Cram City

Despite these grim odds, young Indians continue arriving in Kota, and the coaching institutes have become a big business, encompassing 300 or so centers that generate $350 million to $450 million in revenue every year, according to one estimate. The largest coaching company, the Allen Career Institute, instructs more than one million students.

“There are two types of students in Kota — rankers and bankers,” Amit Gupta, a coaching-center biology instructor, told me. “One ranker will attract thousands of bankers. This is our modus operandi. We are in the business of selling dreams.” By Gupta’s definition, rankers are students with the potential to get into elite colleges, while bankers, who are in the majority, are students whose ambitions outrank their capacities. “A ranker was always going to get selected,” Gupta told me. “If he gets good teachers, his rank may improve, but he was already capable of selection. The business model of the coaching industry relies on the banker. We show him a dream — ‘You can also become an I.I.T.-ian or a doctor’ — even though we know all along that he would never be selected because there are just not enough seats.”

According to the latest National Crime Records Bureau report, from 2021, 13,081 students committed suicide in India, the highest number in five years, with “failure in examination” listed among the causes. They hanged themselves from ceiling fans, drank rat poison and jumped to their deaths. In 2022 alone, 15 students committed suicide in Kota. After three suicides took place on Dec. 12, two in the same boardinghouse, the National Human Rights Commission demanded that the Rajasthan government regulate the coaching industry in Kota.