Atrauli in Uttar Pradesh was once the toast of classical Hindustani music lovers and the Jaipur-Atrauli Gharana went on to produce stalwarts such as Ustad Alladiya Khan, Moghu Bai Kurdikar and Kishori Amonkar. In the last decades of the 20th century music took a back seat when Atrauli became central to the regional politics as the home town of Kalyan Singh, a senior member of the right wing Bharatiya Janata Party and the first chief minister of UP from the backward community of Lodhs.
Today, both its musical and political heritage is largely overshadowed by a rash of hugely popular schools that do little to no teaching, but offer special facilities for cheating during the UP board exams. Semi-literate students, who have no hopes of passing the tests otherwise, flock here during the exam season and most of them emerge successful. The holy city of Kushinagar in eastern Uttar Pradesh where Buddha breathed his last has also come to be a pilgrimage centre of sorts for the young in search of examination centres that offer “help” for clearing exams. According to the student grapevine, the most-sought after cheating centres here are in the Tamkuhi village block of the notorious Diyara area. Students not just from Uttar Pradesh, but also from neighbouring Bihar are said to arrive here in large numbers to avail of the excellent cheating facilities on offer. Board and lodging and also help in filling forms is provided by the schools, for a fee of course .
In the west, Mathura, the birth place of Hindu god Krishna, which also houses priceless works of Gandhara sculpture in its famous museum, is said to have recently sprouted some 343 schools, where cheating is facilitated. Out of these, 250 receive no financial aid, but are doing very well because they charge a handsome fee from examinees who throng from faraway Madhya Pradesh and Nagaland, convinced that they can clear exams only if their right to cheat is guaranteed. In villages such as Kaasgunj, cheating has become infinitely preferable to teaching and students shun the schools in the area that are known for rigorous teaching schedules and extreme watchfulness during exams. The cheating factories in Kaasgunj will be hosting exams for some 1,000 students this year, whereas only 34 students will be taking the class XII exam at the much better-run Gandhi Memorial Inter College at the district headquarters in Etah.
It is not as though people do not know that these cheating centres are being run by politically influential groups with some help from what the police calls “local bad characters”. Students recently told a visiting Hindustan correspondent that most schools in the faraway villages, such as Ajuha in Kaushambi, are set up only for helping out towners pass boards. The students come here, fill forms and can even be given fake birth certificates at a price, in case they happen to be too old to take an exam. The owners maintain dual registers and if the examinees cannot be bothered about formalities like filling the forms, paid agents can be arranged by the school to do the needful. Ajuha is so popular that during the present exam season, rooms that can barely accommodate a string cot are being rented out for Rs500 per month. To protect students from the inspectors and outside roving invigilators, the centres post a string of thugs outside the villages up to a distance of some 2km. As soon as a group of invigilators is sighted, the centre supervisors are contacted and they, in turn, sound an alert that lasts until the inspectors have departed, presumably after a hearty tea.
What is remarkable is that the parents of these students happily pay the fairly hefty amount needed by their wards to avail of these services, perhaps because when the final results are announced, several of the best performers in the state routinely turn out to have taken their exams from such innocuous centres. It ought to make all those applauding the 2008 Union Budget for rooting for projects such as Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (education for all) think a bit more about what clearing school exams and scoring high aggregates has actually come to mean.
All our political parties routinely join in the sport of private school bashing in Parliament. They also agree on the need to reclaim the school system from the jaws of the education mafia, to pump government money into it and make it accessible for the rural poor and the urban aam admi’s (common man’s) children. But ironically, when all is said and done, many of them are seen to have close ties with the mafia that runs the cheating centres and other dubious institutes of higher learning. They have often been found to have helped the owners (in the name of arranging for cheap, but quality education for the poor) acquire land and assets at throwaway prices and bypass certification laws.
What is also extraordinary is that given the haphazard ownership of these cheating factories disguised as schools, that not just the parents, but also the market in private education should be so tolerant of them. True, dog does not eat dog, but since many private schools have also been steadily cannibalizing government subsidies, perhaps it’s time we, who have no stakes in school education except as law-abiding citizens and taxpayers, stood up not to praise this particular Fido, but to bury the whole pack once and for all.
Mrinal Pande likes to take readers behind the reported news in her fortnightly column. She is chief editor,?Hindustan. Your comments are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org.