and weak finance. All those students who got selected in the “Campus Interviews”, are getting ‘bad news’ from their recruiters that there is no job opportunity at present. The dreams of these students to get jobs are getting shattered.
Group-4 : The students who have gone back to their homes and living in different states far away from their schools/colleges/universities are now wondering whether they will be able to undertake travel (by road, train or air) and get back to their respective educational institutions. Most of them are used to learning in a classroom set up. What if on-line learning becomes compulsory? Can all of them afford to buy the required gadgets? Do all of them have a conducive atmosphere in their homes for such a learning? Will all the parents support this venture? How will the slow-learners cope-up with the online learning? All these questions are running in the minds of these students causing tension and conflict within.
Group-5 : As per Child Right/Social Activists and the Child Welfare Department, there has been a steep rise in Child Marriages in Karnataka. It is really shocking to learn that 50 such marriages were stopped during the 3-month lockdown period. As per the Dinakaran newspaper dated 17 June, 7 Child Marriages were stopped in one day in Samrajnagar district. In all these marriages the girls’ ages were found to be between 14 and 17. If this is the state of affairs in a southern state, then, what is the situation in some of the backward states of Odisha, Bihar, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh? It is just unimaginable. One of the main reasons is the steady increase in the school dropout rate and the sudden rise during the lockdown period. Why? All education institutions are closed. There is uncertainty about the re-opening. Formal education has become a question mark. Many parents in rural areas have lost hope of educating their children. Hence these parents take the easiest choice of getting their girl children married off. All these girls did have a dream of studying and take up respectable careers in future. But they were ‘forced’ by their families to get into married life at their tender age. When they were interviewed by the Child Welfare Department authorities and social activists, the girl children expressed their pain and agony with tears. Whom to blame?
‘Beti Bachhao, Beti Padhavo’ slogan of the Prime Minister has become just ‘empty and meaningless’ words. The whole nation is worried about the fallen economy, the loss in the business/corporate world and the pathetic condition of the migrant workers due to Covid-19 pandemic. How many are really worried about the suffering student community? How long should we remain as silent sufferers? Will anyone come to our rescue?(Published on 22nd June 2020, Volume XXXII, Issue 26)