Protests in Chennai over NEET petitioner Anitha’s suicide, Centre blamed
Hundreds of slogan-shouting protesters across Tamil Nadu staged rallies and blocked roads on Saturday, blaming the BJP-led government at the Centre for the death of a 17-year-old Dalit medical aspirant who was found hanging in her home.
Anitha S is believed to have committed suicide, few months after the Supreme Court dismissed her petition against the National Eligibility and Entrance Test (NEET), which she said was detrimental to interests of students from rural areas.
Her death has brought the issue of medical education in Tamil Nadu and the politics around it into sharp focus, with political parties and even film stars wading into the controversy that has been compared to the suicide by another Dalit student, Rohith Vemula, in Hyderabad last year.
In many districts, protesters burnt effigies of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and shouted “vekka kedu, vekka kedu” (shame, shame)”, holding the central government responsible for her death as also for wrecking the dreams of many more.
In Chennai, protesters blocked an arterial road leading to Anna Salai, the main road in the city.
In Ariyalur, the district from where the girl hails, the ruling DMK and opposition parties called for a shutdown to condemn the state and central government on NEET, an all-India entrance exam for admission to medical colleges. Friends and relatives of the girl held protest demonstrations outside the hospital where her post mortem was conducted seeking abolition of NEET.
Family members of Anitha, who had refused to accept the body, finally relented and took back her body from the government hospital at Ariyalur.
Anitha lost her mother at a young age and was brought up by her father, T Shanmugam, a daily wager in Tiruchirapalli. None of her four brothers have a steady job.
Chief minister M Edapaddi Palanisami on Friday announced ex gratia of ₹7 lakh to Anitha’s family and a government job to a family member.
Shocked teachers said she was the only student who had scored 100% marks in Physics and Mathematics in the whole district.
“It is a pity that even after getting such high marks and qualifying for medical as per state government rules, she was denied admission due to the Centre’s attitude,” one of her teachers.
Anitha told the media in August that NEET was a hurdle to people from rural backgrounds and poorer sections of the society.
“This was the argument Tamil Nadu, too, put forward to reject NEET. Former chief minister
J Jayalalithaa had blocked its implementation during her lifetime. After her death, the AIADMK government has become weak and even has become anti-people and succumbed to pressure from the Centre,” said political analyst Prof Ramu Manivannan of the Madras University. Opposition parties said as much, blaming the state and central governments for the NEET mess and held the BJP government responsible for the death.
Two of the state’s most popular actors, Rajinikanth and Kamal Haasan also expressed grief over the incident. “We need to ensure that no student should take such drastic step in the future. This is not the end. We will fight and win. We have to make our argument louder in court,” Haasan told reporters on Friday.
Describing the incident as “unfortunate”, Rajinikanth tweeted: “What has happened to Anitha is extremely unfortunate. My heart goes out to all the pain and agony she would have undergone before taking this drastic step. My condolences to her family.” The protests over her death are also being seen in the context of growing anger in the state over what many see as the Centre’s anti-Tamil moves.
(With agency inputs)
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