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Interview: “NEET Has Favoured Only The Rich And Elite In Medical Colleges”

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Tamil Nadu has played a critical role in bringing up significant transformations in socio-political aspects. The state’s stand on reservations, Jallikattu, CAA, the farm laws is something that got unprecedented public appraisal nationwide.

NEET has become an emerging hot potato in Tamil Nadu since 2017 when S.Anitha, a medical aspirant from Ariyalur district died by suicide.

Recently, on September 13, Tamil Nadu assembly adopted a bill to scrap NEET from the state, based on the high level committee recommendations by retired judge AK Rajan. Now the Dravidian state expects to get the assent from the President for the bill.

I spoke with S.S Balaji, the MLA from Thiruporur constituency, State Deputy General Secretary of Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi regarding the issue of NEET and why they have been opposing the common entrance test. He is also a member of the Legislative Committee for Public Undertakings in Tamil Nadu.

S.S Balaji, MLA from Thiruporur constituency (Photo credits: Special arrangement)

Sofia Babu Chacko (SBC): Why has Tamil Nadu been opposing the National Eligibility Entrance Test with this much focus?

S.S. Balaji (SSB): Tamil Nadu opposes any entrance examination. Already, there is a disparity in the Indian education system. Rural poor students will never get a chance to the same opportunities as students in developed areas.

The divide that exists already – after NEET implementation, the disparity will become higher. Even if you are economically sound, the poor facilities in rural areas won’t allow the setting up of coaching centres.

When we hold an entrance examination, the whole focus shifts from the academic part to coaching centres. The important point is that entrance tests will not educate students but only train them in that particular area.

There is a difference between training and educating someone. By education, you are providing knowledge, a mere training can not do this.

SBC: Tamil Nadu is the only state in India that has staunchly opposed NEET. Critics say that the successive governments in TN have failed to provide adequate facilities to underprivileged sections. Why does the state government school lack better coaching centers for NEET aspirants? When we look at the bottom level is this the failure of the state government in providing justice to students?

SSB: NEET has not served the purpose it was told it would, when it was introduced. In the state, we conduct exams very honestly and sincerely. When the ranks are being released, we can see that all the students who secure high marks are from particular coaching centers.

Then how do you say that this is a good system? Students from their adolescence should not be put under the pressure of any competitive exams. NEET has ruled out the quality of education.

The sympathisers of NEET say that it will eradicate the capitation fee. They say that only meritorious students get the chance through NEET, but this is not true. The point that NEET has eradicated capitation fee is a myth.

Definitely, this is not the failure of the state government, it is absolutely a shame from the side of the Union government that they cannot even hold a proper examination by clarifying all the doubts of students who appear for the test.

The examination system and the way it is conducted are bad. Minority is being humiliated after NEET implementation, rural students lack proper training in NEET. They are not testing the knowledge but just training.

S.S Balaji with Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi leader Thirumavalavan and other party cadres.

SBC: We have witnessed suicides of medical aspirants due to NEET,especially in Ariyalur district. It has also the lowest Human Development Index as per 2017 report. What are the steps taken by the TN government as of now to improve the educational facilities for poor underprivileged students in place like Ariyalur?

SSB: Ariyalur is a comparatively small geographical area. It has a huge population of underprivileged sections. ADMK has ruled there for over 10 years by blindly obeying the orders from the Union government. Intentionally, they failed to solve the issue of implementing proper training measures for the poor.

Our political party Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi has special coaching centers named after our leader Thirumavalavan in Ariyalur for those who are writing competitive exams. Thiruma Payilagam (study center) takes positive steps to eradicate the problem of marginalized people in that particular district.

Every year we will make sure the vacancies in the centres are filled. Apart from that, the state government has also announced implementation of counselling centers in all districts for students to overcome the mental trauma during pandemic time.

Suicide is not the solution, the government is fighting for each and every student in Tamil Nadu.

SBC: The momentum of opposition to NEET examination is comparatively lesser in other states. Public questions, why these tragic suicides in the name of NEET are happening only in Tamil Nadu.What is your response to it? Is Tamil Nadu receiving support from other states regarding NEET ban?

SSB: AK Rajan committee findings will be an eye opener to the entire states in India. The reason why other states are not opposing it like Tamil Nadu is, it is the number one state based on education parameters. There are so many students who depend upon the state syllabus rather than CBSE.

NEET is not only a threat to rural poor students but it is harmful for the entire student community, so it will be an eye opener to all states. Our chief minister MK Stalin has been reaching out to other states with the committee’s report.

It doesn’t just say that the NEET system is against social justice itself but also that it has favoured only the elite and rich in the medical colleges. Another aspect is that the northern states are not really worried about the education system because they don’t practice transparency in examinations and their only motive is to tamper the process of examination thus they are comfortable with any sort of examination.

