Off with their headscarves: the ridiculous solution to cheating

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Off with their headscarves: the ridiculous solution to cheating

The diktat

  • Supreme Court has upheld the CBSE's order for a dress code for the All India Pre Medical Test
  • The code is so vague that it ends up banning any religious headgear - headscarves, veils for nuns, turbans
  • Perhaps the best solution is asking candidates to appear in the nude

The action or the lack of it

  • CBSE is missing the point. If there are instances of cheating, it reflects the failure of the system
  • Prescribing a dress code - which includes half sleeve shirts and slippers instead of shoes - reflects CBSE's laziness
  • In a country where many girls aren't even allowed to study, it's cruel to place such impediments in their path

It's the day of the All India Pre-Medical Test (AIPMT), 2016. Lakhs of medical and dental aspirants across India gather outside their respective exam halls. They bury their noses in books - desperate for every bit of last minute revision, but even more desperate to avoid eye contact with their peers.

This isn't just the usual pre-exam nerves, but something far more awkward. They're all in the nude.

It sounds like a ridiculous premise, but it's the next logical step going by today's Supreme Court order that upholds the Central Board for Secondary Education's (CBSE) dress-code for the AIPMT.

The dress code was put in place after the CBSE was ordered to do a re-examination after cheating in the original exam. It effectively disallows hijabs and other religious headgear and is the CBSE's attempt to thwart cheating in the re-exam. Or, more correctly, it's the CBSE's way of thwarting cheating, while subsequently doing as little as possible.

F For Effort

The CBSE's solution to phones in socks isn't better checking - it's slippers. And the solution to electronic devices in headgear is banning religious headgear. With that logic, the day isn't far away when the CBSE solves the cheating problem altogether by having candidates just appear in the nude.

It's not that candidates were unreasonable either. Aggrieved candidates offered to show up early to be thoroughly screened. But that doesn't seem like an option the CBSE was keen on. In fact, the CBSE seems to frown on any option requiring additional effort on their part. Or at least that's what this AIPMT exam fiasco indicates.

First, despite instances of cheating, the SC had to intervene for the CBSE to scrap the exam. Despite the fact that deserving candidates could lose out otherwise. Then, it required SC intervention to ensure the re-exam happened within a month rather than the CBSE's proposed three. Despite a three-month delay putting students' futures in jeopardy. As we saw today the one month deadline was more than possible.

Thanks to the generic wording of the dress code, turbans, hijabs and the veils of nuns are all disallowed

Clearly, while effort is something the CBSE expects from its exam candidates, it is not something the CBSE is big on, itself. Which is worrying because this rule is enforced according to its discretion.

It should be noted that the dress code comes, not because of a wave of hijab-clad women cheats, but in the wake of the CBSE's own systems failing miserably.

While other countries are evolving with the times to deal with tech-savvy cheats, the CBSE only implemented electronic signal jammers for the re-exam.

The original exam, held on May 3, 2015, was scrapped at the SC's insistence after it was revealed that the answer key to the test had been leaked on WhatsApp. It wasn't the result of candidates breaking the system, but of a broken system itself.

Losing My Religion

Still, religious AIPMT candidates will bear the brunt of the institution's failings. Thanks to the generic wording of the dress code, turbans, hijabs and the veils of nuns are all disallowed.

The Supreme Court, while refusing to intervene, called the matter a "small issue", but there are millions across the country who'd disagree. The CBSE directive walks all over candidates' fundamental religious rights. Religion is a personal equation and not something that follows a court's directive.

While the extent of the dress code's enforcement is, as of now, unknown, it has already had one confirmed casualty. Sr. Seba, a nun, was proverbially nailed to the cross, for refusing to take off her headgear and wooden cross for the exam.

To have to choose between one's religious beliefs and one's career is unfair at best and a travesty at worst. To call it a "matter of ego", as the SC has done, doesn't help anything. What's at stake is more than just ego - it's identity. After all, religion and career make up a large part of one's personal identity. To make the two mutually exclusive is to institutionalise discrimination.

The Supreme Court has approached the matter with intelligence, but not empathy. Their observation that "faith won't disappear if you appear for the exam without a scarf" is well-intentioned, but how practical is it? We have to remember that a lot of these candidates come from highly conservative backgrounds where the punishment for straying from tradition may not be divine but societal.

In our patriarchal society, women's education in the country is already in a sorry state. Considering the obstacles many women candidates would have had to overcome to make it as far as the AIPMT, it seems not just unfair, but downright cruel to put further impediments in their path.

This dress code, after all, was put in place to ensure deserving candidates succeed. When it comes in the way of exactly that, especially in a country as diverse as India, it should be reworked.

Ranjan Crasta

Ranjan Crasta @jah_crastafari