If S Anitha had got into a medical college as she had wished, the young girl would have been preparing for her fourth-semester exams this time.
But a bronze statue of the late medical aspirant welcomes visitors to the library here, 270 km from Chennai, built in memory of the youngster by her family, which pooled in all the money it received as solatium from various sources and collected donations from villagers to make the building a reality.
Anitha, 18, ended her life on September 1, 2017, after all her hopes of donning the white uniform and stethoscope came crashing down, after the Supreme Court dismissed her plea challenging NEET. A distinction student, Anitha had scored 1,176 out of 1,200 and would have certainly made it to one of the top government medical colleges in Tamil Nadu, but for the poor marks in NEET.
Students in Tamil Nadu were hoping that they would be exempted from NEET since the government announced it was working towards such an arrangement, after a bill passed in the Assembly seeking state-specific permanent exemption did not get the President’s assent.
“I lost my daughter because of the apathy of state and central governments. Had the state government got a one-year exemption, my daughter would have been alive today. NEET should go for good, else it would take away many more lives,” T Shanmugam tells DH, looking at the portrait of his youngest child that adorn the walls of the concrete structure.
As Anitha’s suicide triggered a massive uproar against NEET — students from government schools who studied in Tamil all through their schooling found the examination discriminatory since they had to compete with those from the CBSE and other streams across the country — the family was flooded with donations.
The family, especially Anitha’s elder brother S Maniratnam, did not want the money to be used for their benefit. “We bought 12 cents of land with the money we received as solatium from politicians and organisations and raised the structure within a year,” Maniratnam said.
Today, the library is one of the most happening places in Kuzhumur with children of all ages flocking to the institution in evenings to enrich their knowledge by reading. “We have more than 1,000 books, including study materials for NEET exams, a couple of work stations with internet connectivity to enable children to browse,” S Arun Kumar, another brother of Anitha, said.
NEET is a major election issue in Tamil Nadu, with both the DMK and AIADMK promising to take steps to abolish the exams in the state, while the Congress has shown inclination in “looking at the issue” as it feels the exam is “discriminatory” against youngsters in the state.