After being postponed twice, NEET (National Eligibility cum Entrance Exam) was finally conducted on Sunday, 13th September 2020, with the National Testing Agency having arranged for all necessary precautions to curtail the spread of coronavirus. As per reports, 15 lakh students had registered for the exam all over India, with 1.17 lakh from Tamil Nadu itself. Unfortunately, three aspirants committed suicide purportedly because of the NEET pressure. The real reason for the same is yet to be officially investigated.

What does data say?

Many politicians have commented on these suicides, invariably politicising the matter, for which the Madras High Court pulled many of them. Justice N Kirubakaran said, “Government alone can’t be blamed. Other stakeholders, particularly parents, who put enormous pressure on children to score high marks, are also to be blamed.”

According to 2019 NCRB data, almost 1.39 lakh people committed suicides all across the country for various reasons. If we categorise these suicides, daily wage workers are at the top of the list, followed by housewives, the unemployed population and then students. It has also been observed that students commit suicide for various reasons including peer pressure, family pressure and general exam pressure.

According to the 2015 report, there were 322 suicides in Tamil Nadu due to exam pressure. This number reduced to 215 in 2019.  However, media houses and politicians do not have much to say about the above mentioned categories of suicide, exposing the politics behind glamorising NEET-related suicides, which is being widely debated.

Why is Tamil Nadu the only state opposing it?

NEET aspirants belonging to other states have committed suicides before, but such politicisation has not been witnessed in any state other than Tamil Nadu.

Tamil political parties have been opposing NEET ever since it was initiated following the Supreme Court’s order in 2015. With the suicide of Anitha in 2017 and three other students this year, it seems that politicians have found a way to push other agendas. Among them, the strongest opposition is coming from the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK).

However, it is an unspoken fact that the initiative for implementing NEET was taken under the Sonia Gandhi-Manmohan Singh ruled UPA government in 2010 with DMK as an active ally.

Despite DMK’s active role in introducing NEET, it changed its stance soon after the Modi government came to power. The irony of the situation is, DMK has promised to get rid of NEET altogether if it comes to power in the elections in May 2021.

What might have caused this change in stance? Before NEET, 15% of seats in a private medical college in Tamil Nadu would be allocated to the All India Quota (AIQ). Of the remaining 85%, 42.5% would be allocated to candidates based on merit and the remaining 42.5% was treated as management quota. The students under the third quota had to take up a test conducted by the college, which was of questionable credibility. Notably, for a college that had 150 seats on offer, at least 63 seats were filled based on capitation fees, which could be as high as ₹1 crore.

As per an article in Swarajya Magazine, after the Supreme Court upheld the holding of NEET, 15% of the seats continue to be allocated through AIQ but the remaining 85% is filled based on NEET ranking and as per the 69% reservation formula. Therefore, all the private medical colleges that were making a profit have been facing major losses since NEET. Interestingly, out of the total fifty medical colleges in Tamil Nadu, twenty-four are private and fourteen of these colleges came up while DMK was in power.

Experts have questioned why DMK has opened more private colleges than government ones and also their respective affiliations.

It therefore seems like local political parties, DMK in specific and a few actors from the Tamil Film industry are protesting against NEET because of vested interests and not the benefit of students. It is a no-brainer that NEET-related suicides are being politicised for the wrong reasons.