CBSE’s 31 January notification on the National Eligibility and Entrance Test (NEET) that excluded Urdu as a language for conducting the exam might end hopes of thousands of aspirants belonging to the Urdu medium. The exclusion of Urdu drew sharp criticism from various sections of the society.
The notification gives students the option to write their answers in English, Hindi, Marathi, Assamese, Bengali, Gujarati, Tamil and Telugu. Later on, two more languages –Oriya and Kannada – were added to the list.
Within days of the issuance of the notification, protests erupted in Maharashtra and Telangana, which have a significant number of Urdu medium junior colleges. Around 19,000 students from Urdu medium are enrolled in science stream.
Is Govt Being Indifferent to Urdu Medium Students?
Sheikh Nazbuddin, secretary of the All Maharashtra Urdu Junior College Student and Teachers organisation, said, “From the very first day of the official announcement on NEET, which was made on 21 December 2016, we wrote many letters to the health ministry and the PMO. However, we got no written response. It shows that the government is indifferent to Urdu medium students and a particular community.”
He added that just 324 students appeared for NEET 2013 in Marathi medium but Marathi continues to be an option.
Days after the notification, the Student Islamic Organisation (SIO), a student wing of the Jamat-e-Islami Hind approached the Maharashtra government to demand the inclusion of Urdu language for the test.
Thousheef Ahmad, National Secretary of SIO said, “ It is selective discrimination against Urdu and the Muslim community.”
He stated that the central government has allowed NEET to be conducted in Kannada language despite the fact that there are no Kannada junior science colleges, whereas there are several Urdu junior colleges in Maharashtra alone. The basis on which the government has given this decision is not clear.
He added that earlier the government was saying that there are no states demanding the inclusion of Urdu as a medium for NEET.
Demand to Include Urdu in NEET Exam
Even Girish Mahajan, minister of medical education, Maharashtra, wrote a letter to Union health minister JP Nadda, stating that 168 Urdu medium junior colleges are running across Maharashtra from which about 11,000 students appear for standard 12 every year.
“Considering the large number of students appearing for NEET, it is necessary that it should be conducted in Urdu language also,” the letter from Mahajan stated.
Later, Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrashekhar Rao also asked the Centre to conduct NEET in Urdu.
“I would like to know as to why the Centre is still not including Urdu even after request from Maharashtra and Telangana governments,” said Ahmad.
Fate of Muslim Students Hangs in the Balance
It is imperative to note that after NEET came into existence, the Maharashtra Common Entrance Test has been cancelled. Ahmad feels that due to the absence of Urdu language in NEET, Muslim students would not be able to compete in the exam which will further decrease their presence in higher education.
There are around 1,100 seats of Unani , Ayurveda etc. which will also be filled by NEET. On the other hand, there are 346 seats for BUMS, reserved for Urdu speaking students, which will remain vacant if Urdu is not included as a medium in NEET.
On 24 February, the SIO filed a petition in the Supreme Court for urgent hearing of the case which demanded inclusion of Urdu for conducting NEET but the apex court refused to hear the case saying that it is not a big deal and that the Urdu speaking students can appear next year.
In its plea, the SIO sought that the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare and CBSE be directed to make a provision for Urdu as a medium in the exam for those who have already applied under compulsion before the last date of submission of forms.
Earlier, SIO lawyer Perwez Dabas and Ravindra S Jaria, argued, “Exclusion of Urdu was arbitrary, unreasonable and violates Article 14 and 21 of the Constitution.”
Supreme Court Will Seal the Students’ Fate
In 2013, the Central government came with the idea of NEET for conducting medical entrance exam in place of the All India Pre Medical Test (AIPMT). In Ansari Mahin Fatima and Ors against the Union Of India 2013, the apex court ordered the government to conduct supplementary exam for Urdu medium students who could not appear for the entrance due to the absence of Urdu language.
While hearing the petition, Supreme Court ordered the Medical Council of India, Dental Council of India, Central Board Of Secondary Education and Central government to file its report by 10 March.
In its reply, the Centre, though it agreed to conduct NEET in Urdu language from the next academic year onwards, stated that it would not be possible to allow students to appear with Urdu as the medium in the upcoming examinations. The Supreme Court has directed them to file their answer stating the reasons for the same till 22 March. Next hearing is scheduled for 31 March.
Till then, the future of thousands of students still hangs in the balance. They are looking upto to the Supreme Court to ensure their right to fair and equal opportunity.
(The writer is currently pursuing post graduation in convergent journalism from the AJK MCRC Jamia Millia Islamia. He can be reached @ Aquibanjum. This is a personal blog and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)