Anitha’s father, Shanmugham, is distraught. The fact that his daughter would even think of taking this extreme step is unimaginable to him.

 Is death the price of a dream Distraught father brother mourn Anithas demiseAnitha with her brother
news Ground Report Saturday, September 02, 2017 - 15:15

Sendurai in Ariyalur district is in mourning. Every nook and cranny of the village has posters of 17-year-old Anitha, the young girl who killed herself on Friday. The once disappointed but determined eyes of the warrior who decided to take up the fight against NEET are today looking down on everyone who enters Kuzhumur village in Sendurai, and are a reminder of what has been lost: The life of a young woman who might one day have become an amazing doctor.

While Kuzhumur wears a desolate look, the full force of the grief of the village hits us as we get closer to Anitha’s house. The small cement house has just three rooms, and it was in the innermost room of this house where Anitha ended her life on Friday.

A big tent has been erected nearby, where 300 people are protesting against the Centre. Parties like VCK, Makkal Athikaram, and several student organisations are present, and they have just one demand: The removal of NEET.

Through the day, people trickle in to pay their last respects before Anitha is cremated. As people come and go, one person is a constant presence in the scene.

The death

Anitha’s father, Shanmugham, is distraught. The fact that his daughter would even think of taking this extreme step is unimaginable to him.

“She was upset, but looked normal,” Shanmugham says. “On Friday morning, she was smiling. I got her a roti for Rs 5 and went to the field to work with my wife. At 2pm, I came to know that she was dead,” he says.

Anitha's father Shanmugham and her stepmother.

Nearby, Shanmugham’s eldest son and Anitha’s brother, Maniratnam, is inconsolable. The person closest to Anitha, Maniratnam was the one fuelling her dream of becoming a doctor. "He was the one who bought her MBBS books and paid for her Class XI and XII fees," says Rajesh, Maniratnam's friend.

It was Maniratnam who signed Anitha’s petition against NEET in the Supreme Court, since she was a minor. "I was the one who kept encouraging her to become a doctor. For two years, she studied very well and got 1176/1200," he tells us.

On Friday, when he came back early from the field only to see his beloved sister hanging inside the house through the window, Manirathnam was heartbroken.

‘She was a quiet person, with one dream’

In life, Anitha was a soft spoken person who often kept to herself. "She would not speak much, she would only answer if you asked her something,” says Rajesh, Maniratnam’s friend.

Room in which Anitha was last found

Anitha became popular among the people of Kuzhumur village after she went to New Delhi to file a petition in the Supreme Court against NEET. The people who knew her say, her only dream for the last two years was to become the first doctor in her community.

“She wanted to become doctor and serve people," Rajesh says.

“Most of the day, she would just sit and study," her father recalls.

When Anitha scored 442/500 in Class X, her family decided that they would definitely help her study further, and wanted to see her as a doctor, Maniratnam says.

This wasn’t an easy decision. Anitha has four brothers - Maniratnam, Sathish, Pandian and Arun. While Arun and Pandian are studying Engineering in Ariyalur and Tiruchi, Maniratnam is studying to clear the UPSC exam and become an IAS officer. The family runs of the income of Anitha’s father Shanmugham, who is a casual labourer, and her brother Sathish, who works in a bank.

Despite their meagre means, Shanmugham has always wanted the best of education for his children. And when Anitha told him she wanted to become a doctor, he did everything in his power to make it happen.

The NEET obstacle

But the one obstacle they hadn’t prepared for was NEET.

Anitha was disappointed after writing the exam, her family says. "After the exam, she told me and her brother that only four or five questions were from her syllabus. And the rest, she found difficult to answer," says Rajesh, Maniratnam's friend.

While the family supported her decision to take the fight to the Supreme Court, and implead herself in the NEET case, when the central government refused to exempt Tamil Nadu from NEET, their dreams came crashing down.

"I told her then to take the course she gets,” Manirathnam says.

“We first thought of agricultural sciences, but then we had finalised on the veterinary course. She had even attended the second round of counselling. The classes were supposed to start on Monday," he adds.

Is death the price they pay?

"Centre should definitely remove NEET otherwise how will people like us get admissions?” Shanmugham asks. “Nothing like this should happen to anyone else," he adds.

As Maniratnam tries to collect himself, he says, cynically, “Apparently, change can only happen if someone dies.”

“I'm not saying this because I'm Anitha's brother, but in Tamil Nadu, it has always been like this. The fight to remove NEET was not only for Anitha but many others like her. I hope her death will help in getting relief for many others.,” he adds.

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