Having prepared hard for National Eligibility-cum-Entrance Test (NEET) all through the year, 18-year-old Anitha*, a native of Kerala's Kannur district, walked into a school in Koovappuram on Sunday, to appear for the entrance exam.
Anitha followed other students to the security cubicle for the mandatory security check. But she now recounts with horror, of being forced to remove her bra before entering the exam hall, because it had metal hooks.
The anguished candidate told media persons after attempting the NEET -- conducted for admission to undergraduate medical courses in government and private medical colleges in the country -- that she was asked by the examination centre's officials to remove her bra.
"I reached the exam centre by 8 and was wearing a half-sleeve top and a black pant. 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. Yesterday being a Sunday, most of the shops remained shut. My mother and I had to walk for at least 2 km to find a shop, get a change of clothes and then return to the exam hall," Anitha says.
Ten minutes before the exam commenced, Anitha had prayers on her lips when she walked through the metal detector just outside the hall.
"When I walked through the metal detector, it beeped. I told them that it was my bra-strap that had a metal hook on it, but they refused to let me in. They insisted that I remove it. Although I argued with them that the rules does not mention anything about innerwear, they refused to hear my pleas. Then 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," Anitha says.
According to NDTV, Principal of Tisk English Medium School, Kannur, where students allegedly complained of bizarre directions, Mr Jalaluddin said, "We have clear instructions that if a metal detector beeps, no one should be allowed inside. The incident of students being asked to remove their innerwear hasn't taken place. I don't know where this is coming from. I have called a meeting with those involved in the frisking arrangements at the school."
NEET dress code guidelines state that women candidates were to wear "light clothes with half sleeves not having big buttons or brooch/badge or flowers, with salwar/trouser and slippers or sandals with low heels, not shoes.” The rules also disallow 'metallic objects'. However, Anitha’s mother Rohini*, a teacher, says that to disallow a bra on that basis is unfair.
"My daughter was wearing an expensive bra, that had a metal hook unlike the less costlier ones that have plastic hooks. So many of the other students did not have the problem, but a few including my daughter were harassed. How can they ask an 18-year-old girl to remove her bra just ahead of appearing for a test? What common sense is this?" Rohini argues.
She points out that while there were three centres in Kannur, the problem of dress code arose only at this particular centre.
"How could they not consider the mental state of the students, who have prepared hard for this exam? And imagine, 10 minutes before the exam commences, the student is asked to remove her bra. It is bound to mentally affect the child," Rohini argues.
While Anitha's wasn't an isolated incident and she claims that several other students were also asked to remove their innerwear, not many have come forward to raise their objection.
Another candidate, who was wearing a pair of jeans, was asked to remove a pocket as well as metal buttons from the clothing.
"I spoke to a few parents there, who were outraged that their daughters had to go through such harrowing experience. But later, none of them were willing to come forward and raise their voices. We will not file any police complaint, for I am certain none of the other parents would join us in support," Rohini claims.
Those living in the vicinity of the school where the NEET centre was set up came forward to help candidates by giving them suitable clothes to wear.
Responding to the matter, state Mahila Congress President Bindhu Krishna said on Sunday that she would approach the CM with a complaint.
"The ordeal is over but it's debatable how many female candidates would have been able to write the exam properly after they were subjected to so much humiliation. I will write to Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan to seek action against those responsible."
The Central Board of Secondary Education organised NEET 2017 on Sunday in as many as 104 cities across the country, for which more than 11 lakh aspirants had registered.
(With inputs from IANS)