Kerala Police Tuesday took five women into custody in connection with the alleged incident of a girl forced to remove her innerwear before sitting for the National Eligibility cum Entrance Test (NEET) for undergraduate medical courses in the state’s Kollam over the weekend.
Earlier in the day, the police registered a case over the incident under sections 354 (assault or criminal force to a woman with intent to outrage her modesty) and 509 (uttering any word or making gestures intended to insult the modesty of a woman) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) after recording the girl’s statement. It was registered at Chadayamangalam police station under the Kollam Rural police district. During the course of the day, four more girls approached the police with similar complaints.
DIG R Nishanthini, who is overseeing the probe, said five women who were on duty at the exam centre, Mar Thomas Institute of Information and Technology at Ayur in Kollam, were taken into custody. “Three of them were associated with the external agency which was deputed to frisk the students and two others are staff of the institute where the exam was held. They are being questioned to ascertain their alleged role in the incident,” she said.
Meanwhile, protest marches taken out to the examination centre by various student organisations turned violent. Several members of the student outfits of various political parties sustained injuries after the police used force to defuse the tension. The agitating students pelted stones at the institute and damaged its window panes.
The girl’s father had complained to the Kollam Rural SP K B Ravi after the NEET exam was held on Sunday, seeking a probe into the alleged incident. 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.
He said that when his daughter initially refused to remove her inner wear, she was told not to appear for the exam. “Many others faced the same situation. There were many in that room…others were weeping… When students refused to remove their innerwear, they were asked whether their future or innerwear was important,” he said in his complaint.
A spokesperson of Mar Thomas Institute of Information and Technology, the exam centre, said the institution was not involved and that the staff of an agency that was tasked by NTA with frisking the students were responsible.
The NTA, in a statement issued on Monday, said that it sought “immediate comments” from the exam centre’s superintendent, the independent observer as well as the city coordinator (NEET) of the 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,” said the NTA.
“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 added.
NTA director-general Vineet Joshi told The Indian Express that the staff entrusted with frisking are “made to undergo training sessions on how to handle frisking sensitively”.
The Indian Express has learnt that a preliminary report has stated that a “metal button was found on the shoulder” of the student’s dress and she appeared for the exam “normally”. It was submitted by an NTA observer at the Kollam centre.
The issue prompted Kerala’s Higher Education Minister Dr R Bindu to hit out at the agency that conducted the search and describe the incident as “highly deplorable”. “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 toward the girls without giving any consideration to their basic human rights. The state will take up the incident with the Central Government and NTA,” said Bindu.