By: Hamza Khan
March 9, Firozabad: Akash, 17, son of an autorickshaw driver, set himself on fire. His family had been unable to raise an extra Rs 3,000 that his school principal had allegedly demanded to let him copy answers during his Class X Board examination. His parents had reportedly paid Rs 4,000, but that wasn’t enough. Akash died the next day.
March 10, Kaushambi: Akshay Sonkar, 18, son of a farmer, had allegedly paid his principal Rs 2,000 to let him copy in his Class XII Boards. The principal reportedly wanted Rs 5,000 more and the family couldn’t afford it. Akshay consumed poison, but luckily survived.
March 23, Ballia: Villagers in Saraibharati village clashed with policemen outside a college, alleging extortion during an examination. Nine policemen, including a Deputy Superintendent of Police, were injured and 40 villagers arrested. Residents alleged that a student, Nandini Sharma, wasn’t allowed to appear for her exam and that her brother Shashikant, who had gone to inquire, was beaten up.
This year, 71,20,265 students registered themselves for their Class X and XII UP Board examinations, 6.74 lakh more than last year. The examination is a milestone they better not skip, but there is an easier, institutionalised way round it — mass copying. But as Akash and Akshay were to find out, that comes at a price. Often, it is the school manager or principal who sets the price, coaxing the families for the maximum money he or she can extract.
Unfair practices during exams are a thriving business in some parts of Uttar Pradesh, especially the eastern districts of Kaushambi, Azamgarh, Ballia and parts of the Samajwadi Party’s home turf, including Etah and Mainpuri. A high school or intermediate certificate in these parts costs anywhere between Rs 1,500 and Rs 15,000, sometimes even more.
Among the four categories of schools — government, government-aided, government-unaided and unrecognised private or ‘fake’ — the last two are almost always at the heart of the racket. “These unrecognised schools, which operate out of single rooms or even rooftops, enroll students assuring them they can clear their examinations without much trouble,” says Prakhar Yadav, who runs a college in Mainpuri. “As exams approach, these schools enroll students in recognised schools in connivance with authorities, thus bringing them into the system.”
In July 2012, R P Mishra, president of the Uttar Pradesh Madhyamik Shikshak Sangh, who has been campaigning against irregularities in the education department, submitted a list of 351 ‘fake schools’ in Lucknow alone. Umesh Tripathi, then District Inspector of Schools (DIOS), Lucknow, cracked down on these schools and registered FIRs against 229 of them. But, continued…