Amidst an aura of fear and anxiety, 1.17 lakh medical college aspirants took the National Eligibility cum Entrance Test, popularly known as NEET, in 238 centres spread across 14 towns and cities in the State on Sunday.
Though the examination began at 2 pm, students and parents thronged the centres before 11 am and many of them went without lunch as they waited for the gates to open and the students were let in after the mandatory tests for Coronavirus and also the stringent physical checking to prevent malpractices.
A newly married woman in one of the small towns was forced to remove their thali (wedding necklace) and metti (toe ring) despite their protestations. Similarly, there were many cases of strict adherence to norms that left many parents and students uneasy.
However it was the fear of Coronavirus that hung in the air and the authorities in the various centres strictly enforced the protocol. No one was allowed into the examination halls without a facemask and those who turned up without a facemask was provided one.
Body temperature of all aspirants was checked with thermal scanners and social distancing was maintained. Students had to use sanitizer before stepping into the hall.
The 1.17 lakh students are vying for the 7,200 medical seats that would be on offer in 26 government medical colleges and 24 private medical colleges in the state on the basis of the marks scored in NEET.
Anxiety was writ large on the faces of many aspirants as the news of the three suicides the previous day and an attempt by a Ranipet girl, Sowmya, in the same morning by overdosing on sleeping pills seemingly affected them emotionally.
However, protests by various groups of youth and politicians also marked the day as the demand for the cancellation of NEET in Tamil Nadu reached a crescendo particularly in the wake of three suicides on Saturday and a suicide attempt hours before the start of the examination.
Among the organizations that organized protests with banners and flags, raising slogans against the government for not banning NEET were the Students Federation of India and the DMK Youth wing in various places across the State.
DMK Youth Wing secretary visited the girl, Sowmya, who was admitted to a hospital in Vellore. He also expressed his condolences to family members of Motilal (Thiruchengode), Aditya (Dharmapuri) and Jothishree Durga (Madurai), who ended their lives out of fear of NEET.
DMK and Congress members of Parliament have also planned to organize a protest at Parliament complex on Monday to put pressure on the Centre to exempt Tamil Nadu from NEET.