How NEET Is Ruining The Dreams Of Aspiring Students From Marginalised Areas

The National Eligibility Cum Entrance Test, or NEET (UG), is a single exam for all students who are aspiring to be doctors throughout the country. Well, before NEET (UG), there was the All India Pre Medical Test (AIPMT). However, back then, the states also had their own system to conduct exams for the students and admit them accordingly. Consequently, only around 15% of the seats in an institution used to be filled through AIPMT.

Is NEET (UG) A Progressive Attempt?

They say it serves two purposes.

1. It ensures that institutions admits only those deserving candidates who can clear the exam.

2. It also ensures that private colleges don’t get capitations, and that everyone has the chance of getting admitted to one, despite their financial status.

Let’s discuss the first one. Who is a ‘deserving candidate’?

I am from Tamil Nadu, and we did oppose the entrance exams for a long time, given the fear that it would not be an equal field of play between rural and urban students.

So, why should you insist on merit over the possibility of a student from a rural area getting into a medical college?

When someone from a remote area (where people live in abysmal conditions, let alone having the comfort to read) qualifies to be a doctor, that uplifts the people in the whole area.

It gives them the hope that they too can turn things around. And why am I specifically talking about the medical profession? As far as I have noticed and heard, rarely does any other profession gather as much respect to these people (who are marginalised in the name of caste and are oppressed by the so-called elites) as the medical profession.

That’s Fine. What Else Has It Got?

If one were to notice the performance of primary health centres (PHCs) all over India, I am confident that Tamil Nadu would feature as one of the best -performing states – in terms of the quality of doctors /PHCs, achieving low infant mortality and maternal mortality rates, among other parameters.

The reason behind this can be mainly attributed to two factors.

1. Incentive marks given for PG admissions by the government to doctors working in all PHCs, and also the maintenance of a proper and successful counselling method on this.

2. Many doctors working in PHCs belong to the same region. Realistically speaking, I do not think a person from a metropolitan city would want to go to work and perform their best in a remote region, far away from their home – where there may be a scarcity of water and numerous other issues.

There is another reason why Tamil Nadu is able to achieve these standards. To the best of my knowledge and as far as I have seen, individuals from most regions are able to gain admission to a medical college in various capacities, irrespective of the presence (or absence) of an entrance exam.

Anti-NEET protest

But Won’t All These Lower The Standards Of A Prospective Doctor?

No. I have been with many such students. It’s the medium of English that is difficult for a few of them, not medicine. And even if they may not be up to the standards of a NEET-level (or previously, AIPMT-level) student, the chance to compete with these people and even gain admission to a college may give them a lot of scope to address their deficits.

If you want better standards for doctors, it is the curriculum you need to upgrade, not the entrance exams. The entrance exams are just a method to pick a few among the masses who aspire. Serving merit is necessary, no doubt. But it shouldn’t come at the cost of social justice.

Do You Think Students From Cities And Remote Areas Compete On Equal Terms In Such Exams?

If you do, let’s have a deeper look into the scenario. Those who are aware of NEET may know how the introduction of a few coaching centres has ‘revolutionised’ these exams. It’s reached a point where it now seems that these exams keep updating in order to catch up with the demands and ways of the centres. As a matter of fact, it’s almost become ‘mandatory’ to take a coaching class in order to clear the exam. Many students even take a year off after their class 12 exams to take private coaching classes before appearing for NEET. On the other hand, do you think students, whose families have barely managed to finance their education till class 12, can afford to bear the expenses of an extra year of private coaching classes? The hard truth is that the government can never catch up with these private coaching centres!

Is this a level ground for people from cities and remote regions to compete?

Is this a level ground for the child of a millionaire and that of a pauper to compete against each other?

Is this a level ground for a graduate and someone who comes from an illiterate family?

And obviously, when a large section of the population is being denied opportunities to pursue education of their choice, it is marginalisation. When there aren’t going to be enough doctors in rural regions, that’s also marginalisation . And, most of all, when people lose hope that they can uplift themselves (and those around) through education, that’s marginalisation too!

Has NEET served the second purpose of regulating the capitations and fees, at least? It has and it hasn’t. The capitations may be gone, but the fees charged are still overwhelming and astronomical for a number of students. A few colleges even continue to receive capitations (in an underhanded fashion perhaps, by splitting them and in the form of fees). So it would seem that in such colleges, nothing has changed.

Yes – let us move forward with our ‘meritorious students’, leaving behind a large section of the population . After all, we seem to be wise enough to see and understand the world through and through, all by ourselves. But, do remember that one can never find happiness in this world by eliminating the people they deem unnecessary.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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