The suicide of an 18-year-old female student in Tamil Nadu’s Ariyalur district on Monday, a day after she took the National Eligibility cum Entrance Test (NEET), has stoked political tensions in the southern state, which passed a law earlier that day exempting students in the state from the national test, calling it discriminatory in the wake of another aspirant’s suicide in Salem.
Police said the girl student was found dead in her home in Sathampadi village on Monday evening. “Her family said she found the exam paper to be tough though she was a bright student. We are investigating the cause of her death,” said a police officer in Ariyalur, who did not wish to be named.
The student studied in a private school in Namakkal district and had scored 562 out of 600 marks in her class 12 examination conducted by the state board. Her father was a member of the Bar Council of Tamil Nadu and an advocate at Ariyalur’s Jayankondam court. The police have registered a case of unnatural death under Section 174 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC).
On Tuesday, former All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) chief minister and leader of opposition Edappadi Palaniswami accused the ruling Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) of “playing politics” over the issue and said that it should “stop watching students die by suicide out of fear”.
On Monday, the Tamil Nadu assembly passed Tamil Nadu Admission to Undergraduate Medical Degree Courses Act 2021, which aims to permanently exempt medical aspirants in the state from NEET- a national entrance test for admission into various undergraduate medical courses in institutions across the country. The ruling party has called NEET “discriminatory” and said it puts poor and rural students at a disadvantage in comparison with their more privileged counterparts who can afford expensive coaching classes.
The law, which aims to make marks obtained in class 12 board examination the eligibility criteria for admission into medical courses into the state, requires the President’s assent. A similar Bill passed unanimously by the previous AIADMK regime in 2017 had failed to get the President’s nod.
The AIADMK leaders wore black badges [inside the assembly on Monday] to protest the Salem student’s death while accusing the DMK of not abolishing NEET in the state on time as promised in its election manifesto. However, AIADMK and its allies except the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) supported the Bill brought by the DMK.
TN health minister M Subramanian said the new Bill is different from the one passed by the then AIADMK government as it included a report by the justice A K Rajan committee—set up by the DMK– which concluded that the entrance exam favours the affluent segment and spoke of more than 80,000 stakeholders who want NEET banned. “Several rounds of discussion and debate have taken place with a team of lawyers and state government secretaries before formulating the Bill,” the health minister said.
Since NEET was introduced in Tamil Nadu in 2017, more than a dozen students including toppers in school board examinations have died by suicide due to fear of failing the medical entrance examination. The issue was raised prominently after S Anitha’s death by suicide in 2017. She too hailed from Ariyalur district and had topped in class 12 but failed in NEET.