No bras allowed? Why NEET aspirants were asked to remove innerwear in Kerala

An examination is stressful enough but when students are harassed over their clothes during the test, the whole experience turns into a nigh...

An examination is stressful enough but when students are harassed over their clothes during the test, the whole experience turns into a nightmare of epic proportions.

This is exactly what happened to young women and girls who were appearing for the National Eligibility-cum-Entrance Test (NEET) at a private educational institution in Kollam district of Kerala on Sunday and were asked to remove their bras to be allowed to write the exam.

The harrowing incident came to light after a father of a 17-year-old girl, who was sitting for her first ever NEET exam, lodged a police complaint when the teen was asked to remove her bra and sit for the over three-hour long exam.

There have been similar instances in the past as well — in 2017, four teachers in Kerala’s Kannur were suspended for asking a girl to remove her innerwear before entering the NEET exam centre.

The incident

The traumatic incident took place on the afternoon of 17 July at the Mar Thoma Institute of Information Technology, Ayur.

The complainant-father, identified as Gopakumar Sooranad by News Minute, said that after his daughter had entered the exam centre, he and his wife were about to have their lunch when they got a call from ‘information technology’ asking them to come to the gate.

In a PTI news report, the father said, “When we reached the gate, we saw our daughter in tears. She said that she and other girls were being asked to remove part of their inner wear and asked for a shawl to wear during the test.”

“My wife gave her a shawl and she went back inside and we thought that was that. However, after the exam, my daughter returned still looking distressed and broke into tears in my wife’s arms. On the way home she told us what had transpired during the test. It was startling,” he added.

According to the teen, one of the invigilators at the centre, said that she could either remove her bra or not write the exam.

“There were two rooms where undergarments of young women and girls were stacked on top of each other in violation of COVID-19 protocols. Those writing the exams are between the age groups of 17 to 23. Imagine how uncomfortable it would be for them to concentrate during the exam when surrounded by male students as well,” the anguished father said.

The father then went to the Kottarakkara Deputy Superintendent of Police’s office and lodged a complaint.

On Tuesday morning, the police, acting on the complaint, has registered a case under sections 354 (Assault or criminal force to woman with intent to outrage her modesty) and 509 (Word, gesture or act intended to insult the modesty of a woman) of the Indian Penal Code.

Sooranad later told the media that his complaint wasn’t only for his daughter but for all other girls and women. “No other parent should have to face such a situation again,” he was quoted as saying.

Sooranad said that he was ready to move the Human Rights Commission as he believes the incident is a violation of human rights and something like this shouldn’t ever happen in the country.

“My daughter, who is a brilliant student, is yet to recover from the experience. She sits in a room without speaking to anyone.”

“We expected her to get into one of the national level colleges, but she could not concentrate during the test because of what happened,” he added.

Official speak

The authorities at Mar Thoma Institute of Information Technology that none of their staff were involved in the frisking process. “There were two agencies assigned by the National Testing Agency for frisking and noting the biometric attendance. We have no clue what the rules on this are. It is the agency’s staff who check all this. In some cases, when the children came crying to us, asking permission to wear a shawl, we intervened and allowed them to do so,” an institute official told News Minute.

Kerala Higher Education Minister R Bindu on Monday said the test was not organised by a state-run agency and what happened indicated a grave lapse on the part of the organisers.

We will be conveying our disappointment regarding what happened to the Centre and the NTA — a central government agency which conducts entrance examinations for educational institutions — the minister said.

The Kerala State Human Rights Commission also took cognisance of the matter and on Monday ordered an investigation into the incident.

The Commission directed the Kollam Rural SP to file a report within 15 days.

As per the NEET dress code, candidates aren't allowed to carry any metallic items on their bodies. PTI

What’s the dress code?

The incident has once again shed light on the dress code for the NEET aspirants. The brochure spells out a dress code for the students.

As per the dress code, candidates are advised to wear casual and weather appropriate clothing, however, avoid light coloured clothes with full sleeves.

Furthermore, they can wear sandals and open slippers, but shoes are not allowed.

The dress code adds that items like wallets, goggles, handbags, belts, caps, as well as watch, wristwatch, bracelet, camera, ornaments and metallic items are prohibited.

However, it does not clarify whether garments with metallic hooks are also prohibited.
The dress code does allow accessories or items or objects of faith, but candidates are asked to report to the centre two hours prior to the exam and should subscribe themselves to proper frisking.

Past horrors

This isn’t the first time that students have been subjected to such harassment during the NEET exam.

Five years ago, in May 2017, a candidate had complained of having had to go through a similar ordeal in Kannur.

The candidate said she had reached the exam centre by 8 am, and was wearing a half-sleeve top and black pants.

“At the gate, they told me that dark coloured pants weren't allowed and that I needed to change to be allowed inside the exam hall. As it was a Sunday, most of the shops remained shut. My mother and I had to walk for at least two kilometres to find a shop, get a change of clothes and then return to the exam hall,” she was quoted as telling News Minute.

However, her torment didn’t end there. When passing through the metal detector, it beeped. She told the officials that it was the metal hook in her bra strap that made the machine beep. But they didn’t allow her in and insisted that she take it off.

“I went to one side of the room, removed my bra and handed it over to my mother who was standing outside the gate. As I entered the exam hall to write the test, I had little confidence left in me,” she further stated.

The Central Board of Secondary Education, which used to conduct the NEET then, had said the incident was a “consequence of overzealousness” of the staff involved in frisking.

The following year, an 18-year-old in Palakkad alleged that she too was asked to remove her bra when she was being frisked.

With inputs from agencies

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