In­dia Mur­der of Mer­i­toc­racy

A multi-lay­ered scam brings out the vul­ner­a­bil­ity of the In­dian ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem.

Southasia - - CONTENTS - By Faizan Us­mani The writer is a mem­ber of the staff.

Re­leased in 2003, the In­dian block­buster ‘Munna Bhai M.B.B.S.’ fea­tured a ‘Bhai’, or ‘Gunda’, an In­dian term that means street crim­i­nal. In the movie, Munna Bhai with lit­tle ed­u­ca­tion gets ad­mis­sion in a med­i­cal col­lege by sub­mit­ting fake score sheets and keeps pass­ing the se­mes­ter ex­ams through rig­ging and cheat­ing.

The re­cent Vya­pam scan­dal that has erupted in the In­dian state of Mad­hya Pradesh is one of the most hor­ren­dous multi-lay­ered tragedies caus­ing dis­grace to the en­tire ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem of In­dia. This is be­cause the mega scan­dal of rigged ex­am­i­na­tions in­volves wrong­do­ers be­long­ing to a par­tic­u­lar ed­u­ca­tion depart­ment and also in­cludes highly qual­i­fied aca­demic of­fi­cials, ex­am­i­na­tion con­trollers, top politi­cians, se­nior bu­reau­crats, teach­ers, doc­tors, po­lice per­son­nel, agents, bro­kers and se­nior law en­force­ment of­fi­cials and stu­dents.

The ‘Vya­pam’ is the Hindi acro­nym for the Mad­hya Pradesh Pro­fes­sional Ex­am­i­na­tion Board (MPPEB). It is a gov­ern­ment-con­trolled body that con­ducts en­trance tests for pro­fes­sional aca­demic pro­grams, spe­cial­ized med­i­cal and en­gi­neer­ing cour­ses and gov­ern­ment jobs in the state. Ev­ery year, this ex­am­i­na­tion board con­ducts 21 ex­ams, and since 2007 around 8 mil­lion peo­ple have al­ready ap­peared in the ex­ams con­ducted by it.

Be­ing termed as a mul­ti­mil­lion-dol­lar scan­dal, the Vya­pam scam sur­faced in July 2013 as the most ex­ten­sive rig­ging ex­er­cise that ever took place in In­dia, re­veal­ing how ex­am­i­na­tions are usu­ally rigged by the mys­te­ri­ous mafia in sev­eral ways. For ex­am­ple, can­di­dates hire im­per­son­ators for en­try test. These hired re­sources com­prise med­i­cal stu­dents and prac­tic­ing doc­tors from the neigh­bour­ing ar­eas who usu­ally come to Mad­hya Pradesh to take the pre-med­i­cal tests ( PMTs) as prox­ies for reg­is­tered can­di­dates and, if asked, they even ap­pear in phys­i­cal fit­ness tests in place of the ac­tual can­di­dates.

Another com­mon form of rig­ging is to sell leaked ques­tion pa­pers to can­di­dates at a high price. These pa­pers are usu­ally leaked be­fore the exam through a well-es­tab­lished net­work work­ing se­cretly in co­op­er­a­tion with board of­fi­cials. Equally in­volved in the fraud, some teach­ers and examiners fill up in­com­plete an­swer sheets left by the can­di­dates. The can­di­dates also hire med­i­cal stu­dents as scor­ers who sit near them in the ex­am­i­na­tion hall and help them cheat in front of the in­vig­i­lat­ing staff who are heav­ily bribed to fix the seat­ing ar­range­ments.

Another in­ter­est­ing way is to get a ‘high scorer’ to ap­pear for the com­pul­sory pre-ad­mis­sion tests. On clear­ing the test, they de­lib­er­ately with­draw from the ad­mis­sion at the last mo­ment and then the va­cant seats are sold for a higher price to other can­di­dates wait­ing in the queue. Nor­mally, can­di­dates pay from $15,000 to $110,000 on an av­er­age to se­cure a seat in the pro­fes­sional med­i­cal and en­gi­neer­ing col­leges, turn­ing the ram­pant re­cruit­ment rig­ging into a full­blown mul­ti­mil­lion dol­lar in­dus­try in In­dia.

