In a traumatic case from a National Eligibility-cum-Entrance Test (NEET) exam centre in Ayur in Kollam district, Kerala, the female students who went to appear for the exam on 17th July were asked not to sit for the exam if they did not remove their brassiere. They were asked to remove the brassiere in a separate room and then come and give the exam. National Eligibility-cum-Entrance Test (NEET) is held for admission to the undergraduate medical courses in all medical institutions.
On the part of those conducting the checking, this is an act of complete indecency and has the capacity to shake the female confidence before they could sit for the exam. Asking the student to choose between the brassiere and exam is an unfair practice and should never be repeated in the future. “Is your future or innerwear big for you? Just remove it and don’t waste our time,” the girl was told, according to her father’s complaint to the police. According to the interview of the student’s father on NDTV, the majority of the female students were asked to remove their brassiere. Most of the students were breaking down.
Five women, who were on NEET exam duty, were arrested on Tuesday. While three of them work for an agency hired by the National Testing Agency (NTA), two work for the private educational institute at Ayur where the incident took place. Two more persons, who oversaw the NEET exam held in an educational institution in Kerala, were arrested by police on Thursday for allegedly asking girl students to remove their innerwear for appearing in the test on July 17. The arrest of a NEET observer and an exam coordinator was recorded on Thursday after their interrogation by police, an officer said.
Such kind of frisking being done at a time when the students were asked to adhere to Covid 19 norms is further traumatic to the students. Changing of clothes right before an exam at the mass level at an exam centre would not be easy for the students. Add to it the anxiety that a student undergoes right before taking an exam. The task of the exam centre is to make the pre-examination time as smooth as possible. By committing this act of asking the student to take of the brassiere, those conducting the checking have added immensely to the agony of the student.
Such a kind of temperament coming from those responsible for checking and surveillance right before a life-deciding exam is an attack on female dignity. It is a brazen display of patriarchy where the impulsivity to impose your own restrictions, irrespective of the fact whether or not the exam demanded it. It seemed like those on exam duty acted out of their whims and fancies. The shame inculcated in women right from childhood regarding their body is immense and if right before an exam, inner garments are required to be taken off, it can be rather unsettling for any female.
NEET has elaborate rules regarding the dresses which are allowed while one is taking the exam so that there are no unfair practices. On their official website on their Information Bulletin: NEET (UG) – 2022, they mention these as the barred items:
“The candidates will be subjected to extensive and compulsory frisking before entering the Examination Centre with the help of highly sensitive metal detectors. The candidates are not allowed to carry the following items inside the Examination Centre under any circumstances. a) Any item like textual material (printed or written), bits of papers,
Geometry/Pencil Box, Plastic Pouch, Calculator, Pen, Scale, Writing Pad, Pen Drives, Eraser, Calculator, Log Table, Electronic Pen/Scanner, etc. b) Any communication device like Mobile Phone, Bluetooth, Earphones, Microphone, Pager, Health Band, etc. c) Other items like Wallet, Goggles, Handbags, Belt, Cap, etc. d) Any Watch/Wristwatch, Bracelet, Camera, etc. e) Any ornaments/metallic items. f) Any food items opened or packed, water bottle, etc. g) Any other item which could be used for unfair means, by hiding communication devices like a microchip, camera, Bluetooth device, etc.”
Interestingly NEET also mentions in the guidelines:
10.1.2 No arrangement will be made at the Centres for keeping any articles/items belonging to the candidates.
This brings to mind that when the girls were asked to take off their brassiere and keep it in the room and the NEET guidelines have evidently mentioned that there would be no arrangement made at the centres. However the concerned centre in Kerala did assign a room for this purpose where the women deposited their bras.
On their official website on their Information Bulletin: NEET (UG) – 2022, they mention these as the prescribed dress code:
10.2 Dress Code 10.2.1 The candidates are instructed to follow the following dress code while appearing for NEET (UG) - 2022: a. Light clothes with long sleeves are not permitted. However in case, candidates come in cultural/ customary dress at the Examination Centre, they should report at least an hour before the last reporting time i.e. 12.30 pm so that there is enough time for proper frisking without any inconvenience to the candidate while maintaining the sanctity of the examination. b. Slippers, sandals with low heels are permitted. Shoes are not permitted.
Though if metal detector was beeping in case of bras, what would the security personnel have to say about metal zippers in the trousers of men, were they not a point of concern?
Does this imply that surveillance looms larger than female dignity?
According to a press release by the Ministry of Education on 19th July 2022, “Ministry of Education has asked the National Testing Agency to ascertain all the facts about the incident on the spot from stakeholders present at the Centre at that time. Accordingly, a Fact Finding Committee has been constituted by the NTA to ascertain the facts in detail. Further action will be taken based on the report of the Fact-Finding Committee.”
A Public Interest Litigation has been filed in the Kerala High Court which has sought compensation to the female candidates.
The petitioner has also sought direction from the National Testing Agency (NTA) to re-conduct the exam within two weeks. The petitioner has submitted that such incidents traumatise the candidates and cause mental stress to them. The PIL has sought the issuance of a common protocol to conduct examinations in India and to provide free counselling to such victims of the incident. The petitioner has also sought an interim order to conduct a retest for the affected students. (As reported by livelaw.in, 28/7/2022).
The Ministry of Education should take care that such untoward incidences which hurt the dignity of female students do not take place, that too right before such a life deciding exam. If the security concerns forced someone to take off their bra for the sake of an exam and their life chances were affected because of it, the fact that they took it off goes on to show how important the exam was to them.
(Dr Sujata Jha is an ICSSR Post-doctoral scholar, IIT Patna)