The suicide of a 17-year-old Dalit student, Anitha Shanmugam in Tamil Nadu has raised outrage against the controversial National Eligibility cum Entrance Test (NEET). Large scale protests and solidarity rallies are being held across the country. Anita had challenged the imposition of NEET in the Supreme Court. The Central Government kept Tamil Nadu Government’s ordinance exempting government colleges from NEET on hold for a year. The NEET Counselling was expected to end on September 4 and as the medical aspirant saw no light at the end of the tunnel, she hanged herself on September 1. The tragic death has sparked debate on repercussions of NEET on students from marginalized communities and state board schools.
Like all other national entrance examinations, NEET only favours those students who come from elite and strong economic backgrounds and can afford coaching centres. In the various petitions opposing NEET, it has been alleged that this common entrance test for admission into all undergraduate medical and dental colleges is biased against students hailing from state board schools. It is reported that CBSE students have bagged most of the seats in top medical colleges in Tamil Nadu.
The Central government wants to improve the standard of medical education, bring in uniformity in the admission process and ensure that the capitation fee system was removed. None of these objectives would be addressed by NEET, opined A Saravanan, a practising advocate at the Madras High court. Last year, Bengali academic and activist Garga Chatterjee wrote that NEET creates an urban-rural divide, based on the boards they are studying in, and gave suggestions on its drawbacks.
India remains a poor performer when it comes to making policies in the health sector. According to the Economic Survey, the country’s public spending on health is just “little over” one percent of the GDP. On the basis of the data collected from the Global Burden of Disease report, 2015, India ranked 154 out of 195 countries in terms of access to healthcare, which is lower than poorer nations such as Bangladesh, Nepal, Ghana and Liberia.
Some experts are comparing the policy of NEET imposition with the mandating the Sanskrit language as an eligible condition for admission into medical colleges, that was prevalent nearly hundred years ago. This implied that only Brahmins were eligible to become doctors. The South Indian Liberal Federation (SILF) had then become the forerunners of Dravidian Movement and had led the protests when knowledge of Sanskrit was made compulsory for admission into medical colleges. The ongoing protests in today’s Tamil Nadu, demanding to declare NEET redundant, have raised concerns about the discrepancies in Indian education system.
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