A former junior college student shares his experience of getting caught cheating during an internal examination and what led him to commit it.

Representative image of stress by Aaron Blanco Tejedor on UnsplashImage for representation. Courtesy: Aarón Blanco Tejedor on Unsplash
Voices Opinion Sunday, June 14, 2020 - 12:12

This topic was triggered from the recent incident where a young college going girl took her own life after being caught committing a malpractice during her annual examinations. Soon enough this case became a media sensation with allegations from the parents that the college authorities had humiliated the girl after she was caught in the act. I was reminded of my Intermediate days when I was similarly caught copying in an internal examination and was beaten up in front of everyone. I look back at that incident even to this day – and I can’t but justify my act.

My academic scores were average during my school days, in the range of 80-85%. I was weak in Mathematics though, and I did fear the prospect of failing in that subject during my CBSE Board Exams. However, I had never felt the need to cheat. This reason compelled me to ditch the subject for my later studies. I couldn’t get into any CBSE school for my Secondary Education because Maths was compulsory and moreover Hyderabad didn’t have many schools that offered it. The trend was to attend Intermediate Education at junior colleges that are recognised by the Board of Intermediate Education, AP, where you can choose between Maths (MPC) or Biology (BiPC). For obvious reasons, I took up the latter.

While the government ran a few highly neglected junior colleges, the majority were run by private groups, hence the moniker 'corporate junior colleges’. They are a very powerful business lobby and all the practices associated with a private enterprise, such as poaching of teaching staff from competitors, mergers, and acquisitions are common. These are hyper-competitive and their business depends on the number of top ranks they can churn out in EAMCET (Engineering, Agriculture, Medicine Common Entrance Test). EAMCET is the target for everyone and the training begins right from high school. Such was the craze that I’ve had friends who on Sundays went to a coaching centre which prepared them to crack the entrance exam and gain admission into a famous EAMCET coaching centre, back when we were in Class 7. People care only about your EAMCET Rank, not your regular examination marks.

I had no intention of giving this test, but I was forced into it because there was no other option. I joined a junior college with an annual fee of Rs 18,000/- as a package that included EAMCET coaching.

So how did this system work in my junior college? For six days a week, classes began at 8.15 in the morning and went on till 4.30 in the evening with two recesses totalling 45 minutes in between. Study Hour ensued for two hours after 4.30 pm, where we stayed seated and studied the texts.

I must admit we had some very good teaching staff, who were good in their subjects. Their only job was to teach and clear doubts of students during the study hour. No mentoring. While some of them were retired government staff, a few others were on a sabbatical from their government jobs. I have no complaints against them.

Sundays were off, but no one could relax as they had to prepare for the customary ‘Weekend Test’ which was conducted on Mondays. Three subjects would be tested for 20 marks each every Monday for a duration of 30 minutes each. One had to score at least 18 marks in each subject, else they would have to write the answers as imposition, 10 times, and submit it the very next day. ‘Weekend Tests’ for EAMCET were conducted every Tuesday and one was expected to score at least 90%. By the end of the day, students would be exhausted, physically and mentally. Day scholars would reach home only by 7-7.30 pm, only to start revisions again under pressure from parents and complete any homework.

Hostellers had an even more gruelling schedule. Their day started at 5 am with the warden waking them up. Study hours would ensue till 7 am after which breakfast would be served. They also had to put up with study hours from 9 pm to midnight. I have heard first-hand accounts of at least some of the staff beating up students in their hostels for going to sleep early, or having casual conversations with roommates during the night.

While the food that was served in the mess was at best average, hostellers would also have to deal with snide remarks bordering on emotional blackmail regarding their academic performance. “We’re serving you food, why can’t you study better?” was a common taunt.

They could go out on Sundays – but only if they had a solid reason. Going out without a purpose was banned. Such was the pressure faced by each student who went through that system. There was no option to release the pressure. They were at best mass incarceration centres.

