Examination, Prohibition, And Puritanism: Politics Of Inquisition In The Republic of Bihar
By Mithilesh Kumar
08 June, 2016
Arvind Das in his remarkable work The Republic of Bihar points to a “Bihar Fatigue.” The complain is that the perception of Bihar has been restricted to poverty, violence and general backwardness. This is partly true but what is also true is that each time the fatigue sets in there always comes an incident which makes the well-wishers and not so well-wishers of Bihar to come out in the open and have their day in the sun lamenting shrilly the incorrigibility of Bihar and the pre-determined fact that Bihar is dragging down the whole country. The recent incident has been the alleged cheating by toppers in the intermediate examination. A very draconian prohibition law is also being tom-tommed as never achieved moral heights. What is, in fact, happening is a rapid transformation of the advent of social conservatism backed by the iron-hand of an oppressive state. But this is for later.
The very corrupt nature of the education system in Bihar and rampant cheating has been a concern for quite some time now. The viral picture of parents, relatives and friends scaling the wall of an examination center to pass on ‘chits’ gained international notoriety and symbolized everything that is wrong with the examination system of Bihar. The bogey of transparency has been raised repeatedly. Everyone is asking for a complete overhaul of the education and examination system and they want it in double quick time. Serious commentators, however, point out to the institutional and, more importantly, political nature of the problem. They point out to the decision of the Karpoori Thakur government to do away with the requirement of passing in English. “Pass without English” (PWE) became a part of lexicon. What emerged from the recent controversy regarding the alleged cheating of Bihar School Examination Control Board (BSECB) examination toppers marks a definite shift in the politics of education. The socialist shenanigan of linguistic pride has given way to chauvinist belief in neoliberal conservative “merit.” In all this storm and stress what is being not discussed is the legality of the whole thing and the gross violation of rights of children.
The incident came to light when a TV news channel went to take interviews of toppers Saurabh Shrestha and Ruby Rai, in science and arts respectively, and they could not answer simple questions on their subjects and what the subjects were in the first place. They became a subject of derision instantly in the full glare of media which played it out with morbid glee. Coming in the background of CBSE results and toppers from “prestigious” schools in Bihar the gap was obvious. While in the latter case the brilliant result of girl students was being hailed yet at the same time a girl student was being humiliated and defamed for no tangible reason other than a few questions by a journalist. The first thing to be asking is why questions of such nature were not put to the toppers of CBSE and those schools? Is it the case that their “merit” is taken for granted or the CBSE is free of malpractice?Take a guess.
The interview set a chain of events that is still getting the headlines. The students were called for an interview and the results of two students were cancelled. The college was derecognized and other punitive measures against bureaucrats was taken. In all this frantic activity no one thought about the legality of the whole thing and a concern towards protecting these students. How the Bihar government take action of such retribution without an enquiry is anybody’s guess? A panel summoned the students without giving them a chance to put their account of examination forward. The interview happened in the full glare of TV cameras. No one asked the question as to why these were allowed inside the interview room. Allegedly they were handwriting experts to verify if the same student has taken the examination. No one asked why there was no counsellor present to protect the students from the undue pressure that was put on them. One of them threatened suicide and another one is reportedly under depression. Who takes responsibility for this? If one of the students indeed goes under depression who provides the resources for counselling and care. No one knows the nature of questions that was asked by this panel. Were they just curriculum based or there were questions about their conduct? If there was a question about their conduct why was there no help or legal recourse provided to the students? There might be more instances of blatant abuse of child rights. What this process has done is to criminalize individual students. In fact, FIR has already been filed under sections ranging from cheating to criminal conspiracy. This seems to be the part of the evolving consensus that juvenile should be treated at par with adults when it comes to ‘heinous’ crimes a contention that has been questioned and critiqued both by legal experts and rights’ activists. If the Bihar government was serious in addressing structural problems of its education and examination system it would have done better to look inwards than making criminals out of defenseless students. The assumption that the students are at fault and hence criminal is problematic to say the least. Who is to say that it was not the incompetence of the examiner? The assumption that students cheated was drawn on the basis of a random interview, I am sure, is not legally sustainable. For heaven’s sake it was not a sting operation of bribe taking politicians for Rajya Sabha seats. The most surprising this is that no one, not the students, their parents or rights’ activists thought of moving court. This could only be attributed to a state that decided to criminalize the whole thing and came down heavily on the students crushing any resistance. I hope there is still recourse to legal action to safeguard the students.
There is a larger issue involved here and no its not Nitish Kumar’s dream of becoming the prime minister or forging a perpetually in construction Third Front. It is moral policing and social conservatism. We see one kind of conservatism in RSS and BJP here we witness a conservatism that results straight from the populist socialist movement in Bihar. The “high” moral of abstinence and probity and accountability from within an individual advocated by JP, Karpoori Thakur, Lohia and others has transmuted into an apparatus at the disposal of the government. The individual agency that the above mentioned stalwarts thought was inherent in an individual citizen has been usurped by the state. That individual agency was the basis of civil and democratic rights. A brief analysis of the prohibition implemented in Bihar can illuminate this point. The government cannot stop patting on its back saying (without any tangible proof or study) that crime against women and in general has dramatically decreased. This is a highly problematic position because it links violence against women, Dalits, poor to alcohol and not patriarchy, caste oppression or structural inequality. Ban alcohol and we solve the problem of caste, class and gender. It is the same with the examination system. The only recourse left it seems in Bihar is what JP, the ideological guru of the current rulers in Bihar, showed when he said “singhasan khaali karo ki Janata aati hai.” We should all gather at Gandhi Maidan with whiskey (or vodka or even water according to your choice) and boycott this prohibition because it is draconian and because its premise preserves the patriarchal and caste structures and goes against the idea of “Total Revolution.” Similarly, students should gherao the State Assembly asking for resignation of the representatives and occupying the schools taking the administration and the entire education system in their own hands.
Mithilesh Kumar is a PhD Candidate at Western Sydney University, Australia. His interest is in the issues of logistics, migration and labour, political philosophy and theory. He wants to work on the nature, evolution and innovation of the Indian state with respect to social and political movements in India. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org