A 17-year-old Dalit girl, who was a petitioner in the Supreme Court against the implementation of the National Eligibility and Entrance Test (NEET) for admissions to medical courses in Tamil Nadu, committed suicide Friday by hanging at her home in Ariyalur district, near Trichy. S Anitha’s death comes nine days after the Supreme Court directed Tamil Nadu to follow NEET for admissions to medical courses and finish the counselling process by September 4. The Centre had initially supported a move from the Tamil Nadu government, seeking exemption from NEET for a year, but later decided that it was “bad in law”.
Anitha had scored 1,176 marks out of 1,200 in Class XII and, according to the state education department’s evaluation, scored 199.75 out of 200 for engineering and 196.75 for medicine, which would have ensured her a seat in either stream without NEET. However, according to her family, she scored only 86 per cent in the NEET. It was then that she moved to be impleaded along with the state government in the Supreme Court plea.
According to Anitha’s family, she had rejected an offer to join the aeronautical engineering course at the Madras Institute of Technology, to pursue her dream of becoming a doctor. Officers at the Ariyalur SP’s office said Anitha was found hanging at her home in Sendurai near Ariyalur town. They said that her body was shifted to Ariyalur government hospital in the evening for post mortem.
Anitha’s father T Shanmugham and her four elder brothers work as daily-wage labourers at the Gandhi Market in Trichy. “Her brothers have all either passed Class X or completed graduation, but are working as daily-wage labourers. Her mother died soon after her birth. She was the youngest and her grandmother was her moral strength,” said a close relative of Anitha.
In a recent interview on a Tamil TV channel, Anitha described how helpless she had felt while appearing for NEET with an unfamiliar national syllabus. The news of Anitha’s death triggered protests in Tamil Nadu, with Health Minister C Vijayabaskar expressing shock and actor Kamal Hassan accusing the state government of failing in its fight for the people. “Do these ministers have time to fight for the people?” he asked.
Opposition leader M K Stalin said the state government and the BJP at the Centre were “responsible for Anitha’s death”. Dalit party VCK’s leader Thol Thirumavalavan blamed the Centre for Anitha’s death. “The BJP should be held responsible for this. It was Union Minister Nirmala Sitharaman who promised our children that the Centre will help,” he claimed.
NEET was made mandatory last year for admission in medical and dental colleges across India. But Tamil Nadu has been against its implementation, arguing that it favours CBSE students over those under state boards. The state government had twice readied an ordinance for exemption, which was cleared by the Law and HRD ministries. However, the Union Health Ministry referred it back to attorney general K K Venugopal, while contending that if the state’s demand for exemption was accepted, other states will raise similar demands. Subsequently, the A-G revised his opinion, leading to the Supreme Court verdict on August 23.