The quality of the video is low. Most likely, it has been shot using mobile phone camera. Surrounded by darkness, the girl in the video, clad in a cream colour churidar and a blue shawl, starts speaking shyly in broken English.
“I finished my standard XII this year. I have scored 1176 out of 1200. And I have scored 200 out of 200 in maths and physics. I am the only student with marks like these in Perambur district. I would like to study medicine. It is my ambition. I want to work for society as a doctor. I have four elder brothers. And I, one daughter. My family… My father is… My father’s name is Shanmugam. He is working as a coolie… My mother’s name is Anandam. She passed away 10 years ago. My dear friends, could you help me study medicine? Thank you very much… Jai Bhim…”
A couple of days after this video was shot, the girl in the video, 17-year-old Dalit student, Anita, committed suicide, September 1, 2017.
She can be called the first victim of the National Eligibility and Entrance Test (NEET) in Tamil Nadu.
A topper in the state board exams, Anita, still couldn’t cross the cut off of the NEET. She had already tried and failed in getting justice from the judiciary, as the Supreme Court did not allow any exemption or reservation for Tamil Nadu state board students in the exam.
NEET, the common nationwide entrance examination for medical studies aspirants, has stood triumphant on the graves of the dreams and aspirations of thousands of marginalised students like Anita.
In 2013, the Supreme Court had declared NEET unconstitutional and illegal. But in 2016, the Constitution bench had reversed this verdict, and had allowed the central government and the Medical Council of India (MCI) to conduct the exam.
The widespread opposition to the NEET had come mainly from states like Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Gujarat, etc., citing the vast difference in syllabus proposed by the MCI and that of the state boards. In spite of this, the first examination was conducted in two phases in 2016.
Also read: Entrance Examinations: A Tragic Affair
The syllabus of NEET allegedly gives advantage to the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) students.
In India, education is still a privilege, virtually reserved for certain sections of the society. Many states like Tamil Nadu go to extra lengths to make the education available to all their subjects. Making vernacular language the medium of instruction is a crucial feature of the state’s policy. By conducting exams that do not cater to the non-English medium students, the Centre is ultimately thwarting the advancement of these states in the education sector.
NEET in politics
Majority of political parties in Tamil Nadu, except for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), had made promises in their election manifestos that they will exempt Tamil Nadu from the NEET examination. Going by their autocratic, anti-federal policies, BJP has taken a pro-NEET stance.
The late CM J Jayalalitha had written to the central governments against the imposition of a common exam extensively. In one of her letters, addressing the NDA government, she had written, “Tamil Nadu strongly objects to any such purported fresh attempts by the Government of India to review the judgement of the Supreme Court seeking re-introduction of NEET or by introducing it in any other name or manner, as it infringes upon the State’s rights and admission policies to medical institutions in Tamilnadu (sic).”
She also reminded the PM of the Tamil Nadu government’s “consistent stand that rural students and students from poorer socio-economic backgrounds were unable to compete with urban elite students in such Common Entrance Examinations, which are designed to favour the urban elite”.
The exemption of Tamil Nadu from the NEET has been a common feature in manifestos of Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, Congress and the Communist Party of India (Marxist), ahead of the Lok Sabha elections. The state government had originally considered reserving 85% seats for the Tamil Nadu state board students, which was dismissed by the Madras High Court. The Centre did not allow any exemption for the state as well.
For the upcoming elections, Jayalalitha’s party, AIADMK, has formed an alliance with the same BJP. If they happen to win the elections, how will it play out for the medical aspirants from the marginalised sections of the society is something we will have to wait and see.
Also read: Elections 2019: DMK-Led Alliance -- Separate Manifestos, Common Issues