JEE-NEET exams: Aspirants in distress; Sangh IT cell campaigns to discredit their concerns

“Please do something. My father has diabetes and my mother has a serious heart ailment. I can’t risk their lives. My parents have asked me to not appear for NEET. This is my second attempt. I can’t drop it. Why is the government not concerned about us? We voted for them. Please do something,” wrote Ashish. (Name changed to protect identity)

“I am from Bihar. I won’t be able to give the exam because of the lockdown. Our whole year and money will go to waste. Earlier, I was living in a hostel to study for the exam, but now I have returned to my village. My exam centre is more than 200 kms away. How will I go? Please help us,” lamented Fatima.

“We want help to postpone these exams. Instead of helping us, BJP has planted accounts to stop it from becoming political. They do not think about us. It’s all about money,” said another student who did not want to be identified.

These are a few of the distressing messages students have sent to journalists and activists who are counselling and amplifying voices of anxious students speaking against holding of the Joint Entrance Examination (JEE)-Main and National Eligibility cum Entrance Test (NEET) in September. Student wings of left-aligned parties got together to run helpline numbers when aspirants began to post suicidal messages on social media platforms.

Annually, the JEE (Mains) exams for engineering aspirants are conducted in April and NEET for medical aspirants are conducted in May. This year, these exams were postponed twice due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the nationwide lockdown.

Education Minister Ramesh Pokhriyal Nishank stated that students and guardians put pressure on the government to conduct NEET and JEE exams. The Supreme Court too said that the full academic year cannot be wasted. According to Pokhriyal, out of 8.58 lakh students who registered for JEE, 7.25 lakh candidates have downloaded their admit cards. The Union government had on Wednesday, released NEET admit cards for 15 lakh students.

The National Testing Agency (NTA), which is responsible for holding these exams, has increased the number of testing centres, but many of these centres are still not accessible. The number of centres for JEE has been increased to 660 from 570 and for NEET to 3,843 from 2,546. NTA has said that precautionary measures will be taken to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

However, the students have been appealing against this decision for several months. In addition to COVID-19 woes, several students from states such as Bihar, Gujarat, Assam and Kerala have said the floods affected them and their study schedule. Several lost their belongings in these floods. Students from Jammu and Kashmir have cited the poor internet connectivity in their state.

Several students had requested for test centres near their coaching centres in different states, but they have all gone back to their villages now. “Most of us have gone back to our villages. We are no longer near city centres. How do they expect us to travel in the midst of a lockdown? I come from a remote village in Assam. There are no exam centres close by. I will have to spend a substantial amount to reach my centre. Travelling will also increase the risk of the virus. The government does not seem to care. I don’t know if I can appear for my exams and the future seems bleak,” said Priya.

Of the 753 districts in the country, at least 340 of them are under varying degrees of lockdown still as a result of the spread of the virus.

“The media will only report our cause if I become a Sushant Singh Rajput. Aren’t our concerns valid for the media? Maybe after I do it, other students will get justice. I have lost hope. The government keeps talking about the number of admit cards downloaded. Is that a statistic to be concerned about,” posted a student on Twitter.

Several such suicidal messages prompted All India Students' Association to reach out to many of them to ensure they don’t take a drastic step. “Several of us have not slept for many days. We go through responses of the students and speak to them to get them through this phase. We have been appealing to students that no matter what happens they should remain positive about their future. This should not stress them out. We have been appealing to students to not think of taking any extreme steps, because exams are not everything at the end of the day,” said N Sai Balaji, AISA national president.

More than 4,000 students had sat on a one-day hunger strike and satyagraha on August 23 against the government’s decision to conduct these entrance exams. AISA had also organised live broadcast of a press conference where the concerns of students from at least 15 states were raised. They questioned the standard operating procedures issued by the NTA.

“The students are under stress only because of the Modi government. The Parliament is not functional, the government departments are functioning virtually and so is the Supreme Court, but they are expecting students to give a physical exam,” underscored Balaji.

AISA’s involvement in the campaign has irked the BJP IT cell, which has been reaching out to students urging them to trend Subramanian Swamy’s posts, tweets and hashtags. Additionally, they derided and discredited AISA for helping students. According to recordings and calls accessed by National Herald, several people were urging students to trend ‘WeBelieveInSwamiji’ hashtag. When it didn’t go viral, the students were castigated.

“We had asked you trend Swamiji, but it didn’t happen. I understand BJP is also at fault, but don’t believe what AISA is doing. They are a Communist organisation. They were able to trend the satyagraha hashtag on Sunday. All of you trended that instead of believing Swamiji who is actually working for you guys. Why will Swamiji help if you do not trend his work? If he backs out form helping your cause, all of you will cry for the rest of your lives. Don’t complain then if your future is a mess. Now, you must trend ‘SWAMYJI FOR JEE_NEET’. Don’t take help from parties which are insulting the government,” said a young man in one of the messages to the students. These messages have been circulated on Telegram in various student groups.

“I am a JEE aspirant. Our requests for postponing the exam were suppressed by BJP. We need someone to voice our concerns. We cannot rely on Swamy sir (Subramanian). He has no power and has not even met the PM. He can only keep giving speeches. We are not in a situation to assess these statements. Please raise our requests,” wrote Ajay on one of the social media platforms.

On Wednesday, Congress president Sonia Gandhi convened a meeting with the chief ministers of seven states regarding the JEE-NEET. It was attended by West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee, Punjab CM Capt. Amarinder Singh, Rajasthan CM Ashok Gehlot, Maharashtra CM Uddhav Thackeray, Chhattisgarh CM Bhupesh Bhagel, Jharkhand CM Hemant Soren and Pondicherry CM V Narayanaswamy. At the meeting it was decided that all of them would fight together.