December 18th, 2015
(written by lawrence krubner, however indented passages are often quotes). You can contact lawrence at: firstname.lastname@example.org
In 2013, the year the scam was first revealed, two million young people in Madhya Pradesh – a state the size of Poland, with a population greater than the UK – sat for 27 different examinations conducted by Vyapam. Many of these exams are intensely competitive. In 2013, the prestigious Pre-Medical Test (PMT), which determines admission to medical school, had 40,086 applicants competing for just 1,659 seats; the unfortunately named Drug Inspector Recruitment Test (DIRT), had 9,982 candidates striving for 16 vacancies in the state department of public health.
For most applicants, the likelihood of attaining even low-ranking government jobs, with their promise of long-term employment and state pensions, is incredibly remote. In 2013, almost 450,000 young men and women took the exam to become one of the 7,276 police constables recruited that year – a post with a starting salary of 9,300 rupees (£91) per month. Another 270,000 appeared for the recruitment examination to fill slightly more than 2,000 positions at the lowest rank in the state forest service.
It was on the morning of the medical exam in 2013 that the Vyapam scandal began to unravel. A team of policemen raided the Hotel Pathik, a seedy £5-a-night motel on the outskirts of Indore, the largest city in Madhya Pradesh.
In room 13, the police came upon a young man readying himself for that morning’s exam. He handed over a voter identity card, introducing himself as exam candidate Rishikesh Tyagi, but when the police asked him his father’s name and his date of birth, he said he could not remember.
“On doing strict interrogation,” a police report of the incident reads, “he told his correct name as Ramashankar … he told us he came to give the examination in the name of Rishikesh Tyagi.”
Ramashankar, the police alleged, was already studying medicine in Uttar Pradesh, and had accepted 50,000 rupees (£500) to take the exam on behalf of Rishikesh Tyagi. Twenty such impostors were arrested that morning, 18 of whom had come from out of town to impersonate young students who felt they could not pass the entrance exams themselves.
The impersonators led the police to Jagdish Sagar, a crooked Indore doctor who had set up a lucrative business that charged up to 200,000 rupees (£2,000) to arrange for intelligent but financially needy medical students to sit examinations on behalf of applicants who could afford to pay. Police claimed that Sagar had amassed a fortune in land, luxury cars, and jewellery from the racket: according to a report in the Hindustan Times (headline: “Vintage Wine, Bed of Cash”), he slept on a mattress stuffed with 1,300,000 rupees. But Sagar, one policeman told me, was only the most prominent of a swarm of middlemen who offered similar services.
Standardised testing in India is a heroic and misguided attempt to compensate, over three short hours, for a young lifetime’s worth of inequities of caste, class, gender, language, region and religion, and the crushing inadequacy of the state-run schooling system. It is the only consideration for achieving college admissions or government employment. Nothing else matters – not your grades over 12 years of school, nor any hobbies, interests or transformative life experiences.