The great Indian IIT dream: Why parents want children to be engineers


The wall of the Radha Krishna temple in Kota where students scribble their wishes in the hope that their prayers will be answered. One recurring prayer is for admission to the IIT, as seen in this photograph (Raj K Raj/HT Photo)

Kalu Sarai is not Kota. Or so people would like you to believe. This New Delhi neighbourhood has some obvious differences with the Rajasthan town that made its reputation as the country’s coaching hub for IIT and has recently been in news for a spate of student suicides.

For one, even though Kalu Sarai attracts IIT aspirants from the city and indeed from all over the country, it is just one neighbourhood in the sprawling national capital. Unlike Kota, where even auto drivers mark you as an IIT hopeful, or the parent of one, as soon as you alight at the station, in Delhi, cabbies don’t make that obvious connect the minute you give a Kalu Sarai address. Institutes here also claim that they ensure that students don’t feel unduly stressed about the competition that lies ahead.

A beginning is made

When the first India Institute of Technology (IIT) was set up in Kharagpur, West Bengal, in 1950, the aim was to create an institution for higher technical learning to boost post-war industrial development in India. Over the years as the number of IITs went up, the focus seems to have shifted to creating good employment opportunities for its students. It is so at least in the minds of the country’s vast middle class populace. “For years engineering, medical and the administrative services have been the professions of choice for the middle class,” explains sociologist Dipankar Gupta. “Engineering is the most preferred since there are more colleges offering engineering. Other professions have come up in recent years, but one often needs to be well connected to get those jobs. For most people, the chances of getting a job with an engineering degree are far better than with a simple bachelor of science or arts degree.”

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