Film star Suriya Sivakumar should face contempt action over his comments on Sunday on the Madras High Court linked to the alleged suicide of three medical aspirants, a judge has said. However, it appears that the judge reacted to a wrongly translated version of Suriya's statement.
Four students who were to appear for the highly competitive NEET (National Eligibility cum Entrance Test), died by suicide last week in Tamil Nadu.
Describing the deaths as "painful" and ones that had "shaken his conscience", Suriya had said, "With the fear of life due to corona scare, the court which dispenses justice via video-conferencing orders students to fearlessly go and take exams."
Madras High Court judge SM Subramaniam said the actor was in contempt of court. "The said statement in my considered opinion amounts to contempt of court as the integrity and devotion of the Hon'ble Judges as well as the Judicial System of our Great Nation are not only undermined but criticised in a bad shape, wherein there is a threat for the public confidence on the Judiciary (sic)," he wrote to the Chief Justice of the Madras High Court.
But the judge's translation from Tamil of the controversial part of Suriya's statement is incorrect in the copy circulated to the media.
"The statement reveals that the Hon'ble Judges are afraid of their own life and rendering justice through video conferencing. While-so, they have no morale to pass orders directing the students to appear for NEET Exam without fear (sic)," the judge wrote.
While Suriya's statement appeared to be matter of fact, the judge's version added elements like "morale" and "while-so" which are not found in the actor's statement.
Six former judges have asked the Madras High Court Chief Justice to take no action against Suriya. "We should show generosity and magnanimity considering Suriya's help to hundreds of poor students. An artisitic person's overreaction should not be taken seriously and out of context. It's our duty to appeal so that the court is rid of any unnecessary controversies," the former judges wrote in their letter to the Chief Justice.
The actor has won support on social media for his statement, with #TNStandsWithSuriya trending on Twitter.
Several states had called for NEET and JEE to be deferred, given the rising COVID 19 cases. The Supreme Court twice rejected petitions to defer the exams, once by students and the second time by opposition-ruled states.
For nearly a decade, Tamil Nadu had abolished the medical entrance exam, saying that it led to stress among students and that poor students could not afford private coaching. The state had demanded exemption from NEET and consent to admit students on the basis of Class 12 marks.
Suriya also called for a movement for a united voice against NEET, saying, "NEET kills doctor dreams of children from poor families. We shouldn't be silent spectators of student deaths."
The 45-year-old actor called NEET "Manuneedhi Thervu" (thervu is exam in Tamil), suggesting that students from affluent families benefited with NEET and the poor were left out in the cold.
A trader's son in Namakkal and a scrap merchant's son in Dharmapuri killed themselves on Saturday, a day before NEET on Sunday. Both had failed in the exam last year.
Jothishri Durga, a sub-inspector's daughter, cleared NEET last year but was on the waiting list. In her suicide note, she said she was worried about failing.
A few days ago, Vignesh, a farmer's son who had secured a seat in a private dental college last year, died by suicide as his family couldn't afford Rs. 5 lakh needed for his admission. His parents say he was under stress.