To every kid with a lump in his throat who finds it hard to breathe to come home with news of marks. Remember that those digits don’t make you who you are, we love you. The world is your oyster.
A decade ago, I appeared in my matriculation exams with all the pressures it invites. The day I got promoted to the tenth grade, the mother of all exams beckoned. I had failed my mathematics in the ninth grade. It was only after I convinced the management of my workload due to non-academic activities that I was promoted to the grade. I had hidden this failure from my family lest they got a heart attack.
From the moment new classes started, I was harangued every day, constantly reminded of the consequences of the coming exams. It got to me during the early part of the session. Although I had refused to participate in any non-academic activity, I could not help myself from kicking the football or smashing the volleyball across the court.
In that year, I did most of my extracurricular activities, to the point that I even skipped golden exams that somehow deem a student fit for the board exams. It’s like the school filters its students. Those who excel are put into the regular category and a few who don’t are on their own in the private category. Such is the stigma attached to it that most of my team-mates gave up sports only to focus on studies.
Also, when the mother of all exams beckons, the family and relatives start visiting shrines to pay tributes to saints for “good marks”.To avoid being mentally harassed, I went to token tuition classes. Most of the time, me and a friend of mine would end up kicking the ball the whole day. Somehow family and the neighbourhood found my transformation from an Awaar to a studious boy pleasing.
Before the results were declared, families would inquire who else is giving his/her matriculation exams only to bring the competition home. “Have you seen X, he will get a position.” “You’ll fail.” “See the girl next door. She does not even step outside her house and you’re like a ruffian, wandering streets all the time.”
The calculations were done of who will visit to congratulate me. Aunts, aunts of my mother, some relatives who I did not know existed etc etc. It’s like I was being shown off to the society, like a product. My success was not my success. It was to bring my family a good name.
When the results were declared, the public shaming began. The whispers would spread faster than fire. Everyone would somehow know every student’s results. Those who had positions were forever the good kids and those who barely made it couldn’t escape the shaming. And those who could not succeed were isolated. Many of my friends who could not make it through were ostracized to the point that they stopped studying. The shaming game in Kashmir is rough.
There was an incident about a boy in our neighbourhood who had failed his matriculation exams but his mother somehow spread the news that he had passed. Out came relatives and neighbours bearing gifts only for another mother, who had seen the Gazette (no internet those days), to shame the boy publicly. The boy was scarred for life and he left his studies that very moment.
There is a stigma attached to this matriculation which not only pushes some to the brink of suicide but also sucks the passion for studies out of them. In Kashmir, the relatives want their children to fulfil a collective dream of having a “doctor” or “engineer” in the family, even though the kid wants to be someone else.
I had barely managed to score decent grades in my exams; 333- the devil’s number- and almost failed maths. But somehow the “luk kya wanan” (what will people say) syndrome got the better of me and I lied to my peers about my marks. Inflating it by fifty more to be among the crowd of good kids. Today I hate that act of deceit.
In a world where academic marks do not matter, in a world that seeks excellence through skills and talents, the shaming and stigma over matriculation or any other examination must end. The fear of failure is a toxic emotion and it is an unbearable burden.
To every kid with a lump in his throat who finds it hard to breathe to come home with news of marks, remember that those digits don’t make you who you are. We love you. The world is your oyster.
We must acknowledge the stress that our students face at home and at school with all that stigma they have to fight. 16-17 is too little an age to determine the success of an individual. In life, nobody will ask you what your marks were in matriculation or higher secondary.
Here’s to those who made it, and to those who did not. Here’s to the crazy ones, the misfits and the rebels who have lived and live through this. Let’s end this stigma and shaming, lest it destroys lives and dreams of many.
Today, those of my peers who took top 20 ranks have lost in the world of cutthroat competition and those who believed in themselves flourish, for they love what they do.
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