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UCLA shooter Mainak Sarkar studied at elite university designed as the ‘MIT of India’

Mainak Sarkar
(KTLA)

The suspect in Wednesday’s shooting at UCLA earned a degree from the Indian Institutes of Technology, or IIT, a storied university system that has trained some of the finest engineers, scientists and entrepreneurs in India.

Mainak Sarkar earned an aerospace engineering degree in 2000 from the IIT at Kharagpur, in eastern India, the first of the five original campuses established soon after India gained independence in 1947.

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India’s first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, envisioned a world-class educational system along the lines of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology that would train “scientists and technologists of the highest caliber” who would propel the young nation “toward self-reliance in her technological needs.”

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In a twist of history, Sarkar shares his last name with Sir Nalini Ranjan Sarkar, a British Raj-era industrialist who chaired the committee that recommended the establishment of the multi-campus system in 1945.

Over the years, IIT has become synonymous with educational excellence in India and in Silicon Valley, where many of its alumni have also made a mark. Among its graduates are Sun Microsystems founder Vinod Khosla, Google chief executive Sundar Pichai, India’s central bank governor Raghuram Rajan and top executives at Citigroup, Cisco Systems and Bell Laboratories.

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UCLA students describe being on campus during the lockdown after Wednesday morning’s school shooting.

To gain admission, students have to sit through a two-part exam that has become among the most competitive in the world. In 2014, 1.36 million students took the entrance test for 9,784 available IIT seats – an acceptance rate of 0.7%. Harvard’s acceptance rate that year was nearly 7%.

IITs, which grant bachelor’s as well as graduate and postgraduate degrees, are autonomous bodies but receive substantial funding from the Indian government. There are now 19 IIT campuses, with four more slated to open this year.

In recent years, the system’s reputation has taken a hit, with critics saying the added campuses have diluted the quality of education. Others blame the IITs for encouraging the best Indian minds to go abroad, although as India’s economy has improved over the last two decades, more graduates are staying in the country.

The intense pressure for success has resulted in a growing mental health crisis at top Indian educational institutions, including IIT. At the massive test-prep centers that train students for the IIT exam in the northern Indian city of Kota, 57 aspirants have reportedly committed suicide over the last five years.

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Last year, two students at the campus in the southern city of Chennai (formerly known as Madras) committed suicide within a month, sparking an outcry over learning conditions at the IITs.

Arya Prakash, a master’s student at the Chennai campus, wrote in The Hindu newspaper of deep caste-based discrimination and a phenomenon in which students tried to improve their chances of receiving better grades by sabotaging others’ studies.

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“It comes as a shock to the ones outside this campus,” Prakash wrote, “but inside the campus it is a widely accepted fact that a majority of students are depressed.”

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MORE ON THE UCLA SHOOTING

Woman on UCLA shooter’s ‘kill list’ found dead in Minnesota

For UCLA shooter Mainak Sarkar, sudden rage after years of intense academic studies

LAPD chief: Gunman in UCLA shooting went to campus to kill two professors but could only find one

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shashank.bengali@latimes.com

Follow @SBengali on Twitter for more news from South Asia


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