Bihar 'fake topper' Ruby Rai is being punished for being poor, not cheating

Her misdemeanour is minor as compared to the large-scale crime and corruption that thrives under the garb of education.

 |  7-minute read |   04-07-2016
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Unlike most others, I am sad that Ruby Rai is being publicly humiliated for resorting to unfair means in crossing the rubicund of examinations.  She is not the first or the last to do this. Her case may be one of the more glaring instances of examinations-related fraud. (She happened to top; else she could have been safe?)

I can vouch for the fact that cheating at examinations is more widespread in Delhi University colleges than is commonly realised. The students involved do not have any of the handicaps that Ruby was laden with.

It would be interesting to look into the number of students in colleges affiliated to Delhi University who have been caught and punished for cheating in the last five years. It does not have to be argued that for every detected case of cheating, a hundred go undetected.

I have been crying hoarse, for quite some time now, that the rot in our education system, from top to bottom, needs to be investigated and remedial measures put in place, if need be, ruthlessly.

Also read: How we ruined Bihar 'fake topper' Ruby Rai's future

Instead, we wait for aberrations to happen - and we know only too well that they would happen - that they may be detected and a bit of sanctimonious sabre-rattling is performed. That over, we are back to business as usual.

Charles Dickens has a character called Mr Pecksniff (in Martin Chuzzlewit) who can be appointed straight to the ministry of human resource development. His hallmark ability is to "look over, look under, look around, in short look anywhere except look at the problem".

teacher-bd_070416013405.jpg What ails our education system is quite well-known.

What ails our education system is quite well-known. The alibi of ignorance does not wash in this sector. Why is it, then, that these aberrations recur year after year?

Ruby Rai has cheated. It is indefensible. But, will someone please tell the rest of us, how defensible is a system of education that allows a student who confuses political science with cooking to reach Class 12? 

Who were her teachers all along?  Did they teach? If they did, what? Are there teachers at the higher secondary levels who are no better informed than Ruby in the subjects they are supposed to teach? (Frankly, I will not be surprised, if there are.)

Over the last eight years I have had to interview the very best students from various boards. St Stephen’s College cut-offs are proverbially astronomical.

Also read: Bihar fake topper Ruby Rai is not the culprit, but the victim

But ask an aspirant who the vice president of India is? The speaker of Lok Sabha? Name some of the women politicians in India? The chief justice of India? And so on... You would be lucky if, out of the candidates interviewed even five per cent get one of these questions correct. (Interviewing PhDs too offers comparable opportunities for amazement and amusement.)

The glee with which Ruby has been caught and exposed publicly reminds me of the way Delhi traffic police used to operate.

A handful of them would lie in wait (literally, not figuratively) at a distance of, say 20-30 meters from the traffic signal, waiting to pounce on those who jump not only the "red signal" but even the amber yellow signal.

I remember being right behind a DTC bus and there was no way I could have seen the signal. I followed the bus and was caught and fined. (The bus was left unmolested.)

I expostulated in vain, especially referring to the low height at which the signal was placed, but for which I could have seen the signal and complied. Nothing worked. I felt that they were gleeful at having made a catch.

Our preoccupation is with catching thieves, not avoiding theft or encouraging honesty. Now, in order to catch thieves, there must be thieves.

I was told of a security officer in AIIMS in the '70s who, when his promotion was withheld in view of his unsatisfactory work, had the car of the director arranged to be stolen.

The matter was brought to his [security officer's] notice, as indeed he knew it would be. He sprang into action. The vehicle was retrieved with exemplary efficiency. He was promoted. Much the same psychology is at work almost in many areas of our life.

In the present case, Ruby should have been the last one to be arrested. Her misdemeanour is a minor issue, as compared to the large-scale crime and venality that thrives under the garb of education. 

Ruby is, truth to tell, a victim.

There was no way her aspirations could have been met, within the system accessible to her, in the sterile way. (Many of these schools are burial grounds for human potential.)

I am not whitewashing crime. I am trying to put myself in Ruby’s shoes.

Also read: Bihar must stop treating fake topper as hardened criminal

As a rule, the more culpable society is, the more vicious it is, in getting at those who manifest its depravity, and in punishing them with a vengeance. It serves as a palliative. The palliative principle is: "We are doing all we can to root out the evil. See, how we make this criminal pay."

"Thou rascal beadle," screams Shakespeare’s Lear in a fit of madness, "hold thy bloody hand/ Why dost thou lash that whore? Strip thine own back/ Thou hotly lust’st to use her in that kind/ For which thou whipp’st her."(Act IV)  

Instead of punishing himself, the "rascal" beadle is whipping the whore, who is, if anything, morally superior to him.

So, what we see play out is an old malady. Shakespeare’s hypocritical beadle has many successors. The whip is in their hands. This time around, the lashes fall on Ruby’s back. 

But if any of the indignant modern secular beadles has a son or daughter, writing the same examination, he would go to any extent in cheating the system to put his offspring at an advantage.

In the eight years that I conducted student admissions in St Stephen’s, I have had ample opportunities to see the masks of many beadles slip pretty fast, and dignified and respectable people - who would readily wield whips against the children of other unprincipled people - trying desperately hard to convince me why every norm and every principle should be breached in favour of their darling sons and daughters (immensely talented geniuses, every one of them) that the college may benefit from their electrifying presence.

Ruby’s crime - the crime that exposed her to public humiliation - is not that she cheated. It is that she is poor and not well-connected. Should this continue to be a heinous crime?

I remember, in 1976, marking a BA Pass script (Delhi University). The student had to write an essay, worth 20 marks on the topic, "Describe a street accident you have witnessed". 

The student provided a single-sentence answer, "I am traveling". I gave him/her 10 out of 20 marks. The marks were for travelling, not for writing.

The student has every right to continue to travel till he/she actually witnesses a street accident. I thought the student was more sensible than the professor, who set the question paper.

Will all children in Bihar in the top five per cent bracket be subjected to the same verification tests that Ruby was, irrespective of class and connection? Or, will she remain singled out just because she is poor and vulnerable?

Will it be done, in a transparent manner, open to public view? Will 100 of the higher secondary school teachers, picked at random in Bihar, be subjected to the same process, and asked the same questions?

By the way, Ruby’s answer that there is a connection between politics and cooking is not such a stupid one. It implies a moment of inspiration. 

If there is no connection between the two, why are we worried about inflation and price rise?

Isn’t it because of the politics we play that cooking vessels are lying empty or idle in millions of homes today?


Valson Thampu Valson Thampu

The writer is former principal of St Stephen's College, Delhi and former member of the National Commission for Minority Educational Institutions (NCMEI).

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