Each class is assigned with a warden, a human CCTV, whose sole job is to take attendance twice a day and watch over the students to ensure they’re attentive in the class. They had no role in teaching. They would call up the parents if a student was found missing and demand an explanation for the absence. This was done to ensure that students do not bunk classes, because if they did, they would be questioned at home. It was a foolproof method, unless of course your parents supported your escapades. Mine did a few times. The wardens also ensured that no one talked to their neighbour, not even to discuss doubts. One could only approach the concerned teaching staff for that.

In such stifling conditions, I resorted to copying during the weekend tests, just to avoid writing those impositions and instead have time for myself. The copying was made easy because we had to purchase notepads from the college that could be taken home. I would scribble important bits which I felt were difficult to memorise on the last pages of the notepad, and use them during the tests. I also used the Clarke’s Table for this because the little blue book was allowed for Physics tests.

The day I was caught copying was the only Saturday that had the Weekend Test, as the next 10 days were Dasara Holidays. The day before was as usual tiring, and I went to bed early after scribbling the notes. I was caught by our warden, who grabbed my notepad and slapped me twice immediately. He then shoved me out of the class and beat me again on the way, all the while scolding me in anger. I was taken to the staff room where I was slapped thrice again by him, and my notepad was thrown to a corner.

He then called up my mother and said, “Your son is copied. Please come to college immediately.” (sic) My mother was confused with the first part of the statement, and replied that she’ll ask my father to come. I was in tears by then, I had never been humiliated in this manner before. I was allowed to continue the test, and was summoned to the principal’s room when my father arrived. The principal was a soft-spoken old man who used to teach English. He warned that I would have been rusticated from the college, if not for my performances otherwise.

The 20-minute drive home was a silent one. I was expecting another dose of anger from my parents, but that was not to be. I broke down in front of my mother and told her what had happened. The only thing my father said was, “Trust once lost is not regained easily.”

They understood that the reason I had resorted to copying was the unrealistic pressure, and that I wouldn’t have done that otherwise. To take my mind away from the humiliation, we went out for dinner with a few relatives. The next day, father and I went to a car showroom for a customer meet. The 10 days off helped heal some of the pain as well.

My classmates were surprised that I wasn’t beaten or scolded at home, because that was the normal reaction in homes there. They couldn’t believe that I was instead taken out for dinner and then a long drive the next day. The sensitivity with which my parents handled the situation amazes me to this day. They held me tight, understood my predicament, and helped me overcome the shame without resorting to further shaming. This culture of shaming that exists in our society is one more reason that I believe leads to suicides by students. They just break under the immense pressure and humiliation that is heaped upon them unnecessarily.

The corporate junior colleges of AP and Telangana are notorious for an unusually large number of student suicides. The one that I went to was better off. The pressure at some other prominent ones are at another level. Two of my friends contracted gastric ulcers due to the stress on their bodies. I gained 24 kg during those two years. I was never skinny, but the total lack of exercise and the sedentary lifestyle coupled with the stress and lack of rest took its toll.

Many people have called out the system but the business continues. The education factories continue to churn out students who qualify the entrance tests for engineering and medicine. While those who get the top ranks are advertised grandly, it is the rest who are left to lick their wounds of humiliation and emotional trauma. Those who ended their lives are forgotten.

In conclusion, I lived to tell my tale. I still justify my act of copying in that test because that was the only way to hack an unforgiving system. I continued copying, albeit with more care, in the rest of the weekend tests that I had to give. I never copied in the Main Board exams because I wouldn’t have to write an imposition 10 times even if I scored just 50%. I just wanted to get through those two years of hell.

People reading this might feel the need to pontificate about values and truthfulness. They would be doing that without knowing what it was. I’d request them to talk to any student from AP and Telangana who has studied in a corporate junior college. They’d be surprised by the reactions. No one remembers those two years with fondness. Most would not have a friend to remember from those two years. Those were probably the darkest two years in a person’s life... Some never saw the light ever again.

The writer is a researcher in biology and is planning to become an academician. Views expressed are the author’s own.

Photo by Aarón Blanco Tejedor on Unsplash

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