NEET protests : Workers come out in support of students

Tamilnadu has been rocked by protests against the imposition of a centralized medical admission process through NEET (National Eligibility and Entrance Test). Even though public opposition to NEET was overwhelming, Tamilnadu Government retracted its opposition to this process and accepted NEET score as the criteria for admissions into medical colleges in the state. This policy shift, led to the suicide by Anita, a medical aspirant who lost admission because of the change in rules. Anita had aced her 12std matriculate exam with over 96%, but could only score 86 out of 720 in NEET, which is a multiple choice entrance format. This had made her ineligible to get a medical seat. Her suicide has galvanized public opinion and brought students, educationist and workers to the streets demanding the immediate repeal of NEET. However, the state has gone ahead with the NEET based admission process, with only CMC vellore, opting out of the process leaving all its seats vacant for the year.

The adverse impact of NEET is already visible with rural admission to medical seats falling alarmingly from previous years. NEET is a texbook example of the devastating mistakes that can arise when center dictates the policies of the state. It is especially fatal for a state like Tamil-Nadu which had a progressive stance on education where it wanted its majority of student population to go to colleges for higher education. As [1] notes, by contrasting the state level education policies of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu it becomes clear that whether Karnataka wants to “funnel outmajority of people in class 12 (with a pass percentage of 52%) so that a rupture between skilled and un-skilled labour gets created already via the education process, Tamil Nadu  on the other hand  has a class 12 pass percentage of 92 percent. It’s education policies with all it’s limitations are based on the premise that  majority of its youth has a chance to go to colleges and graduate. This is why Tamil Nadu examinations do not have the flavour of entrance tests as its objective was not to “filter outthe majority of the populace from obtaining quality education.  

This is why NEET and such multiple choice questions (MCQ) exams , which requires specialized training is a blow to majority of students in Tamil Nadu who want to pursue medical careers. Exams like NEET require not only an advanced school syllabus but also specialized training in clearing such exams. Such training requires time, financial resources on part of the student and hence the channel that leads to medical career becomes so narrow that majority of the rural poor are automatically funneled out of it. Anitha who took on the central government by placing her faith in judiciary fought till the end to pursue the career she dreamt of and richly deserved . Her suicide (which like suicides of  millions of farmers is another example of institutional killing) brought out masses on the streets of Tamil Nadu .   

Every state in India has a state board and state education system. This is a consequence of the rights guaranteed to every state under constitution which had left health and education under the ambit of the state government. When in 1960, there was a clamour for nation-wide standardization of education,  Kothari commission was convened  and it recommended that education remain with the state.  This is imperative for a country like India as different states have widely differing socio-economic, cultural and linguistic compositions. 

It was in 1976, during the time of emergency when the then prime-minister Indira Gandhi brought the education  under the concurrent list which means both states and the center can amend the education policies. By drawing a subject into the concurrent list, the States lose their authority over policy as legislation of the central government will over ride state legislations. Even if a State government decides to make an exception, it would require the consent of the President of India, who will only act on the advise of the Central government. In this case, tamilnadus resolution seeking exemption from NEET, did not receive the presidential consent. In a country governed by neo-liberal ethos and political hegemony of a ruling party, a state is dependent on the good-will of the center in a variety of ways and hence a subject being in a concurrent list implies that center can easily dictate the policies and state governments will often be forced to comply.  

One of the reasons why the left movement is at a low ebb in this country is because various the student movements in the country are isolated from the struggles of the working class.[2] In this light it was a welcome development when the  section of the working class came out in numbers to protest against NEET and condemn the institutional killing of Anitha.   Pricol workers in Coimbatore who continue to fight against the state for release of their two comrades,, workers affiliated to AICCTU in Sriperumbadur , Sanmina workers who are fighting the long battle against the management [3], workers of the MRF factory  as well as various unions affiliated to IT workers protested.  

These protests emphasized the inequality in society along class and caste lines, which will only be exacerbated and exploited further by the NEET exam. In the IT industry in particular, social (and hence class
and caste-based) connections are often vital to rise beyond the level of manager. The NEET exam will only make it harder to rise in this system, by weakening schemes that ensure social justice to oppressed
sections of society in Tamilnadu. Moreover, by increasing the importance of private coaching institutes it will dilute public education further, thus advancing the neoliberal agenda ofprivatizing education.

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Policies like implementation of NEET must be understood in the larger context of New education policy [4] which is relentlessly pursued by this government which on one hand will turn quality education into an expensive commodity and on the other hand ensure that education as a means to climb social ladder will be removed so that a son or daughter of a worker remains a worker. NEET is at the intersection of Education and Health care. By commercializing medical education and increasing the costs of entry, the health sector will also face increase pressure to become privatized to bring in return on investments made by medical students. It will enhance institutional discrimination as it will price out education and health care for the rural, oppressed and marginalized communities. Only a sustained resistance by a combined movement of students and workers will ensure that this does not happen.

[1] https://thewire.in/175230/tamil-nadu-education-neet-education-karnataka-coaching-graduates/

[2]http://tnlabour.in/automobile-industry/3688

[3]http://tnlabour.in/factory-workers/5802

[4] http://tnlabour.in/workers-struggles/3611

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