Thousands of Students are Protesting JEE & NEET Exams. Any Space for Them on Our News Channels?

Social Commentary

Thousands of Students are Protesting JEE & NEET Exams. Any Space for Them on Our News Channels?

Illustration: Robin Chakraborty

The year 2020 is proving to be a testing time for students in India – quite literally. While the nation’s coronavirus count has crossed over the 33-lakh mark, the Centre’s decision to hold the JEE (Mains) and NEET (UG) examinations continues to hang over the heads of these aspiring candidates. Students have since turned to social media to make their collective concerns heard.

National Students’ Union of India (NSUI) president, Neeraj Kundan along with eight other members has resorted to hunger strike as a #SATYAGRAHagainstExamInCovid movement in protest against the “cruel and irresponsible” decision of the government amid the pandemic.

It’s important to note that students are not against appearing for exams but strongly oppose the “timing” and the circumstances within which lakhs of candidates have to prepare for these competitive exams. It’s a matter concerning not just their personal and mental well-being but also that of their families which will be at risk.

Calling the decision taken by the government “irresponsible and silly”, a NEET aspirant pointed out the double-standards of the officials to Newslaundry. “They themselves have virtual meetings… but they expect lakhs of us to physically sit for the exams. Are we resistant to Covid? What if I get affected by the virus? Who will take the responsibility, the human resource ministry or the Supreme Court?”

Ironically, last week the Supreme Court had dismissed a plea seeking postponement of the national exams. Stating that a “precious” academic year of students “cannot be wasted” further, the SC gave its verdict that didn’t go down well with the student bodies across the nation.

As #INDIAagainstExamsInCovid and #PostponeJEE_NEETinCovid made it to Twitter trends, the All India Student Association (AISA) stood in solidarity with the students by dressing in black outfits.

Postponing of NEET-JEE examinations aside, AISA has also demanded CBSE Compartment, Final Year Exams and Gujarat Purak Pariksha be cancelled for the rest of the academic year.

In an interview with DD News, the Union Education Minister, Ramesh Pokhriyal “Nishank” stated that 85 percent of JEE aspirants had already downloaded their admit cards which were released amid their protests. Agitated by his statement and lack of empathy, on Wednesday students campaigned against the exams by burning their admit cards.

“If downloading the admit card means we are ready for the exam then what does burning mean?” one student asked.

Besides the corona scare, at present students from the states of Bihar and Assam are further challenged by calamities like floods and earthquakes. Multiple states are yet to lift their lockdown owing to which public transportation is still infrequent.

With “Student Lives Matter” raising a much needed conversation, politicians aren’t far behind in picking up the issue.

Seven chief ministers of non-BJP ruled states on Wednesday decided to jointly move the SC’s decision on the issue. TMC’s Mamata Banerjee, who led the proposal, is said to have written to PM Narendra Modi about the pressing matter at hand. In the virtual meeting, Congress chief Sonia Gandhi expressed that the party was ready to support the students and would take the needed steps in their interest.

True to their words, Congress has also announced protests in their ruling states on August 28 in front of the central government offices and headquarters alongside the online campaign, #SpeakUpForStudentSafety.

While the government has stated that safety protocols have been issued, it has done little to ease the worries of the students and their families. Will the grievances of the students find an echo on national television?