Going abroad – Surely not a goal to die for?

The other day, I came across the story of a 21-year-old boy, Sanjay, who had hanged himself from the ceiling fan in his room after his Australian student visa application was rejected. This story highlights the deep-rooted aspiration among a segment of middle class that wants to leave Indian shores. And sometimes the price to pay for it is simply too high. 

Many Indian youth feel that going abroad is a way to escape the intense competition for jobs and career opportunities in India. The sheer number of youngsters graduating from high-schools aspiring for a limited number of seats in the professional educational institutions filters out a large percentage of students.

The reservation policies adopted and enhanced by successive governments at central and state levels further exacerbate this sense of anguish when youth from “general merit” category is planning for their future. It starts with reservation for college and professional courses and continues through filtering for career opportunities in the public sector. Reservation across myriad categories including Scheduled Castes/Tribes (SC/ST), Other Backward community (OBC), economically weaker sections (EWS) etc can feel like a funnel through which one is simply filtered away.  

Sanjay’s Saga

According to media reports and interview with police officials, Sanjay and his three friends who studied for bachelor’s in commerce at a college together had planned to ‘study abroad’ after graduation. They had borrowed money from their families to apply to different universities in Germany, Canada and the US. These students - with below-average grades - had planned to use their parent’s savings to fund their dream to study abroad. Sanjay had failed in two of his courses during the final year and had cleared them after a supplementary exam, just scraping by. Their middle-class parents tacitly encouraged this quest, but were unaware that the odds were stacked against these youth. 

During the initial round of screening all the top-tier universities that Sanjay and friends applied to rejected their application. Not to be let-down, they took this rejection in their stride, and borrowed more money from their family to apply to Tier-3 and a few private un-aided colleges that were advertising ‘easy admission’ on social media forums. Universities charge a fee of about $80-100 for each application. In addition, there is a cost of gathering the transcripts, couriering etc that can add up to over $200 per application.

After a number of rounds of rejections, Sanjay and his friends eventually secured admission in obscure private institutions in Canada and Australia – each in a different institution. By this time, each of them had spent a few lakhs of rupees in applications. Now came the hard part – applying for a student visa at the local embassies and consulates. They engaged a seedy visa consultant for advice and also began scouting social media forums for ‘visa application tips.

Two of Sanjay’s friends attended the interview for visa at the Canadian consulate and were elated when their visas were approved. They hosted a grand party at a local pub to celebrate, inviting dozens of family and friends.

The third friend’s student visa application was initially rejected by the German consulate that asked him to reapply with additional documentation. He managed to run around and re-submitted the application with additional paperwork. His visa was eventually approved, leading to further jubilation in the group.

All eyes were now on Sanjay. The fly-by-night visa consultant had assured Sanjay that the below-average academic credentials weren’t a “big deal” as long as the Australian university had admitted him. However, the immigration officer at the consulate seemed to have his reservations. During the visa interview, he expressed serious doubts about Sanjay’s educational credentials and whether his intent was to really pursue an academic course or simply use the visa to migrate and stay over in Australia.

Sanjay was heartbroken. His friends were ready to migrate across the globe while he would be “stuck” in Bangalore. With a “visa refusal” stamp on his passport, he would find it hard to apply for visa to many other countries.

Sanjay couldn’t think of a future beyond the setback and became depressed. He was ashamed of this “failure” and couldn’t get himself to confide in his close buddies, cousins or parents. His parents couldn’t figure out the reason for his sulking and attributed it to a “passing phase” that some youngsters go through after graduation.

One evening when Sanjay’s parents were out shopping, he locked himself in his room with a long rope and hanged himself from the ceiling fan.

Any lessons here?

Sanjay’s family is relatively well off. His father runs a small business with a steady revenue and the family also owns a couple of properties with a good rental income. Sanjay could easily have followed his fathers’ footsteps, and his father was trying to groom him to take over the business.

This poignant story highlights the breakdown in family support that many in urban India are facing. Youth who face intense competition for jobs are unable or unwilling to look beyond a few setbacks. They are reluctant to have a candid conversation with their parents or peers.

As the old adage goes, charity – or help with a setback – begins at home.

About the Author

Mohan K is a technology executive with a multinational company. He is also author of the recently published book -  Diary of a Successful Loser: Looking beyondthat Humble BragIn this stealth-help book, the author narrates notable failures and setbacks that have been part of his life journey in ways that he didn’t anticipate. These stories hold a mirror to typical experiences that we are likely to encounter in a life journey. This book is targeted at those who find typical self-help books - with preachy quotes and advice off-putting.

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