New Delhi: The pitch against the nationwide NEET and JEE exams at a time of health crisis was raised significantly on Tuesday, August 25, when 17-year-old climate activist Greta Thunberg threw her weight behind postponing the public tests.
She tweeted that it is “deeply unfair” that students have been asked to appear in the tests during the pandemic.
It’s deeply unfair that students of India are asked to sit national exams during the Covid-19 pandemic and while millions have also been impacted by the extreme floods. I stand with their call to #PostponeJEE_NEETinCOVID
— Greta Thunberg (@GretaThunberg) August 25, 2020
Thunberg also, significantly, noted the effects of the devastating floods in the northeast and in Bihar.
Thunberg, who heads back to school after a year off for activism, is a leading voice for action on climate change, inspiring millions of students to join protests around the world. She was named TIME magazine’s ‘Person of the Year’ for 2019.
Two years ago, she started missing lessons most Fridays to protest outside the Swedish Parliament building, in what turned out to be the beginning of a huge environmental movement.
What is the chorus on?
The JEE is taken for admission into premier engineering colleges and the NEET for undergraduate medical courses.
The JEE (Main) is scheduled to be held between September 1 and 6, while the JEE (Advanced) is on September 27. The NEET will be held on September 13.
Lakhs of students sit for the two exams each year, and preparations for the two are an industry unto themselves.
However, this year, in spite of a visible delay in the academic calendar, the health crisis is still in swing. In the last 24 hours, 60,975 people tested positive for COVID-19. India’s case tally on Tuesday rose to 31,67,323.
Among issues occupying concerns is not only the health risk posed by the vast number of students who need to appear in test centres, but also the question of how they will appear for the exams. Many administrations have placed localities under lockdowns based on necessity to contain the spread of the coronavirus. In addition, several hopefuls may themselves be in self, home or institutional quarantine.
The Supreme Court has already dismissed a petition to postpone the exams, and has told the Centre to accommodate those who wish to give the NEET exams and are stuck outside the country, in Vande Bharat flights home. The Medical Council of India, which organises the NEET, has maintained to the apex court that the exam cannot be postponed further.
Clamour within the country
Within the country, political leaders, activists, sets of guardians and students have asked for the exams to be postponed until there is a significant sign that the spread of COVID-19 has been brought under control.
Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam president M.K. Stalin, along with chief ministers Mamata Banerjee of West Bengal and Naveen Patnaik of Odisha have been voices in the chorus.
On Sunday, more than 4,200 students observed a day-long hunger strike to press for the postponement of not just NEET and JEE, but also CLAT, UGC-NET and the CBSE compartment exams of Class 10 and Class 12.
Students are begging for life and you are rigid to take exam. No “logic” can win over “Life” .
Consider your decision, they do not want to risk their family lives @DrRPNishank
Join tomorrow one day hunger strike #SATYAGRAH_AgainstExamsInCovid
— N Sai Balaji | ఎన్ సాయి బాలాజీ (@nsaibalaji) August 22, 2020
The protest came on a day when Rahul Gandhi said the government must listen to the ‘mann ki baat’ of students and arrive at “an acceptable solution”.
आज हमारे लाखों छात्र सरकार से कुछ कह रहे हैं। NEET, JEE परीक्षा के बारे में उनकी बात सुनी जानी चाहिए और सरकार को एक सार्थक हल निकालना चाहिए।
GOI must listen to the #StudentsKeMannKiBaat about NEET, JEE exams and arrive at an acceptable solution.
— Rahul Gandhi (@RahulGandhi) August 23, 2020
BJP’s Rajya Sabha MP and frequent critique Subramanian Swamy too has spoken against the timing of the exams, equating them with the 1976 sterilisation campaigns undertaken by the Indira Gandhi government.
If our Modi Government goes through imposing the NEET/JEE exam now it will be the giant mistake like Nasbandi in 1976 that caused the undoing of Indira government in 1977. Indian voters may suffer silently but have long memories.
— Subramanian Swamy (@Swamy39) August 24, 2020
Mamata Banerjee too has held that the exam exercise is risky in her letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
“In our last video conference with you, I had presented my views against the UGC guidelines that had mandated completion of the terminal examinations in university/colleges across the country by the end of September, 2020…My point was that human lives should not be put in jeopardy during this pandemic period by taking such unilateral and bureaucratic decisions,” she said in the letter.
Now with the directive of @EduMinOfIndia to conduct NEET, JEE 2020 in Sep, I would again appeal to the Centre to assess the risk and postpone these examinations until the situation is conducive again. It is our duty to ensure a safe environment for all our students. (2/2)
— Mamata Banerjee (@MamataOfficial) August 24, 2020
The problem of reaching test centres
Naveen Patnaik’s letter, addressed to Union Education Minister Ramesh Pokhriyal, held that there are over 50,000 aspirants from Odisha for the NEET and JEE (Main) this year. In addition to the frequent lockdowns called for by administration, Patnaik said, “…[T]he NTA has opened examination centres for the said tests in only seven townships of the state. In view of the prevailing COVID-19 pandemic in the country, it would be perilous for the students to visit the test centres physically to appear in the tests.”
Stalin, too, wrote to Pokhriyal on the impossibility and dangers presented by travel.
“It will not be possible for students belonging to rural areas and less-privileged sections to reach the exam centres. They will be put under a great disadvantage against their affluent counterparts,” the DMK chief wrote.
அரசுப்பள்ளி மாணவர்களுக்கான இடஒதுக்கீட்டீல் ஏன் இதுவரை நடவடிக்கை இல்லை?
டெண்டரில் காட்டும் ஆர்வத்தில் துளி பங்காவது மாணவர் நலனிலும் வேண்டும்! pic.twitter.com/qtcLwSkMqd
— M.K.Stalin (@mkstalin) August 25, 2020
Actor Sonu Sood, who had been active in arranging for transport for migrant labourers back to their houses in the beginning of the lockdown, has also joined the call for postponement on Twitter. Several hashtags, some asking Modi to personally postpone the exams, have been trending on social media, calling for the exams to not be held at this time.
(With PTI inputs)