NEET suicide: Why Tamil Nadu is in shock

Last Updated: Sun, Sep 03, 2017 09:59 hrs
Anitha killed self over NEET examination scores

(Image tweeted by @vikatan)

Anitha, one of the petitioners in the Supreme Court against the National Eligibility and Entrance Test (NEET) committed suicide Friday after the court dismissed the petition filed by her and other students. Condolences have been pouring in from across the Tamil Nadu political spectrum along with some famous names –

The Dalit girl from Ariyalur district in Tamil Nadu believed that the entrance test was detrimental to the interests of students from rural areas. She along with other petitioners argued that they should be allowed to take the admissions test as per the Tamil Nadu government’s policy because they along with students from rural areas will not be able to compete with their urban counterparts who have better access to coaching institutions and other resources which are not very affordable to those who come from poor households.

The daughter of a daily wage worker who works as a load man in a vegetable market, she aspired to become a doctor and work for those who could not afford or have access to healthcare. Having lost her mother at an early age, she was raised by her father along with four other siblings. She studied in an aided school till class 10 was among the top students in her class. She had scored 11676/1120 in her plus two examinations but lost out on a medical seat on account of her poor NEET score of 86/720.

The Hindu editorial called it a failure on part of the state –

“This is one failure that the Tamil Nadu government will struggle to live down. Its handling of the challenge posed by the new norm that all medical college admissions should be based solely on the National Eligibility-cum-Entrance Test has been a disaster.”

The editorial points out the mismanagement and inept attitude of the state government in handling the policy which it should have handled better –

“The national admission policy was undoubtedly thrust on an unwilling State government by the Supreme Court and the Centre. Yet, despite knowing that the State cannot remain insulated from the policy, the Tamil Nadu government did not respond with a concrete plan to upgrade its syllabus and prepare students for the task ahead.”

In July, the Tamil Nadu government made a final effort in getting exemption for the state’s students from common nation-wide medical entrance test. An AIADMK spokesperson, CR Saraswathi part of the TTV Dhinakaran faction blamed the central and state governments saying, “I feel very sorry for the girl. Though Union minister Nirmala Sitharaman promised that Tamil students will be exempted from NEET this year, the Centre eventually backtracked on the promise.”

The State Health Minister C Vijayabhaskar defended the state government saying “We tried very hard, but could not succeed in getting exemption from NEET. But students get three opportunities, and they should not take drastic steps like these.”

A week ago, the DMK spoke out against the BJP and the ruling AIADMK on the NEET issue by saying they had betrayed medical aspirants in the state. This came after the centre told the Supreme Court it wasn’t in favor of an ordinance passed by Tamil Nadu which would allow the state to be exempt from NEET; following which the court ordered the state to begin counselling for admissions for MBBS and BDS seats in the state based on the NEET merit list.

The Hindu editorial goes on to state how the state government botched the system of reserving a certain percentage of seats for the TN board students –

“The biggest flaw was that classifying students based on the board through which they passed their higher secondary examination was legally impermissible. It was no surprise when a single judge struck down the order.”

“Tamil Nadu’s apprehensions about NEET-based admissions are genuine. The prospects of students from rural areas and economically weaker classes may indeed suffer. However, these fears need not be permanent. The time has come for the State government to focus on raising academic standards at the school level.”

In May of last year, the then late Chief Minister J Jayalalitha wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi asking the central government to ensure that NEET for MBBS and dental courses would not be forced on the state going forward. In the letter, she writes in part -

“Introduction of NEET would be a direct infringement on the rights of the State and would cause grave injustice to the students of Tamil Nadu who have already been covered by a fair and transparent admission policy laid down by the Government of Tamil Nadu, which has been working well.”

The reasoning given by the then Chief Minister is one that has remained consistent over time – students in rural areas will be at a great disadvantage as they do not have the resources to enroll in training institutions and access materials which are easily available to urban students.

Last week, Justice N Kirubakaran of the Madras high court said that the outdated syllabus of the state boards were the reasoning for poor NEET scores. He said, “The Union government should have appointed a neutral agency to conduct NEET. When students from various boards are writing the exam, CBSE should not have been given the task of conducting the exam. It is obvious that it would pick questions only from its syllabus.”

The observation was made with simultaneous empathy for students who scored high marks in the board exams but were unable to secure a medical seat due to low NEET scores. He referred to a news report of a parent committing suicide over the anxiety and fear that her daughter would not be able to get a medical seat. The court heard a plea by S Kiruthika, a state board student who secured 1184 in the board exams but failed to apple to for medical counseling due to a low NEET score.

In mid August, Anitha said “With a cut-off of 196.75 per cent, I am assured of a seat in a government medical college in the state. If NEET comes in as eligibility criteria, I will be ruled out of the race as I have a mere 86 marks.” If the admissions were based on the plus two marks, she would have been the first doctor from her community.

More columns by Varun Sukumar