It is disheartening, although unsurprising, that the Medical Council of India has decided to proceed with counselling and that the CBSE is challenging the order of the Madurai Bench of the Madras High Court directing that 24,000 students who took the National Eligibility cum Entrance Test (NEET) in Tamil this year be awarded 196 marks due to errors in translation of questions from English into Tamil. As many as 49 out of 180 questions were erroneously translated.
When the issue was first raised, the CBSE, which conducts the NEET, said no grace marks would be given. This is because the NEET instruction booklet says: “In case of any ambiguity in translation of any of the questions, the English version shall be treated as final.” This argument cut no ice with the HC which pulled up the CBSE for testing the proficiency of the Tamil medium students in the English language. The HC also directed the CBSE to re-do its list of qualified candidates. Counselling, of which one phase is already complete, will have to be redone. This will cause anguish to all qualified candidates, an argument the Board may perhaps use. But then what of the 24,000 students who took the test in Tamil? While the 196 marks may ensure virtually all of them qualify, not all will get seats. However, they would at least have the benefits of a more level playing field.
The NEET has been criticised for being weighted in favour of students who study under CBSE, are comfortable with English and are able to afford coaching. The concept of pure merit is a joke unless all candidates are at the same starting line. How well people fare in life is dependent on caste, economic status, gender and much more. Tamil medium students are more likely to be government school students—likely to be rural and from disadvantaged backgrounds. Due to CBSE’s callousness—in its shoddy translation work, in its refusal to consider grace marks immediately after the test and in challenging the HC order—the NEET will retain its tag of being elitist, favouring the urban, English-speaking and more privileged.