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How we ruined Bihar 'fake topper' Ruby Rai's future

Is she a criminal or a victim in a system that forced her to resort to a tactic like cheating?

 |  4-minute read |   01-07-2016
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Ruby Rai's one-line essay "Pranam Tulsidas ji" and her statement that she thought political science is related to cooking made me laugh despite myself at her innocence. She recently told the media that she had just wanted to pass, not top. This reflects on her naïveté, even though she was caught cheating in the Bihar board exams.

There is an ingenuity about this 17-year-old girl - there is no running away from the fact that she is a culprit, but there is still a simplicity that draws sympathy, not wrath.

bihhar_070116012434.jpg How many remote villages and towns in India have functional schools?

I agree with the government’s decision to arrest the man behind this scam and the Bihar School Examination Board Chairman and his wife, also an MLA. I also concurred with their call last year to put behind bars hundreds of students who were caught climbing a wall to help other students cheat in school exams.

But what purpose does the arrest of Ruby Rai and the four others serve now? Are they criminals or victims of a system that forced them to resort to tactics such as cheating?

They were well aware of what they were doing, but I refuse to believe that they had the means to contact the powerful mastermind behind the scheme, much less bribe and coax him. If at all, their parents must be incarcerated for teaching their children to adopt illegal methods, including bribery.

The state government should recognise its failure that even after what happened in May 2015, and after all the mocking and flak they received, they failed to uproot the problem.

If the arrests of those families was a sufficient check then why did it not stop Ruby Rai and her like? The mafia and goons who run these systematic rackets with the blessing of local MLAs and leaders need to be stopped and punished.

Society should be held culpable for exerting pressure on children to pass, excel and succeed despite their circumstances or rather oblivious of their situation in life. Why do we shame and blame those who cannot clear an academic hurdle? The tests of life are far more daunting than scoring marks.

I went to some of the best schools in Patna and Delhi and I can vouch that children cheat with impunity, sometimes right under the nose of teachers. But the system, administrators and educators are more forgiving, and why? Because they are too prestigious to risk their reputation or because families these kids hail from are richer, better connected and well-known. 

Teachers who moulded Ruby should be taken into account, for if she did not know what political science is she had no business getting into Class XII in the first place. The HRD ministry must be incriminated and the methods it employs in hiring and recruiting teachers must be investigated. Despite education now being a fundamental right, how many remote villages and towns in India have functional schools? Amartya Sen and Jean Dreze, in their well-researched An Uncertain Glory: India and its Contradictions point out how acute the absenteeism among teachers is despite decent pay. It is they who deserve this censure. 

Further, the nature of the misdemeanor should be given due consideration. When the culprits in the Nirbhaya rape case can be excused based on their age, why are we crucifying Ruby Rai?

Yes, her family has not given an affidavit or made any statement with regard to her juvenile status and let us assume she is not one. But how different is 17 from 18, what sudden enlightenment would this girl have attained in a gap of a few days or months?

And who will take responsibility for her future? What will happen to her after her release? Will she emerge traumatised, scarred or emboldened? Will she then not need professional treatment, love and care instead of the social isolation that will greet her? She is a woman (whose picture has gone viral on the internet) and lives in a backward district like Vaishali in a less-advanced state like Bihar. Which school or college in our country will give her a second chance to prove herself?

Which man in patriarchal Bihar will marry her? Even if he agrees to marry her, how much more dowry will his parents demand given the apparent "blot" on her character?

How many mediapersons will remember this "infamous" name? How many will write about her and continue to worry for her future? Perhaps none. Ruby Rai will soon be history and her infamy will be largely forgotten, but not forgiven. 

This quote from Les Miserables gives us much to reflect upon. “Teach the ignorant as much as you can; society is culpable in not providing a free education for all and it must answer for the night which it produces. If the soul is left in darkness sins will be committed. The guilty one is not he who commits the sin, but he who causes the darkness.”

Hence I feel sorry for you Ruby, sorry for all that you had to undergo, sorry that you were plain unlucky to bear the brunt of this alone when each one of us is responsible for your plight.

Writer

Twisha Chandra Twisha Chandra @chandratwisha

The writer is a mother of a 22-month-old toddler and works for Microsoft and lives in Bellevue, Greater Seattle.

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