They were once acknowledged as brilliant students by family and friends and hailed as role-models in their respective hometowns and villages.
But just a few years later, the dream has turned sour and they have become alleged villains in a dirty saga now infamous as the Vyapam scam across the country.
For many students who claim to have no links whatsoever with the examination racket in the Madhya Pradesh professional examination board (PEB), the scam has thrown their world upside down and left them outcast among the very people who once idolised them.
Nearly 1,200 students are accused of gaining admission to medical courses by paying large sums of money to organised gangs which rigged the examinations.
So far, the special task force (STF) probing the scam has arrested more than 1,000 students.
Watch:The A to Z of the Vyapam scam
Jitendra Malviya, 27, was expelled from the Mahatma Gandhi Memorial Medical College in Indore last year for allegedly using unfair means to get admission for the MBBS course.
The son of a tailor from the nondescript Manawar village in Barwani district, Jitendra said he had only a year to complete his course.
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"People of my village and even my relatives make fun of me. They even crack joke on my parents. Now I avoid interacting with people," he told Hindustan Times over phone.
What has come as a bigger worry for his parents are the spate of mysterious deaths of people linked in some way to the scam. Nearly 40 people, many of them students, have died in inexplicable circumstances over the years which the opposition and activists say is part of a conspiracy to silence key witnesses.
“The government is trying to implicate poor students like us and is saving powerful people,” Jitendra said, adding, “You can ask my teachers how studious I was but this scam has destroyed my entire life.”
Another disqualified student, Deepak Bundela, 26, too said students of poor families have been targeted intentionally so that all the big names can be saved.
The only man now in a family of four after the demise of his father, Deepak said he was worried how he would take care of his mother and two sisters.
“Besides, who will pay off the education loan my father had availed?” asked Deepak, who was a student at the Aurbindo Medical College in Indore.
Read: Vyapam scam: HC defers hearing on CM's request for CBI probe
Indore-based 19-year-old Salma (name changed) was arrested because she had allegedly received a call from racketeers.
Her father said that around 50 policemen stormed into their house at midnight and “arrested my daughter like a terrorist” though she had not cleared the pre-medical test
“Now, I can’t even think of restarting my life in a normal way because nobody will trust that I have not done anything wrong,” said Salma, now pursuing a BSc degree.
In some cases, even parents were named as accused, like Jitendra Kothari, a resident of Ashoknagar district.
“The scam has ruined our lives. My daughter was a topper in her school yet she remained in police station for five days without any fault. I never bribed anyone, didn’t deal with any racketeer,” he said.
Kothari’s daughter, whom he refused to name, is studying in a medical college in another state. He also refused to share the name of the medical college.
But despite the hardships, some like Deepak Bundela is still hopeful that his name will be cleared one day.
“I don’t bother what society and my relatives say about me…but I know the truth will be revealed one day,” he said.
Read:Vyapam fallout: MP CM Chouhan could meet party leaders in Delhi today