NEET In Tamil Nadu: What Is Behind Candidates’ Suicides And Political Parties’ Rhetoric Against The Medical Entrance Exam

M R Subramani

Sep 14, 2020, 01:41 PM | Updated 01:40 PM IST

DMK president M K Stalin (Facebook)
DMK president M K Stalin (Facebook)
  • While it’s absurd to hold NEET responsible for suicide by students, it’s equally important to know what the hidden agenda is behind political parties’ resistance to holding the exam.
  • At least 85 per cent of the students who had registered themselves for the National Entrance-cum-Eligibility Test (NEET) for medical college graduate seats appeared at various centres across the country yesterday (13 September), hoping to be doctors in future.

    This is out of the nearly 16 lakh Indian students who had registered and got the hall tickets. The feedback on NEET after the exams got over is that it was easy on the students.

    In Tamil Nadu, where there is a raging debate on the need to conduct NEET has been going on for years now, at least 80 per cent of the registered 1.18 lakh students turned up to sit for the test across 238 centres in the state.

    Hours before NEET was conducted in Tamil Nadu, at least three students allegedly committed suicide, one of them a girl, fearing the outcome even before they sat for the exams. The girl and one of the boys who committed suicide had appeared for NEET unsuccessfully last year.

    A hue and cry was raised by the opposition parties in Tamil Nadu led by the Dravida Munnetra Kazagham (DMK) over the suicides. Various other parties, too, have raised the issue.

    These parties, which have been crying hoarse over NEET ever since it began to be held following the 2015 orders of the Supreme Court, found a way to promote their agenda through the death by suicide of these three students.

    Political parties in Tamil Nadu have been indulging in this rhetoric for nearly six years now and have been misleading the people, saying that the Narendra Modi government at the Centre is responsible for the conduct of NEET.

    It was under the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government of Manmohan Singh, in which the DMK was an active ally, that initiatives for NEET were taken in 2010. The implementation began in 2013 though it ran into hurdles.

    However, on 13 April 2016, the Supreme Court made it mandatory that all admissions to medical colleges should be subject to obtaining a rank in NEET.

    One of the objectives of NEET was to eliminate students from sitting for various tests to get a medical seat. By appearing for NEET, there are immense possibilities for a student to get a medical college seat.

    Though the DMK, as part of the UPA government, was a party to the decision on conducting NEET, its stance changed soon after the Modi government came to power. This is an eyewash in the garb of upholding its social justice stand and, probably, a strategy to keep its vote bank intact.

    Nothing can be more rhetorical on this front than the DMK president M K Stalin declaring that his party would abolish NEET if it wins the state assembly elections scheduled in May next year.

    Social media was quick to call him out, saying his statement was contempt of court. More embarrassingly for the DMK, a clipping of Nalini Chidambaram, senior advocate and wife of former Union minister P Chidambaram, saying that Tamil Nadu has no way out of NEET, began doing the rounds on social media.

    One of the most glaring aspects about NEET is the reaction of political parties, barring the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), to suicide of candidates either fearing or failing to get through.

    In the last six years, they have raised a hue and cry only over the suicides of those who appeared or were to appear for NEET. At the same time, they have not uttered a word against the Joint Entrance Examination for engineering seats, including in Indian Institutes of Technology and National Institutes of Technology.

    Also, those opposed to the tests have now begun a spurious argument on the need for NEET when the state is reportedly ahead of almost all other states on health parameters.

    Tamil Nadu is one state where some candidates had indulged in impersonation while writing NEET. Thus, there seems to be some sort of compulsion to oppose NEET.

    There is a reason why political parties and some of the celebrities have raised the stakes on NEET. On social media, one person spelt out the reason for these parties and their leaders raking up the issue time and again without success.

    Prior to NEET, a private medical college in Tamil Nadu would have to allocate 15 per cent of the total seats on offer to the All India quota (AIQ). Of the rest 85 per cent, 42.5 per cent had to be allocated to candidates selected on merit by the state government.

    The remaining 42.5 per cent was treated as management quota, and seats were filled based on a test the respective college conducted.

    However, the credibility of the test was questionable. More importantly, for a college that had 150 seats on offer, at least 63 seats were filled on the basis of capitation fees which were as much as Rs 1 crore. Those who took the respective private medical college test had to pay the capitation fees.

    After the Supreme Court upheld the holding of NEET, 15 per cent of the seats are allocated through AIQ but the rest 85 per cent is being filled based on NEET ranking and as per 69 per cent reservation formula in the state.

    For example, last year 3,050 medical seats were filled in Tamil Nadu. Caste-wise, the forward community got 136 seats, the backward communities 1,594 seats, the most-backward communities 720 seats and Scheduled Castes/Scheduled Tribes 600 seats.

    Thus, there seems to be no valid reason for the opposition parties led by the DMK to hold a grudge against NEET except for the fact that they want private medical colleges to gain at the cost of poor Tamil Nadu students.

    Probably, there is one reason why the DMK is at the forefront of opposing NEET. Of the total 50 medical colleges in Tamil Nadu, 24 are private. Fourteen of these colleges came up during the DMK’s various regimes.

    In terms of seats, private colleges offer 3,900 of the 7,550 seats in Tamil Nadu. Experts wonder what prevented the DMK from opening more government colleges and why it preferred private ones during their terms. The other questions they ask is who own all these colleges.

    In contrast, the Modi government has sanctioned 11 medical colleges since 2014 in the state.

    According to S Gurumurthy, Swadesh Jagran Manch convenor and Tamil magazine Tughlaq editor, a fake debate has been sparked off in the state based on the three death by suicide cases that occurred on 12 September.

    Suicide because of exams and their results is a common problem. Maharashtra tops such deaths followed by Tamil Nadu.

    Stating that opposition parties were portraying a picture as if death by suicide of students began after NEET, he pointed out that suicides in Tamil Nadu, as per National Crime Records Bureau, had dropped from 312 to 255 (under the accidental deaths and suicides).

    What the entire NEET controversy in Tamil Nadu highlights is that political parties led by DMK and celebrities are perhaps doing the bidding for private medical colleges which will stand to benefit hundreds of crores of rupees if the exams are done away with.

    That the people of the state are seeing through it is evident from the 80 per cent attendance for the exams and the increasing number of students coming forward to write them.

    M.R. Subramani is Executive Editor, Swarajya. He tweets @mrsubramani

    Get Swarajya in your inbox.