On Sunday, 18-year-old Saira (name changed) reported to the Lions School in Koppam in Palakkad district of Kerala, to appear for the National Eligibility cum Entrance Test (NEET). What was to be yet another exam day for her turned out to be an embittering experience.
At the security check, Saira was taken aback when she was told to remove her bra before entering the exam hall, for it had metal hooks. According to the rules prescribed by CBSE, metal is one of the prohibited items.
Startled, the teenager however, obeyed the instruction given to her. Before entering the centre, she had also handed over her shawl to her parents. The experience of writing the exam was traumatising for her, she says. Now, she has filed a police complaint.
In a complaint filed at the North Town police station on Tuesday evening, Saira alleged that a male invigilator at the centre stared at her chest repeatedly during the course of the exam. According to her complaint, she "felt humiliated" by this violation.
Saira's relative Aaziya Shafi told TNM that Saira was forced to cover her chest with the question paper, to protect herself from the unwelcome stare.
"She had followed the dress code, was dressed in a light colored half sleeve top, she wasn't wearing a shawl. Asking her to take off her bra was itself a traumatising experience for her. Above that, the male invigilator stared at her disrespectfully. She was scared out of her wits," Aaziya said.
According to Aaziya, not just Saira, but 25 other girl students were also asked to take off their bra before entering the centre, citing the "metal" rule.
"Agree that it is a rule, but then they should have done it properly. These girls had to hide behind an empty sack, that doubled up as a screen! There was no room for them to change, no privacy whatsoever," Aaziya fumed.
Saira had agreed to take off her bra, under the impression that it was a uniform rule to do so. However, once she returned home, she realised that only the students in her centre were asked to do so.
"She thought it was a legit rule, that's why she did not protest at the time. But after the exam, she spoke to her friends, who said nothing of this sort happened at their centres," Aaziya says.
The North Town police have initiated an investigation based on Saira's complaint. Speaking to TNM, the sub-inspector in-charge of the investigation said that they have registered a case under section 509 of IPC (word, gesture or act intended to insult the modesty of a woman.)
However, Aaziya has demanded that the police also add section 354 (sexual harassment) to the case.
The police said that while the grievance that the students were asked to take off their bras citing the metal hook issue could not be taken up, since not allowing metal objects was a rule prescribed by the CBSE, he said that section 509 has been slapped against the male invigilator.
"We went to the school that hosted the exam. They have informed us that all the invigilators at the centre were women. However, an external observer from the CBSE, a man, had visited the centre. The complaint is against this man. In order to verify his identity, we are getting in touch with the CBSE soon," the SI said.