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Tamil Nadu student’s suicide ahead of NEET sparks political row

Sep 12, 2021 08:39 PM IST

Chief minister MK Stalin assured students that they will bring a bill on Monday that seeks the President’s assent to exempt Tamil Nadu from NEET.

In yet another tragic incident, a 19-year-old medical aspirant from Salem was found dead in his home on Sunday hours ahead of the National Eligibility cum Entrance Test (NEET) that is being conducted across the country on Sunday. The student is suspected to have died by suicide allegedly due to the fear of not succeeding in the exam as this was his third attempt, officials said.

“Our legal battle against NEET is just beginning,” Stalin said. (PTI)

“There is no suicide note but circumstantial evidence points to suicide due to exam fear as he has failed twice in the past and couldn’t get a medical admission,” said a senior police official in Salem who did not wish to be named.

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“His parents were compelling him to prepare and clear NEET and not go for any other course. The family also says that he was under pressure,” the official added. The student was found dead in his room in the early hours of Sunday. His elder brother is an engineering graduate and his father was an industry worker turned farmhand. The police have registered a case of unnatural death under section 174 of the Indian Penal Code and are conducting enquiries.

His death quickly turned into a political storm in the state with the opposition blaming the ruling DMK and the ruling government. The ruling government and its allies in turn have been blaming the Union government. Chief minister MK Stalin assured students that they will bring a bill on Monday that seeks the President’s assent to exempt Tamil Nadu from NEET.

Former AIADMK chief minister Edappadi Palaniswami, who hails from the region, blamed the DMK for not fulfilling its election promise to abolish NEET and causing confusion among students over whether the exam will happen or not. “What happened to the promise of the DMK?” he tweeted.

State BJP president K Annamalai said that the DMK should stop playing with students’ lives when the Supreme Court has made the exam mandatory. “Students’ lives are being lost for politics,” he said. The BJP is the only party in the state that supports NEET.

Reacting to the death of the student, Stalin said in a statement that the DMK government will pass a Bill in the Tamil Nadu assembly on Monday seeking permanent exemption from NEET. “Let the injustice end,” he said. “Our legal battle against NEET is just beginning.” He blamed the Union government’s ‘indifference’ and said that the death reinforces the need to bring back education from the concurrent list to the state list under the Constitution. He appealed to students not to lose hope. Since NEET was introduced in Tamil Nadu in 2017, more than a dozen medical aspirants have died by suicide either due to fear of failing or having failed in the exam.

What is the NEET issue in Tamil Nadu?

Before NEET, Tamil Nadu considered class 12 board exam marks for admissions to medical colleges. Following a Supreme Court ruling, NEET became a reality in 2017 in Tamil Nadu which had availed an exemption successfully until then. Since then, the state has tried to be exempted from the exam through an ordinance, inside court halls and negotiations with the Union government and civil society protests spilt over to the streets but nothing has worked.

Tamil Nadu has one of the highest medical aspirants in the country- one in eight doctors from India is from Tamil Nadu, based on data from the Medical Council of India provided by former Union health minister Harsh Vardhan in the parliament in 2019.

The staunch resistance to NEET originated from the plight of disadvantaged students from Tamil Nadu’s hinterlands who have to compete with urban and affluent students who have more access to resources to crack the exam. Like any other exam, NEET too is marred by the tragedy of students dying by suicide. S Anitha, a Dalit teenager, died by suicide in 2017 after failing in NEET, although she was a school topper with 98%. She continues to be the face to rally against the exam for politicians. Her death led to widespread protests across Tamil Nadu. On 22 August 2017, the Supreme Court did not give Tamil Nadu an exemption from NEET in a case in which Anitha had impleaded herself.

The fight against the exam also extended as one where the state argues that the Union government is interfering in their autonomy. Voices opposing NEET have argued that the exam has not led to more meritorious students but it has only helped the mushrooming of private centres charging exorbitant fees.

Tamil Nadu has been offering free coaching to government and government-aided school students to prepare for NEET. Those for it say that while the rest of the country has taken up NEET, Tamil Nadu has to help its poor and rural students by giving them the right resources.

Last year during its regime, the AIADMK introduced a 7.5% horizontal reservation in medical colleges for government school students who clear NEET. This ensured that government school students got 405 seats in the 2020-2021 academic year as opposed to six seats earlier. The previous regime also passed an ordinance against NEET in the state assembly in 2017 but the President did not give his assent.

The DMK government after taking over in May constituted a committee chaired by Justice AK Rajan to study the adverse impact of NEET on socially and economically backward students. The state BJP challenged this in the Madras high court which was disposed of. After submitting the report to Stalin on 14 July, Rajan said that a majority among the 86,343 stakeholders in the exercise, were against NEET.

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