NEET. In the UK, this term means Not in Education, Employment or in Training. And there is a stigma attached to this word. Especially because of the number of crimes and teenage pregnancies associated with it. But in India, this acronym stands for something else that has recently become notorious. NEET is National Eligibility cum Entrance Test in India. It is an entrance examination that Indian students should take if they wish to graduate in medical, dental or postgraduate medical courses (MD/MS) in Indian medical colleges.
Anitha, an ambitious 17-year-old girl who weaved dreams of becoming a doctor, ended her life on 1st September 2017. She left her family, friends and students across India in shock. She had scored an impressive 1176/1200 in her Class 12 exams. But she did not qualify for a medical college seat. Because her NEET score of 86/700 was below the cut-off marks.
Her suicide 8 weeks ago triggered a revolution that is still ongoing. The public has apportioned blame to NEET, the Central Government, the State Government, the state of affairs at the State schools, the Supreme Court… the list is endless. But who am I blaming? The fact that in my motherland – India, a teenager thought that suicide was only her way out because she did not get a medical seat! Anitha had her whole life ahead of her. Doctor or not, she could have done a lot for her society – alive than dead. Why wasn’t there anybody to remind her that? Why didn’t she know any better to reach out to someone in her distress?
Don’t get me wrong. My heart goes out to that little girl for all the agony and helplessness she must have gone through. I don’t blame her an ounce. And I agree that
- NEET is designed starkly favourable to the CBSE syllabi (central board and English-based). Hence students who have done their schooling in vernacular languages and whose parents cannot afford the exorbitant fees for NEET training don’t stand much chance against it.
- The State Government should have taken steps to improve the state education system to meet the NEET requirements. They should have provided free training to eligible students from less privileged backgrounds.
- The Supreme Court should have extended the exemption for NEET as the precursor for medical seat. At least for the sake of the State School students. At least until the Tamil Nadu government had the chance to make the necessary changes to its education system.
But it would be myopic to burden the sole responsibility of Anitha’s suicide on the education system, the judicial system or the government. There should be some focus on providing mental help for people – especially teenagers – who are in mental agony.
Something good came from Anitha’s martyrdom and the ensuing media frenzy. Last Wednesday, the Tamil Nadu State school education department signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with two institutions. Henceforth, these institutions will impart free coaching to the students for competitive examinations including the NEET. Also, Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Edappadi K. Palaniswami had offered a solatium of ₹7 lakh from the CM’s Relief Fund to her family and a job offer to one of the family members.
… a father lost his daughter. And ₹7 lakh cannot replace her!
… a grandmother, found her granddaughter hanging from a saree. She can never unsee that vision!
… our nation lost a brilliant girl who would grow up and do something extraordinary for our society!
There are many Anitha’s amongst us who are distressed by their family circumstances, educational situations and emotional agony over relationships. So let us help these Anitha’s become resilient in their lives. Let us lend them a listening ear or a shoulder to lean on. Or at least point them in a direction where they can get these.
Sneha’s Suicide Prevention Helpline number is 044 2464 0050
Tamil Nadu State Health Helpline number is 104. This service has counsellors who handle psychiatric and psychological problems including depression and suicidal tendencies.
In the UK, the Samaritans are ever ready with a listening ear at 116 123 which is absolutely anonymous and free from any phone.