Be­sides the killing of merit, the mys­te­ri­ous Vya­pam scam has taken over 150 hu­man lives over the last two years, in­clud­ing a med­i­cal col­lege dean, jour­nal­ists, whistle­blow­ers, wit­nesses and sev­eral sus­pects and ac­cused. De­spite many years hav­ing passed, the killing spree is still in full swing, elim­i­nat­ing any­one who tries to come close to the main cul­prits of the scan­dal, a black chap­ter in In­dian history. As if the whole sys­tem in In­dia has turned into a Munna Bhai, it is even more shock­ing when Mad­hya Pradesh Home Min­is­ter Bab­u­lal Gaur terms un­nat­u­ral deaths of ac­cused per­sons as “nat­u­ral” and rules out the need to in­ves­ti­gate the sus­pi­cious deaths.

Alarm­ingly, a ma­jor­ity of the dead are 25 to 30 years old stu­dents from Mad­hya Pradesh who had de­ceit­fully se­cured ad­mis­sion to pro­fes­sional schools and col­leges with the help of the Vya­pam of­fi­cials. Among the dead, there were many young job can­di­dates as well those who had paid a hefty amount to rack­e­teers to se­cure a job through the ma­nip­u­la­tion of re­cruit­ment tests.

Till now, po­lice have ar­rested 1,980 peo­ple in­volved in the scam; around 2,530 per­sons stand ac­cused while 550 are on the run. Cur­rently, twenty-two courts in the state are ex­am­in­ing more

than 50 cases, while 200 sus­pects have also filed pe­ti­tions seek­ing pro­tec­tion for their lives. In con­nec­tion with the scan­dal, many big­wigs are un­der in­ves­ti­ga­tion too, in­clud­ing the Mad­hya Pradesh Chief Min­is­ter Shivraj Chouhan, state Gover­nor Ram Naresh Ya­dav, a spokesper­son of the BJP, se­nior po­lice of­fi­cials, two se­nior lead­ers from the Rashtriya Swayam­se­vak Sangh (RSS), top bu­reau­crats and the owner of a pri­vate med­i­cal col­lege.

Hav­ing one of the largest med­i­cal ed­u­ca­tion sys­tems in the world with 381 med­i­cal schools and col­leges, In­dia pro­duces around 30,000 doc­tors ev­ery year while over 70,000 un­der­grad­u­ate and post­grad­u­ate stu­dents ap­pear for ex­ams dur­ing the year. The Vya­pam scan­dal, how­ever, has raised doubts about the over­all qual­ity and au­then­tic­ity of the med­i­cal ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem and the real qual­i­fi­ca­tion of doc­tors and med­i­cal prac­ti­tion­ers has it­self be­come a ques­tion mark in the coun­try.

A night­mare in In­dia’s ed­u­ca­tion history, the shock­ing ed­u­ca­tion scam has ex­posed a num­ber of loop­holes in such a larger ed­u­ca­tional setup tainted by deep-seated cor­rup­tion and lack of mer­i­toc­racy. Un­de­ni­ably, more such scams will ap­pear in a so­ci­ety where par­ents are al­ways will­ing to in­vest an en­tire for­tune on their chil­dren’s higher ed­u­ca­tion, but it be­comes more crit­i­cal when the whole sys­tem in a state starts be­hav­ing like Munnab­hai due to the lack of good gov­er­nance and trans­parency.

The scam shows how deeply cor­rup­tion has per­me­ated into all lev­els of gov­ern­ment and so­ci­ety in In­dia, in­clud­ing the vi­tal ed­u­ca­tion sec­tor. As it is a mat­ter of the na­tion’s in­ter­na­tional rep­u­ta­tion, the In­dian gov­ern­ment needs to ur­gently bring all those re­spon­si­ble to full jus­tice with­out any dis­crim­i­na­tion and make sure that no in­ci­dent of this na­ture oc­curs in fu­ture to save the In­dian higher ed­u­ca­tion in­sti­tu­tions from fall­ing into dis­re­pute.

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