It was as if security personnel were conducting an area-domination exercise in a Maoist-hit belt. The SP and the DM of Vaishali district have spent the last three days in Manhar, a town where policemen guard the entrance to every street. Everybody is on the lookout for outsiders; civilians assisting the district administration have been given white baseball caps for easy identification.
All this to ensure that around 2,500 girls from various schools of the sub-division can write their matriculation exam in peace inside Vidya Niketan School.
The four-storey building of Vidya Niketan is familiar to newspaper readers and social media users across the country since last week, when its unplastered outer wall facing a spinach field featured in a photograph that had men scampering up, standing on sun shades and reaching into classrooms to pass on answer chits to examinees.
Bihar was amused — not because of the sheer audacity of its young men, but because the rest of the country thought it was a news.
“It happened last year, too, but nobody noticed as the images didn’t go viral,” said a local reporter, his camcorder hidden in his trouser pocket. He said journalists have been threatened, even roughed up, in the town since the incident. “On March 18 and 19, boys tied ropes to windowsills and climbed. The rate for taking a chit to a third floor window was Rs 50, Rs 40 for the second and so on,” he said. Across the spinach field lay torn sheets of the state’s famous Malhotra Book Depot and Golden exam guides.
Across the field sat about 15 middle-aged men, local villagers who were there at the request of the district administration to help maintain peace. “You mediapersons have exaggerated what happens every year across the state, and defamed our Manhar,” said Raju Singh.
According to him, the incident happened because it’s a girls centre. “Some boy who’s not from here climbed to the top floor to say ‘I love you’ to a girl. When he fell, everyone noticed what was happening,” he said. Villagers said at least two men were injured when they fell while climbing the wall on March 18.
On Thursday evening, Bihar’s Principal Secretary, Education, announced that the exams conducted at Vidya Niketan and three other centres on March 18 and 19 have been cancelled.
In the background, the school — which the locals said follows the CBSE curriculum but is not affiliated to the Board — wore a sanitised look.
During the conversation, none of the men admit to knowledge about the chits, but there is an eventual admission that something was wrong. “Do you see something like this happening during CBSE exams?” asked an individual who identified himself only as Don bhaiyya. “That’s because they actually teach something to the students. Our schools don’t have teachers,” he said.
“Without passing matriculation, you are nothing these days. Our boys are not happy with merely seeing the photographs of the girl they want to marry. They want better biodatas and they want their girls to have passed matriculation,” said Don bhaiyya.
A carrot offered by the state government could also be an inadvertent motivator: every girl who passes matriculation with a first class is promised a stipend of Rs 10,000.
There is an ouroborotic effect at work here: matriculation results form part of the recruitment criteria for teachers. “They get poor teachers in the first place. Then they ask them to do a lot of things at once: mid-day meals, surveys and election duty,” said Umesh Prasad Singh, whose niece was to take exam in the post-lunch session.
By then, the first session — matriculation exams are conducted across two “sittings”, with two sets of question papers — is over. Over 1,200 intrepid girls file out of Vidya Niketan, with parents, local residents and police lining up on either side. And to think, that it was all for a second language paper.