Sensationalising a tragedy
A hyperactive media was waiting for an incident like the suicide by S Anitha, the 17-year-old girl from Ariyalur, Tamil Nadu, to happen so that they could claim that the country was in a major crisis. The media, as well as Tamil chauvinist groups, went overboard when it was reported that Anitha, belonging to the Scheduled Caste community, took the extreme step because the Union Government refused to give exemption to Tamil Nadu from the National Eligibility cum Entrance Test (NEET) — the qualifying examination to select students for the Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery (MBBS) and Bachelor of Dental Surgery (BDS) courses. But there are sensational facts beyond the headlines which do not make it to the body of the news.
Had the Tamil Nadu Government been given the permission to select students for MBBS and BDS courses based on the marks they scored in the State board examination, Anitha would have walked away with the admission ticket from one of the leading medical colleges in Chennai, claim those who lambast Prime Minister Modi for her suicide. Last Saturday saw secessionist elements operating in various names and being supported by opposition parties, who literally wanted to hijack the State. The anti-NEET brigade is propped up by the management of private medical colleges (popularly known as self-financing medical colleges). They are the ones who stand to lose once the method of admission to MBBS and BDS are switched over to NEET.
The Medical Council of India had made it clear earlier that admission to MBBS and BDS would be based on a common examination, applicable to students across the country. Since many States were unprepared for NEET-based admission in 2016-2017, all were given a one-time exemption with the rider that there would’nt be any more concessions. While all State Governments endorsed the NEET and reformed their plus-II courses to make it compatible with the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) syllabus, Tamil Nadu was the lone State which expressed reservations. And the State had no reasonable explanation to offer.
The Madras High Court and the Supreme Court dismissed once and forever the petitions moved by the opponents of NEET. Though the Government of Tamil Nadu claimed that students from rural areas may find the NEET syllabus a tough nut to crack, the truth remains that the former has done nothing to revise the syllabus and curriculum in its schools. NEET is based on CBSE syllabus, while students studying in Government schools in Tamil Nadu follow the State board , which is not compatible with that of the former.
The State Government should have ordered the revamping of the State board syllabus at least five years ago. It not only ignored the writing on the wall but kept struggling to keep the quality of education as low as possible. The Tamil Nadu Government and politicians would not like to answer a number of unpleasant questions. Do you know that Tamil Nadu is the only State which does not have a single Navodaya Vidyalaya while other States have one such school in each district. The Navodaya Vidyalaya, under the Ministry of Human Resource Development, launched by the Rajiv Gandhi Government in 1985, envisaged quality public school education to all students, especially those from the rural areas, at unbelievably low fees. While all States in the Union welcomed the project and offered land and other infrastructure, Tamil Nadu declared that Navodaya Vidyalayas were not welcome because it was an attempt to impose Hindi and Sanskrit over the Tamils.
Had they agreed to set up Navodaya Vidyalaya, students like Anitha would have laughed all the way to any of the medical colleges. A group of social activists have approached the Madras High Court with a plea to give directive to the State Government to permit Navodaya Vidyalayas. When the judges, hearing the petition, asked the Government pleader why Navodaya Vidyalayas are not allowed in the State, the latter said that Hindi was not welcome in Tamil Nadu. The medium of instruction up to 10th standard in Navodaya schools is regional and there is no discrimination against Tamils.
Leaders of political parties are bent upon keeping the people in the State ill-informed and ill-educated. The stance of some politicians sound ridiculous and macabre. “The Goods and Services Tax and the NEET are steps towards realising the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh dream of a unified India without diversity. The imposition of Hindi is also with the same objective,” said Thol Thirumavalavan, leader of the Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi, a backward class extremist outfit. The Communist Party of India (Marxist) went one step further and held that the BJP is responsible for Anitha’s suicide. “What happened to Anitha is the manifestation of the BJP’s political policy,” said G Ramakrishnan, state secretary of Tamil Nadu CPI(M).
Agreed, Anitha hailed from a poor Scheduled Caste family but one should take note of what her four elder brothers are doing. Her elder brother, Mani Ratnam, is a Master of Business Administration waiting for the Union Public Service Commission examinations. Satheesh Kumar, her second brother, is a post-graduate working with a microfinance company. Her other brothers, Pandian and Arun, are civil engineering and mechanical engineering students. Anitha was offered a seat in aeronautical engineering at the Madras Institute of Technology and a seat in veterinary science in the Veterinary College and Research Institute, Orathanadu, based on her marks in the State board examination. The rest the writer leaves to the readers.
One of the veteran political commentators based in Chennai told the truth behind the opposition to NEET. “We in Tamil Nadu do not like to share our MBBS and BDS seats with students from other States”, The agitation for Jallikkattu, protests against hydrocarbon project at Neduvasal and now the demand for exemption from NEET makes one doubt whether Tamil Nadu belongs to the Union of India.
Suicides are not strange or alien for Tamilians. Death of leaders like MG Ramachandran and J Jayalalithaa had made many to resort to the extreme step. Even ethnic war in neighbouring Sri Lanka resulted in many youths committing suicide. The announcement of the results of public examination, especially that of plus-II exams, is known as Tamil Nadu’s season of suicides.
There are 470 medical colleges in India offering 65,170 MBBS seats according to G Viswanathan, chancellor, Vellore Institute of Technology. As per statistics of 2012, the country was in need of 12 lakh doctors whereas it had only 5.5 doctors. The Union Government’ target for 2021 is 80,000 seats in MBBS. To meet the target of health for all, we should have many more medical colleges,” said Viswanathan.
One MBBS seat in Karnataka costs Rs 1.88 crore, according to a recent report. The situation is no different in Tamil Nadu. Only children of crorepati parents would be able to dream about becoming a doctor because of scarcity of medical colleges and seats. The Government has enacted legislations to curb black marketing and hoarding of essential services. But we do not have laws to check hoarding of MBBS seats.
All district general hospitals can be converted into medical colleges. There are many educational entrepreneurs willing to open medical colleges if the process of granting license and approval is made transparent. But there is a cartel of politicians, businessmen and religious groups who have hidden agendas and who do not want outsiders to trespass into their domain lest they lose monopoly over money spinning business of medical colleges. Who do you think are the persons financing the litigation against NEET? The agitation is not against the NEET per se. “We all know that it is the BJP which controls the present Tamil Nadu Government. The game plan is to pre-empt the party’s plans to set base in Tamil Nadu,” said a senior scribe. God save Tamil Nadu.
(The writer is Chennai-based special correspondent, The Pioneer)
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