The story is in the images, a story in which Ruby Rai is the villain. Having topped an examination, she could not answer elementary questions on television, and was seen, face covered in checked cloth, being escorted away by a policewoman. Asked to write an essay on Tulsidas, who wrote the Ramcharitramanas, all she wrote was: “Tulsidas-ji, pranam.” She was arrested, along with other “toppers”, after a court issued non-bailable warrants.
Rai looks look quite the villain. Except that, she may very well be a victim. Maybe she deserves our sympathy, not censure. All she wanted was to pass the examination in second division.
Of course, she should have worked hard for it. Of course, she need not have left it to her father, or uncle. But think of the ambience in which she would have grown up.
There are many ways to beat the examination system, and Bihar has developed some of the more ingenious ones. You may have seen images of people climbing walls outside examination halls to provide help to those inside. There were also images of people writing an examination with a crumpled sheet on the side, from which they were copying.
To tell you the truth, this, dramatic though it may be, is for the amateurs. The pros have a refined system, developed and applied successfully over the years.
In many examinations, the candidate is not allowed to write her name anywhere on the answer sheet. They can only write the roll number, which also gets coded to hide the student’s identity.
However, those who have mastered the system and promised their wards good results, give them a code. It can be a symbol, a letter, a random image, or a colour of ink. Just a little bit of it has to be put on certain pages of the answer sheet.
When these answer sheets go to teachers in different cities for assessment, the codes help trace them, and identify the person who sat the examination. For example, if the answer sheets of 20 students has gone to a certain examiner, a representative of the student who has done the coding will go to the examiner, and rifle through the sheets to look for the code. The answer sheets would then be re-written, at leisure, with all the help one can get, maybe from the examiner herself. A less subtle way of coding is to insert hundred rupee notes between sheets for not only easy traceability but also instant reward for the examiner.
Reading these passages may evoke shock or mirth, depending on how much you worry about our education system. But in Bihar, they will perhaps induce a yawn. Everyone knows the system, and many accept it.
That is why when Ruby Rai’s father asked her -- as she said in her confession – what was the result she wanted, she wished for a second division, wrote her roll number on the answer sheet, and not much else. Her father had told her not to worry, that she should write whatever came to her mind, and leave the rest to him. Perhaps the father took his promise too seriously, and Ruby Rai ended up being a topper.
Now all hell has broken loose. The Bihar Board has set up a committee to look into the matter. The members of the committee are the board’s secretary Anup Kumar Sinha, deputy secretary Kameshwar Prasad Gupta, and former secretary Hasan Waris. Sounds like a group of insiders.
One thing the gentleman might want to look at is the incentive for schools to fudge. It is a widespread belief that if a school boasts a large number of toppers, it gets government aid in one way or another. Private schools need that money, and can go some way to secure it.
The other thing the board’s committee might want to do is to turn the spotlight on itself and ask a simple question: whose system is it, and who is responsible for creating it?
The third thing the committee might want to do is to look beyond the toppers. What if Ruby Rai had been granted her wish, a second division? She would probably be cooling off in her village, looking wide-eyed at newspaper reports of other students being arrested. How many like her got her wish? While we arrest the toppers, what about those who bring up the middle and rear of the results sheets? Did they cheat or not?
Having topped, Ruby Rai cools her heels in custody, where, according to accounts from Bihar, no one has visited her, not even her close family. Others laugh at her for mispronouncing political science as “prodigal science”, and describing it as something to do with cooking.
But Ruby Rai will remain a product of the system, not its creator.