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