The country has been witnessing widespread uproar and popular discontent regarding the conduction of the JEE and NEET examinations amid the coronavirus pandemic. While the Centre has emphasised the need to conduct the examinations in these trying times citing the future of thousands of aspirants, many student groups and concerned citizens feel that the examinations should be postponed, as it is likely to put people under increased risk of catching the coronavirus infection. It is interesting to note that the matter of conducting the examinations has not limited itself to the academic communities, but has captured the attention of political leaders across the spectrum and become the bone of contention between the ruling party and the parties of the Opposition. While political leaders such as Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee, Punjab CM Amarinder Singh and several others have decided to move the Supreme Court in this matter and have extended a request to President Ram Nath Kovind to postpone the examinations, Congress General Secretary KC Venugopal has said that the Congress has decided to hold a nationwide protest on August 28. The protest led by the Congress will commence from 11 am in front of the central government offices at state and district headquarters.
While defending the Centre’s move, the Union Education Minister, Ramesh Pokhriyal stated that the government is under constant pressure from parents and students to conduct the examination. The body responsible for conducting the examination said that the dates for the examination are not going to be postponed under any circumstances and that the examination will be conducted keeping into full consideration, COVID-19 safety guidelines.On 27th August, India recorded 75,760 cases marking the single-day highest jump any country has recorded ever since the COVID-19 outbreak. The total number reached 3.31M and 60,472 deaths have been recorded so far. These developments are proof enough of the extremely dangerous situation that we find ourselves in and the magnanimity of the crisis at hand. The conduction of the examinations amid soaring coronavirus cases will certainly put thousands of students into unprecedented risk. Moreover, we know that at a time when the recent lockdown put the entire country into a standstill and economic activities came to a halt, the population as a whole and the marginalised sections in particular faced an unprecedented blow and entered extreme economic vulnerability. Perhaps there are among aspirants, many whose families have been completely worn-out and devastated by financial losses and lack of alternatives, many who have not been able to prepare or study adequately amid these trying times and those who are not equipped or have ways of reaching distant examination centres amid a curtailment of transportation channels especially in remote corners of India. Even if we say that safety protocols will be administered, who will take care of the emotional, psychic and domestic hardships that our students would have faced during these times? Would we not be sensitive enough to empathise with them or listen to their troubles, even in these trying times?
The stories of hardship and extreme difficulty amid the pandemic faced especially by the poor and marginalised have flooded our collective imagination amid the pandemic and there is no dearth of available information on its magnanimity. Do we not recall the recent story of an impoverished tribal man from Madhya Pradesh’s Dhar district and how he had to undergo an extremely arduous ordeal of cycling his young son for 150 kilometres to take him to his examination centre? His is an example that is representative of the hardships and tremendous difficulties being faced by India’s ordinary men and women amid the pandemic, how can we turn a deaf ear to their cries? What about students from the flood affected regions of Assam and Bihar and what about the students whose homes were blown away by Cyclone Amphan that shook the coastal regions of West Bengal and Odisha or the students whose home were destroyed in the riots that shook northeastern Delhi earlier this year? A tiny section of students may be unaffected by the pressing economic constraints unleashed by the pandemic but what about the masses? How will they ready themselves for the examination so quickly, how will they complete all examination related formalities and how will they successfully reach distant examination centres while keeping themselves safe from the grasp of the infection? The conduction of the exams amid the pandemic will not only put the lives of students at increased risk but will also impact execution staff and other officials involved in the entire process. How are we so certain that the conduction of the examination amid the pandemic will not prove endangering to those who participate in the conduction, execution and writing of the examinations? The JEE and NEET examinations are attempted by thousands of students every year and they form an important juncture in their academic pursuits, it is extremely ironic that we are insisting on conducting these examinations when thousands of aspirants feel unhappy and uncomfortable sitting for it. Its time to conceive of a students beyond the elitist, affluent and aspirational middle and upper middle classes and to listen to the voice of the student who resides in a remote village of Kalahandi, a small town in Jharkhand or a completely isolated fishing village in Kerala’s Kollam district. The world has been compelled to redefine the home and the world, politics and economy amid the pandemic, why then aren’t we ready to pay heed to the voices of countless Indian students who are asking for the examinations to be postponed, for a cause that is as real and as genuine as the coronavirus pandemic?
Vikash Sharma is Founding Editor, The New Leam.