The trouble with NEET
State rights violated by the imposition of this exam.
The highly controversial National Eligibility cum Entrance Test (NEET) for admission to medical and dental colleges in the Indian Union took place on May 10. And immediately following that, a huge stream of complaints from all corners of India showed the sheer incompetence, bias, and insensitivity of the CBSE in conducting the exam. After the test started a few years ago, a Supreme Court bench headed by then Chief Justice of India Alatamas Kabir has scrapped the NEET.
State medical entrance exams resumed and went on without a hitch. NEET was reinstituted after another judgement reversed the earlier one. The NEET exam replaces all state-based medical entrance exams and has been opposed vehemently by multiple non-Hindi states. State board students make up a stupendous majority of medical aspirants in every non-Hindi state. When state medical entrances used to happen, state board students used to dominate the 85 per cent state quota while CBSE/ISC students dominated the 15 per cent All-India quota. The highly biased nature of the NEET will be apparent from the following prediction that I will now make – more than 50 per cent of the top 20 rank in NEET will be occupied by CBSE/ISC students even as they will be a minority among the NEET-taking students. An exam conducted by CBSE creates an unequal playing field for those students and dashes the career dreams of a majority to favour the tiny CBSE minority. Even then, it was steam-rolled without caring about the public opinion in these states.
The most serious complaints have come from West Bengal and Gujarat. Firstly, both these states had to fight to get Bangla and Gujarati translations of the question papers to start with. At first, CBSE didn't agree but gave in later due to pressure from the students, a huge majority of whom study in Bangla and Gujarati, their mother tongue. Notwithstanding the huge disadvantage to these students due to the biased CBSE syllabus, they went ahead and took the NEET exam. But CBSE had other plans. One would imagine that a common medical entrance test would also have a question paper that is common for all students. But not for the CBSE-organised NEET - they created question papers where the question sets were different in different languages. The Bangla and Gujarati language question paper were much tougher than the Hindi language one. This is a scandal of epic proportion that victimises particular linguistic groups. Is it accidental that Gujarat and West Bengal were also among the more vocal states that had demanded question papers in their own language? While CBSE gave in to that demand, no one had imagined that the question sets itself in those languages would be different and tougher from those that were printed in Hindi.
CBSE never mentioned that there would be different question sets for different languages. How can such a test be called "uniform", that much-touted principle that was given in support of NEET? The discrimination did not stop here. Even the number of questions in Hindi set and Bangla set were different. This means that each error would cost much less to a Hindi language exam taker than a Bangla language exam taker. What this means is that Gujarati and Bangla medium students will rank much lower or not at all in the NEET merit list. Now here is the catch. CBSE schools are not Gujarati medium in Gujarat or Bangla medium. Gujarati or Bangla medium schools are all state board schools. Thus, whatever small chance they had in spite of the tremendous odds in terms of a biased CBSE syllabus was also systematically destroyed. But who gained from this vis-a-vis state quota seats of Gujarat and West Bengal? Obviously, students schools which are not Bangla or Gujarati medium. Which boards are these non-Bangla or non-Gujarati medium schools affiliated to? They are affiliated to Delhi-headquartered boards, namely ISC and CBSE. It is a shame that such a dirty game was played with the future of lakhs of students whose only "fault" was they studied hard in Bangla or Gujarati in Bengal or Gujarat respectively in Bengal or Gujarat state board. They are the majority.
The West Bengal state government has taken very serious note of this. Not at all enthusiastic about NEET in the first place, the West Bengal government has declared that it will pursue this victimisation issue and take it "as far as it needs to be taken". West Bengal state higher education minister has said that he will write to the CBSE on this issue and has perceptively pointed out that this different and tougher question paper was "an attack on the merit of the students of Bengal. Students from the state are being deprived deliberately. We strongly protest this discrimination on the part of the CBSE". He also said that the West Bengal medical education directorate would be consulted and that West Bengal would seek re-examination. This intervention has Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee's support. West Bengal had already pulled out of the nation-wide common engineering entrance test about which Chatterjee said, "they (Centre) had tried to do something similar in case of engineering entrance exam as well, but we had strongly opposed it." For West Bengal, this is especially shocking since West Bengal's Joint Entrance Board has a multi-decade long experience in conducting medical entrance exams without leaks or hitch. It is unclear why West Bengal has to suffer due to centralising whims of Delhi's agencies and for the benefit of students affiliated to Delhi-headquartered boards.
The problems with the NEET didn't end there. Question paper leaks were reported from the Hindi-states of Bihar and Rajasthan. This is a shocking level of incompetence, if not a conspiracy. Why is it that äll-India exam question paper leaks happen only in Hindi states? These questions cannot be brushed aside when we look at Chatterjee's statement about the tougher Bangla question paper when he says, "The CBSE must have done this at the behest of somebody."
Experts have claimed that the question papers themselves were flawed with certain questions with some of them being ambiguous. If such is the state of matters, then what people have witnessed in the name of NEET is shameful. But the shame does not even end there. Female students in Kerala have been forced remove their underwear for the exam. Many of them have been psychologically traumatised, and hence, their exam preparation had been made completely useless. This has created uproar in Kerala, and the Chief Minister of Kerala P. Vijayan has taken serious note of this matter and tweeted "Complaints have arisen about the conduct of NEET exams. Condemnable conduct of invigilators amounts to human rights violation. "
The NEET has created a booming business for CBSE schools and NEET specific coaching centres. Rajasthan's city of Kota has an infamous mini cottage industry of such exam preparations is also in the news for huge numbers of suicides among such coaching class students. NEET thus is anti-poor, anti-non-Anglo-Hindi medium, anti-State board. That is basically the majority of students. That these issues have been brushed aside by Medical Council of India and CBSE so easily shows the intersectional caste-class-language elitism of the powerful who control these agencies. For the good of all, NEET needs to be scrapped. The Tamil Nadu government has already prepared a bill to exempt Tamil Nadu from NEET and sent it for Presidential assent. Given the recent alignment of the President of India in favour of centralisation of all powers, the assent seems highly unlikely. NEET is a neat way to roll back the small gains that rural vernacular students of non-Hindi states have been able to make in terms of career. It has to go. No institution or agency or their whims and fancies are more important than the people.
(The views expressed are strictly personal.)