Tamil Nadu on Saturday witnessed a spate of alleged suicides by medical aspirants on the eve of the National Entrance cum Eligibility Test, with political parties opposed to the qualifying exam stepping up their demand for its scrapping.
The deaths brought back the focus on NEET in the state, with all political parties but for the Bharatiya Janata Party opposed to the qualifying exam.
A girl and two men, aged between 19 and 21, allegedly died by suicide in Madurai, Dharmapuri and Namakkal districts, sending shock waves across the state.
Opposition parties in the state led by the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam slammed the BJP-led Centre over the NEET issue, even as the ruling All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam also opposed to the exam, rued the deaths of the youngsters.
The victims, a 19-year-old girl from Madurai and a 20-year-old youth from Dharmapuri, were found hanging in their homes in the respective districts, shocking people in the state that has witnessed a spate of suicides over the issue in the past three years.
Dalit girl Anitha from Ariyalur was the first victim who died by suicide in 2017 after she failed to crack NEET, despite good scores in Class XII exam, prompting the state political parties to mount an offensive against the Centre and demand for cancelling the exam.
On Saturday, Jothisri Durga and M Adithya allegedly ended their lives by hanging, police and district officials said in Madurai and Dharmapuri.
Similarly, Motilal (21) of Tiruchengode in Namakkal district also allegedly ended his life and was found hanging in his house, police said, adding, he had earlier appeared for NEET twice.
Durga, daughter of a Sub-Inspector, in a purported suicide note left behind by her said she was 'apprehensive' about NEET though others had high 'hopes' on her, police said.
Adithya, on the other hand, appeared for NEET exam last year but could not clear it.
He had been preparing since then.
He was found hanging at his residence on Saturday evening, Dharmapuri collector S Malarvizhi said citing preliminary investigation.
His parents had gone to Salem to see the NEET exam centre where their son was to appear for the exam on Sunday.
"But they returned home to find their son hanging from the ceiling fan. His parents say Adithya has a good academic record," Malarvizhi said.
The deaths come days after another medical aspirant in Ariyalur in the state also allegedly died by suicide.
Durga's death in the morning drew sharp responses from Tamil Nadu political parties opposed to NEET, even as chief minister K Palaniswami and his deputy O Panneerselvam of the ruling AIADMK expressed shock over the incident.
DMK president M K Stalin said NEET "is not an exam at all."
Taking to Twitter, Palaniswami expressed grief over the "sad" incident and said students have many avenues to taste success and resorting to such extreme steps was distressing.
"It is distressing to see students, the hope for the future, taking such steps," he said.
Condoling the girl's death, he expressed his sympathies with the family.
In a tweet, Panneerselvam expressed grief over such incidents concerning the students, who are the "pillars of the future."
"Students should learn to face any situation with guts and parents should aid them in this," the deputy CM, also the AIADMK coordinator, said.
State revenue minister R B Udhayakumar visited the family and consoled them.
School education minister K A Sengottaiyan said the Tamil Nadu government is against the NEET and has been urging the Centre to exempt the state from the test.
He was responding to reporters' queries in Gobichettipalayam in Erode.
Stalin, Leader of the Opposition in the Tamil Nadu assembly, expressed shock over the alleged suicide, but said killing oneself was not the solution.
"We can realise from the death of Anitha to Jothisri Durga that NEET is severely affecting students," he said in a tweet.
"I repeat, suicide is not a solution; NEET is not an exam at all. #BanNeet_SaveTNStudents," he added.
In a separate statement, he appealed to students not to resort to such extreme steps, asserting that success has to be achieved through struggle.
Training his guns on the Centre and the state government, he said "the student community is falling prey to the fire called NEET fuelled by them."
Assuring his party's support to the students on the issue, he said the DMK was prepared to take forward any legal or political struggle against NEET and it will be scrapped in the DMK rule, he said, in an apparent reference to the elections due next year.
Meanwhile, DMK Youth Wing Secretary and Stalin's son, Udhayanidhi visited the family and provided an assistance of Rs 5 lakh.
Pattali Makkal Katchi MP Dr Anbumani Ramadoss, whose party is an National Democratic Alliance constituent, also condoled the student's death.
"#SayNoToNEET #BanNEET," the PMK Youth Wing leader tweeted.
His father and party founder Dr S Ramadoss condoled the deaths of the two and called for scrapping the exam.
Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam founder and Rajya Sabha MP Vaiko slammed the BJP-led Centre, saying suicides of students in the state was happening due to the "imposition" of NEET on them.
Recalling various instances of suicides by students in Tamil Nadu, including that of Anitha, which had sparked an outrage in the state, Vaiko alleged that despite their high class XII scores, students from the poorer sections were 'filtered' in NEET and their medical dreams 'destroyed.'
"Cancellation of NEET alone can prevent such deaths," he said in a statement.
Amma Makkal Munnetra Kazhagam leader and independent legislator, T T V Dhinakaran and Makkal Needhi Maiam founder Kamal Haasan also expressed anguish over Durga's death.
Many on Twitter expressed grief over the deaths and demanded that NEET be scrapped.
On Wednesday, the Supreme Court had refused to entertain a batch of pleas seeking deferment or cancellation of NEET scheduled for Sunday.
A bench headed by Justice Ashok Bhushan had said authorities will take all necessary steps for conducting the NEET-undergraduate exam amid the COVID-19 pandemic for admission in medical courses.