The father of a girl who appeared for the National Eligibility cum Entrance Test (NEET) for undergraduate medical courses on Sunday has lodged a police complaint accusing authorities at the exam centre in Kerala’s Kollam of ordering his daughter to remove her innerwear before entering the hall.
The complaint prompted Kerala’s Higher Education Minister Dr R Bindu to describe the incident as “highly deplorable”.
In the complaint, the father alleged that “many students” who attended the exam at Mar Thoma Institute of Information and Technology at Ayur in Kollam were forced to remove their innerwear although this is not a requirement under norms mandated by the National Testing Agency (NTA), which conducts NEET.
A spokesperson of Mar Thoma Institute of Information and Technology, the exam centre, said the institution was not involved and that the staff of an agency tasked by NTA with frisking the students were responsible.
In a statement issued on Monday, the NTA said that it sought “immediate comments” from the exam centre’s superintendent, its independent observer and the city coordinator (NEET) of Kollam district.
“All three of them, among other things, have stated that they did not find any such incident happening in the centre. The candidate did take the examination. There was no representation/ complaint to any one during or immediately after the examination. Nor has NTA received any email/ complaint in this regard,” the statement said.
“The dress code provides for ensuring the sanctity and fairness of conducting the examination, while observing sensitivity towards the gender/ religious/ cultural/ regional sensitivities involved in frisking/ biometric of candidates,” it said.
NTA director-general Vineet Joshi told The Indian Express that staffers entrusted with frisking are “made to undergo training sessions on how to handle frisking sensitively”.
The Indian Express has learnt that a preliminary report, submitted by an NTA observer at the centre, has stated that while a “metal button was found on the shoulder” of the student’s dress, she appeared for the exam “normally”.
“Metallic objects are prohibited to prevent malpractices as many video and audio storage devices come in the shape of metal buttons. The agency also outsources the task of checking to third-party agencies to prevent the possibility of cheating and other unfair practices,” sources said.
Speaking to The Indian Express, the girl’s father said his daughter appeared for the test after the “insulting experience”. “But many students, including my daughter, could not write the exam with confidence after months or years of preparation due to the perverted approach of a few persons,” he said.
“The thought that they don’t have innerwear, while sitting in a hall where boys were also writing the exam, made the girls uncomfortable. Many girls said they could not concentrate on the exam. This was cruel,’’ he said.
Kollam Rural SP K B Ravi confirmed that the police “have got a complaint from the parent of a student”.
The Mar Thoma spokesperson said: “As many as 520 students were to appear for NEET at our centre. We provided infrastructure facilities, and our staff were the invigilators. There were four persons from two agencies, one for frisking and another for recording biometric attendance. They were given separate areas for frisking. Neither the institute nor our staff members were involved in the frisking process.”
In his complaint, the girl’s father said that when his daughter initially refused to remove her innerwear, she was told not to appear for the exam. “Many others faced the same situation. There were many in that room…others were weeping,’’ the complaint stated.
“Many students were cutting the hooks of their innerwear. The mental state of the students was disturbed and they could not attend the exam with confidence. All the innerwear seized was placed together in a storage room disregarding the Covid-19 situation. When students refused to remove their innerwear, they were asked whether their future or innerwear was important,” the complaint stated.
Higher Education Minister Bindu said: “There is a serious lapse on the part of the agency and its staff (which frisked the girls). It is highly deplorable that such an approach has been taken towards the girls without giving any consideration for their basic human rights. The state will take up the incident with the Central Government and NTA.’’
There have been similar complaints in the past. In 2017, four teachers of a school in Kerala were suspended for asking a girl to remove her innerwear before entering a NEET centre in Kannur. The CBSE, which used to conduct NEET then, had said the incident was a “consequence of overzealousness” of the staff.
The NEET information brochure of 2022 specifically prohibits “any ornaments/ metallic items” but does not clarify whether garments with metallic hooks are prohibited.
It states that candidates are not allowed to wear light clothes with long sleeves in examination halls. Slippers and sandals with low heels are permitted, but shoes are not, it says.
Pencil boxes, plastic pouches, pens, calculators, scales, writing pads, pen drives, erasers, log tables and any text on paper are not allowed inside the centres. Mobile phones, earphones, health bands, wallets, goggles, watches, bracelets and cameras are also among the items not allowed.
According to the advisory, candidates will be subjected to mandatory frisking “with the help of highly sensitive metal detectors”. Girls will be searched inside a closed enclosure by female staff, it says.
There are similar guidelines for other entrance tests, including JEE (Mains), JEE (Advanced) and CUET-UG, which are conducted by NTA.