Ruby Rai and three other disgraced toppers of Bihar’s Class 12 exams were arrested after a court in Patna issued an arrest warrant against them. The story that first broke with the news that Rai, as the humanities topper, did not know what political science was, led to a large examination racket involving the Bihar School Education Board (BSEB) being uncovered where results were being fixed in exchange for cash.
A scandal of this magnitude has naturally brought Bihar’s education system into serious disrepute, forcing authorities to act. The alleged kingpin, Bachha Rai, was arrested, 27 employees of the BSEB suspended and 300 others were transferred. Fourteen top-ranking students were called for a retest and Rai was taken into custody soon after she failed hers on Saturday.
The reason for Rai’s arrest, however, is yet unclear. The police haven’t stated if she was a part of those driving the racket apart from being a beneficiary. If she was just a beneficiary then her arrest is troubling and shows the authorities are merely fulfilling the thirst for summary justice rather than methodically exposing the scam. The calculation then seems to be to appease the thousands of other students (and their parents) who were short-changed by the likes of Rai who game the system.
If this is a symbolic, punitive move, it fools no one. Everyone knows how deep the rot in the educational system goes, and they understand that it is the structural problems that the state has failed to fix that prompts students to opt for illegal means.
There are not simply enough quality institutions to meet the demand of millions of graduating high school students, and hence the desperation for high marks. The sector is rife with corruption, cheating is rampant, and no state wants its students to miss out. So, there is widespread complicity in giving high scores and allowing unscrupulous practices, destroying the credibility of the entire education sector.
This is not hyperbole. A committee instituted by the ministry of human resource development to offer advice on a new education policy has found that “there is widespread corruption in appointments and transfers of teachers”, and that “donations have to be paid for admissions”, particularly in engineering and medical education. It also acknowledges that “examination papers are leaked, copying is widespread and mark sheets are often rigged”.
There is an overwhelming tide of youthful expectation in India and very few avenues for upward mobility. Students and parents often end up trying desperate measures. It is grossly unfair to pick on those who have been accidentally caught, unmindful of the many that get away. Yes, Rai can be stripped of her pass certificate but relentlessly shaming her is not only deeply insensitive but also a convenient way to gloss over much bigger problems (and culprits).