So, whether it is plus two examinations or NEET, they need not worry about the future of students. We, Tamil Nadu, have a knowledge to sense things far better than other states.

For instance, we have been agitating against Hindi imposition and now, other states are slowly catching up, so, Tamil Nadu is setting up a great model in terms of social justice. Our protest to ban NEET is not just for students in Tamil Nadu, but for the students across India.

We are so glad that now, Maharashtra has also been coming up in NEET protests. They are also rethinking about the momentum of disparity in NEET.

SBC: As per AK Rajan committee report, NEET would be affecting the healthcare infrastructure in Tamil Nadu. If this happens, can the Union government wash off its hands from the injustice committed against the disadvantaged sections in the state?

SSB: Injustice that has been done to the state cannot be rectified by the union government. At least, the centre should drop the plans of NEET now. According to the report, people from rural backgrounds who are socially and economically backward can empathise with the sentiments of similar people, so they are ready to go and work in the health sector of rural areas.

Now, what is happening is rich and elite people are spending around Rs.1.5 crores on becoming doctors. What can we expect from these doctors? We are informed that students are passing out of medical courses by spending lots of money.

They are entering the university with money and graduating with money. Look at the expense, the education system has become commercialised which is pathetic. How can this be a service to the rural poor? So, the medical system in TN has eventually got affected. The centre is committing a huge crime against the people of Tamil Nadu.

S.S Balaji MLA with Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M.K Stalin.

SBC: The downtrodden are being humiliated in educational institutions in India. Does the state government have equal responsibility in these suicides? Can it blame the Union government completely?

SSB: The state government has no role in it, as far as the Union government is concerned. We blame them because the Union government is so stubborn in conducting the NEET examination and least bothered about the way it is being conducted.

If they need to conduct a fair examination, why is this system harassing poor students? Children are being targeted. What we are witnessing is unacceptable in a democratic system. In entrance examinations, there are incidents in which people are misrepresenting and using a malpractice way of writing examinations.

The Union government has double standards. On one hand, it is saying that NEET is good as well as necessary but on the other hand, it fails in conducting fair examinations. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led government at the center has to answer for all these suicides.

SBC: So, who can provide a holistic learning environment to students? Is the inaccessibility of training centers to NEET aspirants show ‘only a student with better financial background can study under the Indian modern education system?

SSB: Students need a holistic learning opportunity to study. The state government is dealing with many initiatives and programs for the betterment of training facilities of the students who prepare for entrance examinations.

Recently, the TN government offered 7.5% of horizontal reservation in professional courses for government school students. We are also working out many aspects to further improve the educational status of Tamil Nadu.

The right solution is to bring education back to the ‘State List’. The Union government can give sufficient funds to the state but this is not enough. It is not about financial background, it is about the lack of better accessibility to coaching centres in certain places, where affluent people live as well.

Actually, there is a disparity in economic, social and quality education and by all means, NEET creates disparity.

SBC: Scrapping NEET is one of the poll promises of the Stalin government. So far what are the challenges it has been facing and how come this poll promise can be made true?

SSB: The government has promised to scrap NEET from the roots of Tamil Nadu. People in the state clearly know that it is not such an easy task. They know that this government is fully capable of fighting against NEET for their rightful cause.

Now, the prime challenge in front of the government is to get an assent from the president. All political parties except BJP have been supporting the bill to ban NEET in the state. Sentiments of people in Tamil Nadu are against this common entrance test.

So, every political party is supporting the cause to ban NEET. The stand of AIADMK is questionable, however. If they are against NEET they could have gotten the assent earlier from the President when the party was in power, but they couldn’t.

It is sure that AIADMK cannot make any single positive step against NEET as they are allied with the BJP.

SBC: Will the drastic fall of entry of state medium students to MBBS from Tamil Nadu government schools create a serious blow to the healthcare system in rural areas?

SSB: Definitely, the rural healthcare system will get affected. If the section of people who know and empathise with the pain of the poor don’t represent the medical fraternity, the entire medical system will be commercialised and collapse.

If the entry of rural students is restricted to medical seats it will badly affect the healthcare system. Only the rural poor know the pulse of marginalized poor people in rural-remote areas.

SBC: As education is in concurrent list, if the State and Central governments stick on to their own stand regarding NEET, will the Tamil Nadu government buckle under pressure?

SSB: The final decision will be taken by the central government as per the constitutional functioning. TN government is not under pressure, We cannot call it pressure, it is the sole responsibility of Stalin government.

The Union government clearly knows the people’s sentiments are against NEET and that’s why the DMK-led government came into power in the state. The Parliament elections are due in another 2 years.

As of now, there is an anti-BJP sentiment prevailing in Tamil Nadu. It is our sole responsibility to take the legal battle against NEET. This government clearly knows how to do it and the state government is implementing it well.

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