No end to humiliations of frisking for NEET aspirants

Several reports of students at the NEET centres being forced to change their clothes before entering the exam hall come out

May 09, 2023 10:25 pm | Updated May 10, 2023 01:34 pm IST - NEW DELHI

Aspirants undergo a security check before entering the exam centre as they arrive to appear for the NEET exam in Thiruvananthapuram on May 7, 2023.

Aspirants undergo a security check before entering the exam centre as they arrive to appear for the NEET exam in Thiruvananthapuram on May 7, 2023. | Photo Credit: ANI

More than 48 hours after reports of “humiliating frisking’’ at the National Eligibility-cum-Entrance Test (NEET-UG) centres surfaced, officials at the National Testing Agency (NTA) which conducts the exams, remained tight-lipped. NTA officials did not respond to queries by The Hindu on these incidents.

Twenty lakh students took the medical entrance examination for undergraduate courses on May 7 at 4,075 centres across India, barring the 22 centres in Manipur. Reports of frisking have emerged from centres in Kolkata, Maharashtra, and Tamil Nadu.

Speaking about his ordeal a NEET aspirant from Kolkata tweeted: “The frisking process during NEET-UG, 2023 has subjected me to a level of indignation that I have never suffered before.’’

The aspirant continued in his tweet that girls were asked to “change their pants, open their inner wear, and exchange clothes with their mothers. Also some boys went into the exam centre in inner wear as the pants they were wearing weren’t allowed. Since there was no place to change, parents had to stand around their children as they undressed”, he said.

Students who were subjected to this before the exam have asked if in the age of technology “it is a prerequisite to cut out pockets and collars of students before they are allowed into exam halls?’’

This is, however, not the first time that frisking of students has been reported.

After complaints by students in 2017, the National Human Rights Commission intervened and issued a notice. The NHRC questioned the alleged harassment and inconvenience caused to aspirants while appearing for the entrance examination in Tamil Nadu.

On May 7, a girl’s discomfort at a NEET centre in Chennai led to a furore on social media.  

“The girl was huddled in a corner looking embarrassed after the test. I asked her if she was okay,” said a woman journalist to whom the candidate confided that she wasn’t wearing a bra.  

The journalist shared her angst on a social platform. She said she offered her dupatta to the student, who refused saying her brother was on the way to pick her up. The journalist removed her post following “harassment”. 

Ever since NEET was made mandatory in Tamil Nadu, test takers have had to submit to frisking. Every year, scenes of students removing their earrings and watches, and officials snipping off shirt sleeves of aspirants are common. Girls let their hair loose as even rubber bands to hold it in place are prohibited. Such ignominy forced a lawyer to file a petition in the Madras High Court in 2020 against the ruthless frisking.

An official in the city, however, denied the incident. “Clear cut instructions were given not to do any such thing. It is only metal detector frisking. The instruction given in the hall ticket is that they shouldn’t wear such items, and 90% of the children abided by the instructions. If students wore ornaments or sacred thread owing to religious beliefs, we frisked only those portions. There are clear instructions that we should respect religious sentiments and we have to double check through frisking. We should not ask them to remove the items – be it earrings, mangal sutra or sacred threads. Burkhas, scarves and turbans were allowed yesterday,” he said. 

This year, the testing agency in a 131-page bulletin specified barred items and provided detailed guidelines on dress code while stating that candidates would be subjected to extensive and compulsory frisking.

The bulletin specified that “light clothes with long sleeves are not permitted. However, in case, candidates come in cultural/ customary dress at the examination centre, they should report at least an hour before the last reporting time so that there is enough time for proper frisking without any inconvenience to the candidate while maintaining the sanctity of the examination. Slippers, sandals with low heels are permitted. Shoes are not permitted”.

The NTA also added that pouches, calculators, pens, scales, writing pads, pen drives, erasers would not be permitted. No communication devices, wallets, goggles, handbags, watch, bracelet, ornaments/metallic items, food items opened or packed or water bottles are allowed. Cameras and Bluetooth devices are also banned.

Though the NTA did not respond to the allegations it noted in its bulletin that “it believes in maintaining the sanctity and fairness of examinations, however, it also believes in sensitivity while frisking female candidates and will issue comprehensive instructions accordingly to the staff and other officials at the examination centres. The frisking of female candidates will be done inside a closed enclosure by female staff only”.

The NTA had earlier noted that they had caught aspirants trying to take in electronic devices and detected cases of impersonation. They had also been cautioned about systematic attacks to breach the exams.

(Inputs from R. Sujatha in Chennai)

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