Students across the country appeared for the re-examination of the All India Pre-Medical/Pre-Dental Entrance Test (AIPMT) amid tight security measures like pat downs before being allowed inside the centres on Saturday.
The Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) has come up with stringent measures to deter use of unfair means in the re-test after the exam which was held on May 3 was scrapped by the Supreme Court after reports of massive irregularities.
The education board had also issued a strict guideline for the applicants and barred them from carrying mobile phones, calculator, watch, geometry box, pencil box, handbag, handkerchiefs, scarves and any extra clothing. Students were asked to come in slippers and loose clothing. They are not even allowed to carry pens.
The apex court on Friday had refused to allow aspirants appearing for the test to wear a hijab, saying "your faith will not disappear" if it is not worn on a particular day. The directive came three days after the Kerala high court allowed two Muslim girls to wear a headscarf and a full-sleeve dress for the re-test, on the condition that an invigilator can frisk them if required.
A Catholic nun, who refused to remove her veil and cross, was not allowed to appear for the re-test in Kerala's Thiruvananthapuram, inviting sharp criticism from the church.
Sister Seba arrived at the Jawahar Central School with the Mother Superior of her convent at least an hour before the test for the customary check. However, school authorities asked her to remove her veil and the pendant with a cross she was wearing till the examination was over.
She asked the authorities to allot her a separate room but was turned down by them who said there is no provision for her request.
"I tried to convince them but they cited the Supreme Court order saying nothing will happen if I remove the holy dress for a day. They told me that they are forced to implement guidelines in letter and spirit," the nun said before leaving.
The Catholic Bishop Council has decried the incident saying it would take it up at the appropriate forum.
In Jaipur, a total of 49,195 aspirants will take the re-test at 66 centres. Many parents, who have come from other cities and villages to the capital of Rajasthan, along with their children were seen waiting patiently for the examination to begin.
"I have come with my daughter from Alwar for the re-test. Her previous exam had gone well and we are skeptic about the retest as many times it is a matter of sheer luck," said Mukesh Jain, a parent who was waiting outside Saint Xavier's School.
Students seemed nervous about the re-test as they stood in the queues holding their admit card in their hands and adhering to the strict dress code prescribed by the CBSE.
"We never had the time for proper revision and it is extremely difficult to maintain that level of enthusiasm and energy for a re-exam that is scheduled two months later," said Ashutosh Bhargav, a student from Kota.
The entry of students inside the centres was monitored and recorded on camera after which they were frisked by school guards and CBSE officials both manually as well as with metal detectors. LED torches were also used to check their mouths, ears and hair for any hidden notes or electronic devices. Many students were asked to remove amulets, sacred threads and lockets from their body. Some students who had come to the centres in full-sleeve shirts were asked to tear them out.
"This is one of the strictest security arrangements we have seen for an entrance examination in years. We want to make sure that this entrance exam goes without any glitches. We are checking students properly with LED torches and infrared lights as well," said a CBSE official on duty.
Many students and parents found the excessive security unnerving.
"This re-test and tight security is not helping the applicants. My daughter was asked to remove all the ornaments she was wearing and now she is feeling more tensed than ever. This entire system has only caused trouble for the innocent students who genuinely work hard for these exams. Those who use unfair means will get through anyway," said Ashok Gurjar, a parent from Jhunjhunu.
Others said the security will not bring out any change in the way entrance examinations are conducted in the country.
"There is corruption everywhere. Do you really think those 16-17-year-old applicants who have come here can leak a question paper? Those who leak questions are within the CBSE itself and are sitting far off from these centres," said Balwant Kumar, a parent from Alwar.
In Chandigarh, students started gathering outside the 29 AIPMT centres, including Sacred Heart School, DAV Model School, Shishu Niketan and Carmel Convent, since 7.30am as there were many outstation candidates from Himachal Pradesh, Jammu and Patiala.
Despite clear instructions from the CBSE to not wear or carry any accessory like earrings, clipboards, watches, rings, belts, wrist bands, many students did not adhere to the guidelines and had to face inconvenience. They were asked to remove all the banned objects and a few girls were even asked to remove their hair bands.
Officials cited violation of the prescribed dress code and did not allow any candidate to wear them despite parents objecting to the removal of religious signs.
Students were sent inside only after being frisked by metal detectors thrice at each centre around 9.30am for the paper which started at 10am. Police teams could also be seen outside every centre across the city.
Similar measures were put in place in Shimla and students who failed to reach the examination centres by 9:30am were not allowed to take the re-test.
In DAV School Lakkar Bazaar and Kendriya Vidyalaya Jakhu, around 65 teachers have been deputed where 900 aspirants are appearing in the re-test. The invigilating officials were briefed in detail well before the examination started.
Despite the strict security measures, aspirants are happy about getting another chance to improve their scores.
"I have worked hard for this re-test and am confident about an improvement in the result," said Aastha Sharma.