Suriya Sivakumar, an actor in Tamil movies who has not had a single hit in the last six years, hit the headlines during the weekend with his adverse comments on the National Eligibility-cum-Entrance Test (NEET) for about 80,000 medical college seats in the country.
His comment questioning the need to hold NEET, after the death by suicide of three students, was seen by some as a strategy to hog the headlines ahead of the release of the movie “Soorarai Potru” that is pending.
It is now reportedly being scheduled for release on the Over-The-Top (OTT) platform next month.
He was probably pushed to such a situation since the movie “Ponmagal Vandal” produced by him with his wife Jyothika in the lead courted controversy after being released on the OTT platform.
Theatre owners have sworn that they will not release his movies anymore in their premises.
The suspicion here is that the actor could have joined hands with the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), another vehement opponent of NEET, as a quid pro quo.
DMK wields considerable influence in the Tamil film industry and could have probably promised to step in to help his movies get released.
Be that as it may, Suriya has got into a deeper problem. In his statement criticising NEET, he made a comment that has now drawn the ire of judges of the Madras High Court and members of the Madras Bar Association.
“Courts were delivering justice through video-conferencing due to life-threatening coronavirus fears, but are ordering students to fearlessly go and write the exams,” he said in his statement, prompting Justice S M Subramaniam to write to Chief Justice A P Sahi seeking to initiate contempt of court proceedings against the actor.
Views for and against the contempt of court proceedings have been made. Going beyond these, popular television news anchor Rangaraj Pandey, who now runs his own Chanakyaa channel on YouTube, has torn to shreds Suriya’s statements.
He has particularly questioned the actor with regard to the latter’s family-run Agaram Foundation.
The foundation is being run with funds from the actor's own pocket, besides from that of his family members — his brother Karthi, too, is an actor — relatives, friends and others.
Pandey says since Suriya runs the Agaram Foundation, he has the right to speak on the problem.
But the words he has chosen to express himself are not proper.
“Probably referring to the New Education Policy (NEP), he has said it creates ups and downs. But Suriya has not explained on what basis he has come to this conclusion,” the news anchor commented.
Referring to the actor’s comment on the judiciary, he said it probably may not be a contempt of court situation, given the fact that he was expressing his anguish over the death of three students.
However, he had got his facts wrong. Courts across the country have begun physical hearings from 7 September, much before NEET could be held, Pandey pointed out.
“Even Suriya was keen on the release of his latest movie amidst the Coronavirus pandemic. He made attempts. How would he view that?” the news anchor wondered.
Pandey also questioned Suriya on his statement saying that the government was trying to implement “Manusmriti” (code of Manu termed Manu Needhi in Tamil).
“Where is Manusmriti being implemented in the country? I am shocked if he had said this. It is not at all being implemented in any part of the country and is not even considered sacrosanct, like the Bhagavad Gita. Dravidian parties usually use the term to defame the Hindu religion and the upper castes,” Pandey said.
He wondered how Suriya justified terming this. “Does he mean to say that only the rich and upper caste students are getting medical seats?” the news anchor wondered.
Pandey quoted a parent to point out that the layman was not worried about NEET and the actor did not even have such clarity.
“He says NEET is a weapon against the poor and downtrodden. How does he see this as a weapon? Even a person on the street is clear that his children will have to study hard and get good marks to succeed in NEET. Even when reservation quota is followed, shouldn’t there be a criteria to allocate seats?” the news anchor asked.
He then pointed to the terms and conditions spelt by Agaram Foundation to students to get funds for higher education.
“The Agaram Foundation asks for students' 10th and plus-two mark sheets. If Suriya says seats should not be based on the performance in the tests, why then is his foundation wanting the market sheets for these classes?
“Wouldn’t he prefer the student with higher marks? The Foundation says it will hold direct interviews. Isn’t its objective to know the candidate better and filter?” Pandey asked.
The Foundation also stipulates that its staff will visit the houses of those seeking funds. Why visit their homes? Doesn’t Agaram Foundation trust the students seeking funds, the news anchor wondered, adding that there were so many processes at the Foundation to give funds for higher education.
In particular, Pandey asked Suriya why his Foundation needed community certificates from the students. “Where is caste among the poor? You say you will follow a rigorous process for selection. If you can do this for your Foundation, then is it not fair for a process in which 15 lakh students write aiming to get one of the 80,000 seats at stake?” the news anchor asked.
Pandey pointed at a letter written by one of the girls who had committed suicide in Madurai a day before NEET exams. In her letter, which shows her good upbringing by her family, the girl has only said that she was afraid that she would not be able to meet their expectations.
“It is clear that the children are under pressure from society to match up to its expectations and they were being forced to resort to such steps looking at earlier ‘copybook’ events,” he said.
Pandey said there were 35 deaths by suicide every day and blaming NEET for such deaths was not justified. Education was the reason for the death of a student every second day in the State.
He said politicians were playing up NEET as a big issue even as the seats for technical education through Joint Entrance Examination (JEE) were 43,911 only and over 15 lakh students wrote it.
Interestingly, a video doing the rounds on social media showed Jyothika telling an anchor that her daughter loves to speak in Hindi.
Suriya has opposed the teaching of Hindi in the State.
M.R. Subramani is Executive Editor, Swarajya. He tweets @mrsubramani
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