Friday, Dec 02, 2022

NEET Exam Harassment Row Causes Outrage But This Isn't The First Time

NEET Exam Harassment Row Causes Outrage But This Isn't The First Time

A row has erupted in Kerala after the father of a student alleged that his daughter was made to remove her brassiere before being allowed to sit for the NEET-UG examination in Kerala's Kollam district.

NEET aspirants were allegedly harassed before appearing for the examination in Kerala.
NEET aspirants were allegedly harassed before appearing for the examination in Kerala. PTI/Image for representation

Kerala's education ministry is up in arms demanding action against the agency, which allegedly forced women appearing for the examination to remove their undergarments before entering a NEET exam centre in the state's Kollam district. The reports have led to outrage across the nation and an investigation into the matter. 

Following the incident, however, the National Testing Agency (NTA) on Tuesday said that no complaint has been received by them in this regard. According to reports, the agency has been told that the charges no "frisking" and outraging the modesty of women students were "fictitious". The incident has nevertheless led to outrage and protests in Kerala with the state shooting off a letter to Centre to seek cognisance of the incident.

What happened in Kerala?

The incident occurred when NEET-UG aspirants appeared for the examination in a private educational institute cum exam centre at Ayur in Kerala's Kollam district on Sunday. According to reports, the students were frisked by authorities at the examination centre who made them remove their underwear including brassieres before being allowed to sit for the examination.

The issue came to light on Monday when the father of a 17-year-old girl told the media that his daughter, who was sitting for her first-ever NEET exam, was yet to come out of the traumatic experience wherein she had to sit for the over 3-hour-long exam without a brassiere. The father had told the media that his daughter was dressed as per the dress code mentioned in the NEET bulletin which did not say anything about innerwear.

"Fictitious Complaint"

Following outrage and police action against the friskers and further probe, the exam centre's superintendent has told the National Testing Agency that the police complaint about the frisking is "fictitious" and has been filed with "wrong intentions", 

According to the NTA, No complaint or representation has been received by them regarding the matter. However, the Agency sought an immediate report from the centre superintendent and observer on basis of claims in media reports. 

The centre superintendent, however, has denied the incident. "They have informed that no such incident took place and the complaint is fictitious and has been filed with wrong intentions," a senior NTA told PTI. 

The NEET dress code does not permit any such activity as alleged by the parent of the candidate. The code provides for ensuring sanctity and fairness of exam while observing sensitivity towards gender, culture and religion during frisking of candidates, the official added. 

FIR against "friskers", Kerala seeks Centre's support

A police case was registered in connection with an alleged incident in Kerala on Tuesday under Indian Penal Code (IPC) Sections 354 (Assault or criminal force to woman with intent to outrage her modesty) and 509 (Word, gesture or act intended to insult the modesty of a woman) on the basis of a complaint of a girl who allegedly faced the humiliating experience.

The case was registered after a team of women officers recorded the statement of the girl, they said, adding that an investigation has been launched and the friskers who were allegedly involved in the act would be arrested soon.

Meanwhile, Kerala Higher Education Minister R Bindu has written a letter to Union Education Minister Dharmendra Pradhan, expressing "dismay and shock" at the news of the "naked assault on the dignity and honour of the girl students". 

Bindu said an agency that has been entrusted with the conduct of the examination allegedly forced the girl participants to strip before entering the test centre for reasons known only to themselves.  "The shame and shock of this unexpected turn of events have affected the morale and composure of the students whose performance in the test was consequently affected," she said and strongly recommended action against the agency to prevent future occurrences of a similar nature and sought the Union Minister's intervention in the matter.

"I write to place on record that we take strong exception to such inhuman behaviour from an agency that has only been entrusted with the task of conducting the examination in a fair manner", the minister said. The Kerala State Human Rights Commission, meanwhile, on Monday ordered an investigation into the incident and sought a report within 15 days.

A tale of humiliation

While the incident has led to several protests across the state, the complaint made by the father to media channels contained several disturbing details. 

The complainant-father told the TV channel that on July 17 afternoon, after his daughter entered the exam centre, he and his wife were about to have their lunch in the car when they got a call from a number shown as 'information technology' asking them to come to the gate, he said.

"When we reached the gate, we saw our daughter in tears. She said that she and the other girls were being asked to remove part of their inner wear and asked for a shawl to wear during the test. Later on her way back, the distressed student narrated the incident to her parents. 

He said that his daughter, one of the invigilators, most of them were men, said that she can either remove her brassiere or she can write the exam.

"There were two rooms where undergarments of young women and girls were stacked on top of each other in violation of COVID-19 protocols. Those writing the exams are between the age groups of 17 to 23". 

After the parents heard what had happened, they went to the Kottarakkara DySP office and lodged a complaint.

The college authorities told him that they had no role in conducting the test and only provided the necessary infrastructure and that an outside agency based in Chadayamangalam here was responsible for conducting the exam.

The father added, "...I am not doing it only for my daughter, but for all the other girls and women there. In future, no other parent should have to face such a situation again. I am ready to go to any extent for that.". 

Not the first time

Shocking as it is, this isn't the first time that women students in India have reported abuse and harassment of this kind. In February 2020, over 60 women students of a college in Bhuj in Gujarat’s Kutch district were allegedly forced by hostel authorities to remove their undergarments to check if they were menstruating. As the allegation came to light and caused an uproar, several FIRs were lodged in the case. The college principal, hostel rector and peon were also suspended within a few days after police lodged an FIR against them and others. 

In 2018, two women staffers of an examination centre in Pune were booked under Section 354 (assault or criminal force to woman with intent to outrage her modesty) of the Indian Penal Code after a number of Class 12 students alleged that they were "strip-searched" before an exam. The incident occurred at the Higher Secondary Certificate (HSC) examination centre in the city's Loni Kalbhor area and the students, including girls, alleged that they were subjected to humiliating body searches before being allowed to enter the exam hall to write HSC exams.

In 2010, A girl student, appearing for the Class X exams of Uttar Pradesh Board, was strip-searched by invigilators at a college here on suspicions that she was carrying chits for copying.

In Kerala itself, a 58-year-old retired teacher and former municipal councillor of the ruling CPI(M)'s Facebook post opened a barrage of accusations of sexual harassment from his former students in May this year. The teacher from Mammalapuram was taken into custody from Wayanad after he was booked under the POCSO Act over molestation allegations raised by a woman. According to the police, more than 75 students have accused Kumar of sexual assault but the majority of them were not ready to file complaints, saying they can’t run after litigations. 

(With inputs from PTI)