Rise Against Exams in COVID: Countrywide protests Against NEET and JEE Exams

A petition seeking the postponement of the exams was dismissed by the Supreme Court, saying that “life has to go on”, although the court itself continues to function virtually.

NEET JEE protests
Courtesy: NSUI (Twitter)

Students across the country have begun online and offline protests against the Centre’s decision to go ahead with conducting the NEET and JEE exams in September. The JEE-Main which was originally scheduled in April, and the NEET-UG which was originally scheduled in May, have both been postponed multiple times due to the pandemic and are currently scheduled for September. 9.53 Lakh candidates have registered for JEE-Mains and 15.97 lakh students have registered for NEET. Today, students expressed their opposition to the NEET and JEE exams under the hashtags #Rise_AgainstExamsInCovid and #AntiStudentNarendraModi.

https://twitter.com/AISA_tweets/status/1298846458012028928

The All India Students Association held an all India satyagraha and hunger strike on August 23, in which over 4,200 students reportedly participated. Other student organisations have also been holding hunger strikes against the exams since then.

A petition seeking the postponement of the exams was dismissed by the Supreme Court, saying that “life has to go on”, although the court itself continues to function virtually. The petition, filed by 11 students from 11 different states, stated that conducting the JEE online and the NEET offline in centres across the country was “utterly arbitrary, whimsical and violative of the fundamental right to life of lakhs of affected students.”

Students are against the exams due to a number of logistical and safety concerns. Due to the lockdown transport to and from test centres will be extremely inaccessible and expensive even if it is possible, low-cost lodging for students near test centres will not be available either.

Online exams in other cases have shown themselves to be inaccessible and mismanaged, especially as access to the necessary technology is not available for the majority of the students of the country, and various parts of the country have recently been hit by extreme floods. Most crucial is the risk of contracting COVID-19 and further spreading it, and the subsequent costs of treatment, quarantining, healthcare for student’s family, and risk to the life of the students themselves.

What is interesting about the protests is that the students protesting against NEET and JEE exams cannot be isolated and targeted as “radical” students, unlike earlier student protests. Many students protesting now have reported themselves to have been supportive of the government earlier and project themselves as ‘nationalists’ as opposed to communist, Ambedkarite, feminist, Muslim, etc kinds of students from universities like Jamia and JNU known to be hubs of students who protest instead of studying. These students have not received a shock at being branded as ‘anti-national’ for speaking about an issue as non-political as this by a government they have largely supported.

Students have also garnered support from various parties and non-BJP state governments. Seven Chief Ministers, including West Bengal’s Mamata Banerjee (TMC), Maharashtra’s Uddhav Thackeray, who is heading the Shiv Sena-NCP-Congress government, Punjab’s Amarinder Singh (Congress), Jharkhand’s Hemant Soren (JMM), Rajasthan’s Ashok Gehlot (Congress), Chhattisgarh’s Bhupesh Baghel (Congress) and Puducherry’s V Narayanasamy (Congress) have decided to jointly move the Supreme Court on the issue.

The Congress party has announced countrywide protests on August 28 to oppose the government’s decision to hold NEET and JEE exams during the pandemic.

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