A girl who took the all-India medical entrance exam in Kerala yesterday was told to her horror that the ban on candidates carrying metallic items into the exam hall applied even to the buckles on her bra.
The 19-year-old was forced to remove the innerwear and hand it to her mother, who was waiting outside the centre in Kannur, north Kerala, before she was allowed to enter.
The dress code for the National Eligibility-cum-Entrance Test (NEET) indeed bans metallic items to pre-empt any cheating through hidden electronic devices. But ordinarily, this is understood to apply to earrings, hairpins, headbands, brooches, big metal buttons and the like.
The girl, who took the test at TISK English Medium School in Kovvapuram, Kannur, told: “First, they asked me to change my black trousers (as only light-coloured clothing was allowed), which I did after buying a new pair. When I returned it was already 9.20am (against the entry deadline of 9.30am).”
There was more shock in store for her when a woman official heard beeps on her metal detector while scanning the girl. “When I told her they were just the shoulder buckles on my bra strap, she asked me to remove the bra,” she said.
With the nearest washroom a few minutes’ walk away, and unwilling to lose any more time, she chose to remove the innerwear at the all-woman screening room itself.
“I don’t know how I managed to write the exam as the incident left me rattled,” the girl, who had prepared for a year for the three-hour test, said.
“Why make an issue over a couple of bra buckles, when even my glasses had a metal frame?”
She added: “I’m sure at least three other girls in my exam room faced the same ordeal, as I saw them in great discomfort without their innerwear.”
Another girl who had appeared at the same centre in a pair of jeans had to remove the cheek pockets and the metal buttons.
Media reports quoted her father as saying he had to travel 3km and wait for a shop to open to buy new clothes for his daughter to wear when she stepped out after the 10am-to-1pm test.
While the other examinees left after the test, the girl who had to remove her innerwear summoned the courage to approach the local media waiting outside the centre to cover the conduct of the test.
The state human rights commission today registered a complaint on the basis of media reports and asked Kannur police to investigate and register a case against the officials.
Both the police and the regional office of the Central Board of Secondary Education, which conducts the test, must submit reports on the incident within three weeks, commission acting chairman P. Mohan Das said.
Das said the CBSE, which issued the dos and don’ts, should understand the cultural sensitivities and diverse dressing habits prevalent in the country before unilaterally writing down a code.
“Asking a young girl to remove her innerwear could be the most humiliating and inhumane act. Such harassment can only rattle the self-confidence of candidates who would have prepared for months.”
CBSE sources said the complaints about “excessive” frisking, including the ordeal of the Kerala girl, would be examined. They said such “excessive” frisking was not warranted and the board would take precautions in future.
“The prospectus informed the candidates they would be subjected to extensive and compulsory frisking with highly sensitive metal detectors, but seeking the removal of innerwear should have been avoided,” a senior board official said.
Board sources explained the dress code as an anti-cheating measure that became necessary after the Supreme Court had cancelled the NEET in 2015 following evidence of large-scale malpractice.
Among the items the candidates are banned from carrying are shoes, writing pads, pen drives, erasers, calculators, cellphones, Bluetooth devices, earphones, pagers, wallets, belts, caps, watches, bracelets, water bottles, rings, chains, necklaces and pendants.
Repeated calls to Union government joint secretary Sanyam Bharadwaj, assigned to oversee the conduct of the test, first evoked advice to “call later” from assistants and were later ignored altogether.
Another official, who declined to be identified, said the guidelines forbade metallic items to prevent cheating through hidden devices, but had no answer when asked what device a pair of small buckles could hold.
Kannur police superintendent G. Siva Vikram told reporters: “Although no complaint has been received so far, we have ordered the special branch to investigate the matter.”
The student corroborated that the local police were in touch with her family.
In the state Assembly, several members sought answers and education minister G. Raveendranath promised an inquiry.
CPM Lok Sabha member P.K. Sreemathy described the girl’s ordeal as a “serious case of human rights violation”.
“A girl who has to write an exam after removing her underclothes would never be able to fare well in the exam,” she told reporters in Kannur.
More than 11 lakh would-be doctors and dentists took the NEET yesterday across India, with many falling foul of the dress code.
Reports said that many examinees in Tamil Nadu had to hurriedly cut their shirtsleeves at the centres because full sleeves are not allowed. Many had to take off their shoes and put on their parents’ sandals.
Pens, pencils and mobile phones had to be left behind – the centres provided alternative pens.