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India NEET, JEE: Furious students begin taking 'life-changing' exam

Date Added: September 04, 2020 05:17:35 PM
Author: Sutra Web Directory
Category: Regional: India

Millions of students are sitting two of India's most competitive college exams amid protests and worry over rising Covid-19 cases.

The JEE (Joint Entrance Examination) began on Tuesday and will go on until 6 September, while another hugely competitive exam, the NEET (The National Eligibility cum Entrance Test), will be held on the 13th of the month.

For weeks, many students have protested against these tests, pointing towards India's growing Covid-19 caseload - the country has recorded 3.8 million cases so far, hitting the world's highest daily totals in recent days.

But the National Testing Agency (NTA), which conducts the exams, has refused to reschedule them.

Students even took their concerns to court, but the Supreme Court dismissed their plea, saying that "the career of the students cannot be put on peril for long and a full academic year cannot be wasted".

The BBC spoke to five students from across India who are taking these examinations.

Swati Tripathi, 18, Madhya Pradesh (NEET)

"Most of us are primarily concerned about our health and our family's health," says Ms Tripathi, who is taking the NEET examination along with 1.5 million others.

The NTA has detailed the elaborate safety measures it is taking, from sanitising the examination centres before and after the exams, to providing masks and gloves for students.

Other arrangements include staggered entry, temperature checks and social distancing inside and outside the centres.

But Ms Tripathi is not convinced.

"Look at what happened during the KCET and GUJCET exams?" she says, referring to state-levels examinations to undergraduate courses in Kerala and Gujarat states. "There was no social distancing at the centres. How will they ensure that procedures are followed with NEET?"

Then there's the problem of getting to the examination centre. Ms Tripathi lives in Satna district, but she'll have to travel to Jabalpur district to write the test.

"My centre is 180km (111 miles) away. I'll have to travel a day before to Jabalpur, but where do I stay? Many hotels and lodges are still shut due to the coronavirus pandemic."

Many students have taken their protest to Prime Minister Narendra Modi's YouTube channel - leaving comments and dislikes on several videos.

"This government will find it difficult to win the next elections," she says, "students are really angry."

Akansha Jaggi, Goa, 20, (NEET)

In 2018, Ms Jaggi missed out on getting admission to a medical college by just 10 marks.

She then dropped a year and decided to write the examination again this year.

"I've been studying for almost 18 hours a day for this exam for a while now. But this is not the right time to give this examination," she tells me over the phone.

"It is not that I haven't studied enough, the issue is that our health is at stake."

Goa has more than 18,000 confirmed Covid-19 cases, according to India's health ministry. In early May, it was declared a green zone - an area with no new infections reported for 14 consecutive days. But the situation is very different now.

"I have a containment zone right next to my house. What are the chances that I will go out and not get the virus?"

In an interview with the Hindustan Times newspaper, Education Minister Ramesh Pokhriyal said that more than 1.7 million students had downloaded their admit cards - which would allow them to take the test - suggesting that a "silent majority" of students wanted the exam to be held on schedule.

But, Ms Jaggi says these claims are inaccurate.

"Just because we have downloaded our admit cards doesn't mean we want to take the examination. We download them so that we can know where our centre is and then see how far we have to travel and make arrangements."

She says that the government is oblivious to the issues that many students across the country are facing.

"This government is definitely anti-student. We have been protesting for over a month and Mr Modi hasn't once spoken about the issue," she tells the BBC.

"I hope they know that we are going to vote them out in 2024 as most of us can see how they're working for us."

Manoj S Karnataka, 18 (JEE)

"I feel like dropping this year," says Manoj, who's been preparing for the JEE engineering exam for the past two years.

His examination centre is 100km (62 miles) from his home and he says that even if he manages to get there, "there is no guarantee that all safety procedures will be followed".

He's also worried about overcrowding at the centre - there will be at least 1,000 students and many will be accompanied by their parents and guardians, he says.

Media reports, quoting the education minister, say the number of JEE exam centres has been increased from 570 to 660. The number of NEET centres has also been increased from 2,546 to 3,842.

But Manoj says he's not confident about making the trip.
"It will be chaotic. If I come back home with the virus, I'm putting my entire family - my parents, my grandparents - at risk," he says.

According to the health ministry, 51% of Covid-19 related deaths in India are in the 60 years and above age group.

"This is an insensitive government. Students are angry. They are playing with the lives of more than three million students," Manoj says.

Yuvraj Pratap Singh, 18, Lucknow (NEET)

"Initially there were just 800 Covid-19 cases or so and the exams were postponed. Then it was scheduled for July after which it was further postponed," Mr Singh tells the BBC.

"If it was not okay to hold the exams then when there were such few cases, then why is it okay now when the cases are rising so rapidly?

"Is the pandemic over?" he asks.

Mr Singh says that writing these exams can be stressful and wearing a mask and gloves will make them even more difficult since it's still summer in large parts of India.

"We'll have to wear surgical rubber gloves for three hours. I have tried them out to see how they feel. Within 30 minutes, my hands started sweating profusely. It felt unnatural."

Mr Singh also questions the Supreme Court order rejecting the plea for postponing the exams, adding that the orders should be the same for everyone.

"During this pandemic, the court itself uses video conferencing to hear matters. Why should students be treated differently?"

Eshang Shah, Mumbai, 18 (JEE)

Of all the students BBC spoke to, Mr Shah's was the lone dissenting voice.

"You have to work hard and manage everything and multitask," he says, explaining why it is alright to go ahead with the exams now.
Mr Shah has been preparing for the JEE for more than two years and even joined a coaching institute to help with his preparations.

He feels that nothing is going to change in the near future when it comes to the risk posed to students by the pandemic.

"Look at the graph of our cases, and it will remain this way until we get a vaccine. There's nothing we can do."

Mr Shah says it is better to go ahead with the exams than postpone them as it would mean losing six-eight months of the academic year.

"Many students like me want to do our masters abroad after college. If this exam is postponed, the whole process gets delayed and we will not be able to apply to foreign universities."

He says that instead of tweeting about postponing the tests, students should ask the government to be accountable and make sure that all safety procedures are followed while holding them.

"There are obviously risks with giving the exam but everyone has to be responsible," he tells the BBC.
~ Via BCC