NEW DELHI - IT IS exam season in India - as well as a season for student suicides.
Thousands of students take their own lives after buckling under parental pressure to score high marks for entry to a top university and the chance of a high-paying job.
Newspapers carry daily tragic reports of youngsters who have killed themselves or taken what Indians euphemistically call 'the extreme step' because they fear the shame of a bad report card.
On a single day last month, the Times of India reported two teenage boys had hanged themselves at their New Delhi homes.
The same day saw a final-year Bachelor of Commerce student hanging herself in the commercial capital Mumbai. A grade 12 student in western India did the same, while another student threw herself before a moving train in Allahabad in northern India.
There were other suicides that day too, the paper said.
'Teenage suicide (over exams) is a national disaster,' said Dr Samir Parikh, a psychiatrist at Max Healthcare, a leading New Delhi private hospital chain.
In 2006, the most recent year for which official data is available, 5,857 students - or 16 a day - killed themselves due to exam stress.
Police say thousands more suicides go unreported as parents want to keep the cause of death a secret.
Competition to get into university in the country of more than 1.1 billion people is fierce, with stratospheric averages needed to obtain the few places available in India's 'Ivy League' colleges.
For instance, the cut-off average mark to pursue an undergraduate economics degree at Delhi University's top commerce college last year was 97.8 per cent.
'Parents have big expectations and give undue importance to exams. For children, the marks are benchmarks of their self-esteem,' said Dr Parikh.
'The combination can be fatal.'
While the global teen suicide rate is 14.5 per 100,000, a 2004 study by the Christian Medical College in Vellore reported 148 for girls and 58 for boys in India.
The rate for girls is higher because many fear being married off if they flunk, experts say. They also criticise the examination system for stressing memory work over reasoning.
Tutors are called in, and parents take time off to coach their children through exams.
'Memory pills' are devoured, nutritionists consulted for the best 'brain food' and newspapers devote whole sections to tackling exams.
'You cannot imagine the pressure,' said student Renu Chanda, 17, who has just finished her final exams.
Besides the finals, there are university tests. Some students take half a dozen or more exams to try to get into big-name institutions.
And even when students get into good colleges, the pressure does not end - with university suicides also reported regularly.
Dr Parikh said: 'We have to give youngsters - and their parents - the life skills to know marks are not everything in life.'
'Parents have big expectations and give undue importance to exams. For children, the marks are benchmarks of their self-esteem. The combination can be fatal.'
DR SAMIR PARIKH, a psychiatrist at Max Healthcare, a leading New Delhi private hospital chain