COVID-19: A Helpless Parent, JEE/NEET/UGC And An Indifferent Government

I am a parent in India. Like every other parent, I try to keep my children safe and away from danger. This, seemingly an innocuous task, has turned out to be an onerous one beyond my capabilities. I do not know what to blame and how to take corrective measures in this unasked for situation. I just know that this involves my children, the centre of my life. They are at risk for no fault of them and I am just a helpless parent; who cannot do a thing to help them in any manner.

India’s tryst with coronavirus started in March 2020. The Prime Minister ordered a national lockdown in the last week of March 2020. The cases were in three digits, nationally, at that time. We were told to stay home, stay safe. Like every other citizen, I scared my family, children and parents to stay at home for their well-being and safety.

On the education front, the Government shut down all the schools and colleges. The exams were going on at the time of announcing the lockdown; all of them got postponed citing the safety of the students. Later, the board exams, CBSE, ICSE, States, got cancelled. There was a consistency in messaging – the children’s safety is paramount.

And now, suddenly, with the coronavirus cases hovering above 60 k on a daily basis and cumulative cases in excess of 31 lacs, the children are being asked to come out to give entrance tests and final year college exams. The Supreme Court has also ruled that NEET and JEE won’t be postponed. I don’t suppose their judgement will be any different in the UGC case.

No improvement, only deterioration

What has changed from March/April 2020 to August/September 2020 for a complete reversal of stance? In March/April 2020, I told my children that they should stay at home. In August/September 2020, I am expected to tell my children that they can go out to write exams. Leave aside my loss of credibility in front of my children, how do I allay their fears about their own lives?

Please get this straight. The children, no matter their age, are human beings in their own regard. They understand the goings-on around them. They comprehend that adults are fixated on a certain issue and that their parents have deviated from a normal life-style to keep everyone in the family safe. And, now, with the risks increased exponentially, why should they put their lives at risk?

There has to be perceptible progress in the circumstances to warrant a different decision. Here, we have none. Rather, the state of affairs is worsening. 1000+ people are dying daily due to Covid-19. The adults are not able to think beyond their lives and livelihoods, and we expect the children to think nothing beyond their exams!

Live with the virus, not die from the virus

The Government says that we need to learn to live with the coronavirus. The Supreme Court has said “COVID may continue for a year more. Are you going to wait for another year? Do you know what is the loss to the country and the career peril to the students?”

We signed up as parents to raise healthy children and not COVID warriors. The soldiers know that they might have to sacrifice their lives to protect their motherland. The doctors know that they carry a professional risk when they treat their patients with infectious disease. But children? What have they done to deserve a risk to their lives? They are not even adults. On what basis are children expected to put their life on the line? Children are surely not essential service workers.

I do not know whether COVID continues for a year. I know that it is the duty of the Government to keep the country safe. If the Government is not able to rid the country of the virus, how can it be the responsibility of the children to return to so-called normalcy? How have they failed that to pass the exams they have to put their lives at risk?

57000+ people have died due to COVID to date. And, more will die. Is this not a loss to the country? Who is going to claim this blood on their hands? Does the Government guarantee a career to the students who venture out to give exams in this scenario? If no, how can it ask the students to vie for an illusory career in exchange for a real-life?

 A helpless parent and the lonely angst

The Government knows that it is coming from a position of power, a position of unbridled brute dominance. The Government knows that in the dog eat dog world of the Indian education sector, where the elite medical and engineering seats are at a premium, there is no option for parents or the students to not give entrance exams if ordered to. They will have to fall in line, and they will.

In the Indian political landscape, each caste, each industry, each interest has a lobbying group to influence the decision-making process. But parents? The most-widely disseminated group has no unifying force that can speak in a single voice to get heard. The net result – The Government rams its way through with no opposition and the Supreme Court of India as a lead cheer-leader. Why should anyone bother for a helpless parent and her/his children?

Go ahead, my children. Give the exams. Though it is my duty as a parent, I cannot guarantee your safety anymore. Some of you may die, some of you may suffer from the disease, some of you may carry the scars for the rest of your life.

I am sorry for letting you down in the face of the Indian Government’s indifferent and inept handling of the pandemic. I am sorry.

A Helpless Parent

PS: The Government considers opening of children’s parks as a threat to life, but not giving exams. New Education Policy gets released and advertised, but we cannot look beyond the 3 hour rote fest.