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‘I do not know what is NEET’: Tug of war over eligibility test destroyed Anitha’s dreams

Anitha had said in a video: “I want to work for my society as a doctor. I have four brothers and father. His name is Shanmugam and he is a coolie... Can you help me study medicine?”

education Updated: Sep 06, 2017 21:51 IST
KV Lakshmana
KV Lakshmana
Hindustan Times, Chennai
NEET,National Eligibility cum Entrance Test,Anitha suicide
Members of the Student's Federation of India (SFI) shout slogans during a protest against the Centre following the death of Anitha in front of MKU college in Madurai on Monday. (PTI Photo)

When S Anitha, a 17-year-old Dalit student, daughter of a daily wage labourer from Ariyalur district, petitioned the Supreme Court against the National Eligibility cum Entrance Test (NEET) seeking its abolition on behalf of rural Tamil Nadu state board students, it was welcomed by state government officials as it bolstered their own case.

The Tamil Nadu government had approached the Supreme Court against making NEET compulsory for the state and sought exemption for its students, arguing that it would put the rural and poor students of the state at a disadvantage when compared to others in the country. NEET qualifies students for admission to medical and dental programmes in the country.

In perhaps what were her last words on NEET before she committed suicide, Anitha told a private television channel “I do not know what is NEET all about and I did not have the means to get coaching for the entrance exam. I have scored high marks, with centum in maths and physics. I have high cut-off marks as well. So, if for students like us, who have good marks in 12th basic examinations, are considered for medical counselling based on Plus two marks and given admission to the medical course, it would be a great help.”

Later she posted a video clip of hers, saying “I finished 12th standard this year and I have scored 1,176 out of 1,200 and I have scored 200 out of 200 in maths and physics. I would like to study in medicine. This is my ambition. I want to work for my society as a doctor. I have four brothers and father. His name is Shanmugam and he is a coolie. My mother’s name (was) Anandam and she passed away ten years back. Could you help me study medicine? Jai Bheem.

“I do not have the resources to get private coaching and prepare for the examinations,” she said. Even for two months of coaching, it would cost something like Rs one Lakh, way beyond the means of her labourer father.

Anitha is no more, but her story has not ended. Her sobbing classmates echoed these sentiments when interviewed on private television channels. “She was the teachers’ pet and the school principal knew she will score the highest marks in the school,” said one . Anitha, in fact went on to score the highest marks in the district with 1,176 out of 1,200 marks. Neither she not her classmates could clear the NEET, an exam they could not understand, even though the question paper was in Tamil.

Educationist Prince Gajendra Babu says NEET is biased against students from rural areas, against children from marginalised sections and the economically weak. “NEET serves only the rich who have access to coaching,” he adds.

Unless there is one uniform system of education from pre-primary to higher education, there will be no level playing field. But in India, there are different kinds of education with different standards and qualities that are skewed in favour of the rich.“Will the VIPs send their children to municipal schools? This is the root cause of the suicide by Anitha,” he adds.

Her suicide on Saturday rocked Tamil Nadu and protests continue even today, with almost every political party joining the agitators. Only the ruling AIADMK, comprising the EPS and OPS camps and the BJP, maintain a safe distance as public anger is directed at them for “failing the students of Tamil Nadu by promising exemption from NEET and dumping the students at the proverbial eleventh hour.”

In fact, the AIADMK as also the BJP, the latter more so, have come in for sharp criticism in Tamil Nadu ever since the news of Anitha’s suicide broke. Effigies of prime minister Narendra Modi have been burnt and many question the role of the then commerce minister and current defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman in “cheating the students” of the state.

With 95% of the school students in Tamil Nadu studying in the state board system, the sudden implementation of NEET designed for the Central Board of Secondary Education syllabus, put them at a disadvantage. The predicament of Anitha and many like her must be seen from this perspective. One must not ask “how come only Tamil Nadu students have a problem?” says Prof C Lakshmanan of the Madras Institute of Development Studies.

State board representation in medical admissions in West Bengal has come down drastically as also in Tamil Nadu, Prof Lakshmanan says. “The BJP cheated Tamil Nadu and its students on NEET,” he declares, reflecting the sentiments of many in the state.

All the protesters, across the state as also opposition party leaders, are holding the BJP led central government and then the AIADMK led government responsible for the NEET mess and the tragic loss of Anitha’s life.

The people of the state are also outraged by a tweet by BJP Tamil Nadu chief Tamilisai Soundarrajan who has described Anitha’s suicide as a strategy to malign the Modi government and that no one should test the tolerance of the BJP.

Hundreds of people responded angrily to her tweet that they described as insensitive and unfortunate.

First Published: Sep 05, 2017 14:02 IST