4,000+ Students Observe Hunger Strike to Protest JEE, NEET Exam Dates
More than 4,000 students observed a hunger strike on Sunday, August 23 to protest the National Testing Agency’s announcement of JEE and NEET examination dates for 2020. The students mobilized each other to protest online with hashtags like #SATYAGRAHagainstExamInCovid and #INDIAagainstExamsInCovid. Both the engineering and the medical entrance exams, respectively, will be held on September 1-6 (JEE Mains) and September 13 (NEET).
Students want all Board, entrance and final exams cancelled or postponed to next year, according to the All India Students Association. Some reasons they cite include the fear of catching Covid19, transportation and lodging worries, and the discomfort of writing exams while wearing masks, shields and gloves, according to a report by the Indian Express.
A NEET aspirant from Visakhapatnam told Newslaundry, “The decision that the Government has taken is very irresponsible and silly,” “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?”
However, the Government and the Supreme Court are taking the position that conducting examinations will be in the students’ best interest. In an August ruling, Justice Arun Mishra, who headed a three-judge bench of the Supreme Court said, according to NDTV, “Life cannot be stopped. We have to move ahead with all safeguards and all… Are students ready to waste one whole year? Education should be opened up. Covid may continue for a year more. Are you going to wait another year? Do you know what the loss to the country and peril to the students is?”
Professors who teach in engineering and medical institutes agree with the Supreme Court. “In professional programs such as Medicine…and Engineering where students have to deal with real life situations, we cannot take chances in their selection. Medical professionals deal with the lives of people and their families where their knowledge and skills are of paramount significance. ” Dr Manju Chhugani, professor at the School of Nursing Sciences and Allied Health, Jamia Hamdard Institute, told the Times of India.
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IIT Ropar director Sarit K Das added, “The quality of students at the IITs will not change due to lockdown and delay in conducting the exams unless the method of conducting the exams is compromised. While there is a certain level of risk involved, it has to be taken keeping in mind the students’ interests.”
However, the students currently protesting these exam dates have the support of multiple prominent politicians, who wrote to both Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union Education Minister Ramesh Pokhriyal to advocate for the students. The list of politicians includes Maharashtra’s tourism and environment minister Aaditya Thackeray, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, and Tamil Nadu’s DMK party president M.K. Stalin.
The National Testing Agency has issued guidelines, including isolated exam rooms for those showing Covid19 symptoms, fresh masks at exam centers, thermal screening, sanitizers, and social distancing practices. But students remain unconvinced — both of their need to give the exams this year in particular, and of the Government’s ability to protect them as they are evaluated.
“Students demand a simple postponement of the exams to November or December, or when the Covid peak is over and the pandemic stabilises. We’re literally begging for the wellbeing of ourselves and our family,” Pralhad, a JEE aspirant told Newslaundry. While both students’ demands and the Supreme Court’s explanations are valid points, there just might be no clear way to navigate conducting examinations during a situation as uncertain as the Covid19 pandemic.