NEET Kerala Row: A Bra Should Not Be Adding to Women Aspirants' Stress & Agony

The aspirants may now be forced to worry about the nature of their bras and the deeply invasive frisking.

4 min read
NEET Kerala Row: A Bra Should Not Be Adding to Women Aspirants' Stress & Agony

"They said take your bra in your hand and leave, no need to wear them. We were very embarrassed to hear that. But everyone waited to change. It was dark and there was no place to was a terrible experience," a 17-year-old National Eligibility cum Entrance Test (NEET) aspirant from Kerala's Kollam told news channel NDTV.

She was recounting her harrowing experience of being made to remove a bra – simply to be able to take a test.

"Some girls wept in shame," she said, as women security employees chided them about crying over the incident.

On Sunday, 17 July, students taking their exam at Mar Thoma Institute of Information Technology in Kollam district, were allegedly forced to remove their bras. They were forced to dump their bras in another room if they wanted to take the exam.

Three days later, on 19 July, the Kerala Police arrested five women, including three security personnel, who allegedly forced the girls to remove their bras.


Past Incidents & No Lessons Learnt

This is barely the first time that such incidents have happened – especially in Kerala.

In 2017, a similar incident took place in Kannur – when another aspirant was asked to remove her bra because of the metal hook on it. Two days later, four CBSE teachers were suspended over the incident.

"I told them 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 do 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,” the survivor had said in 2017.

Just a year after that, in May 2018, an 18-year-old complained that the invigilator was staring at her chest after she was forced to remove her bra before taking the NEET exam. But there were no lessons learnt.

The 2022 incident came to light when a parent spoke out about how his 18-year-old daughter was 'distressed' by the incident, and took the exam in an 'uncomfortable state.'

"My daughter had been preparing for this exam for a long time. But she was not even able to write the exam properly. She returned to us crying, distressed. They had compulsorily asked the girl students to remove their innerwears. The children were very uncomfortable. Many of them were crying. If it is the rule, they can check the innerwear during frisking. But why remove them?”
– the 18-year-old's father told The News Minute

What Does the NEET Dress Code Say?

There is no rule in the NEET manual that calls for aspirants to remove their bras.

The NEET information brochure 2022 specifies a detailed dress code. Candidates are not permitted to wear light clothes with long sleeves in exam halls. They are not permitted to wear shoes, but slippers and sandals are allowed. While they are prohibited from wearing "any ornaments or metallic items," the brochure does not say anything about garments with metallic hooks.

Reading this rule and equating a bra hook to a metallic item – and therefore barring students from wearing the garment – amounts to plain harassment.

Do the frisking agencies hired by the National Testing Agency (NTA) also apply the same rule to a pant zip? Irrespective of who is wearing it, does the pant zip not perform the same function as that of a bra hook?

Anyone who thinks that such exams are a level-playing field lives in an alternate reality. Such incidents further skew the field and adds to the trauma and agony of everyday assault on bodies that women fight for.

Multiple studies have repeatedly shown that girls fight several battles – right from going to school and continuing their education to finally reaching an exam centre. A bra should not add to it. That their daughter could be forced to remove her bra should not end up being a deciding factor on whether the parents should send her to write the exam.

A bra, least of all, should not be adding to the agony and stress of exam day for women aspirants. Period.


The Blame Game: Who Pays the Price?

A case has been registered under Sections 354 (Assault or criminal force to woman with intent to outrage her modesty) and 509 (Word, gesture or act intended to insult the modesty of a woman) of the Indian Penal Code, following a complaint by one of the student’s parents – based on which five people have been arrested.

But where does the accountability lie? According to the Mar Thoma Institute, the staff arranged by the NTA was responsible for the frisking and conduct of exams.

The NTA, meanwhile, released a statement: "As far as the NTA’s Dress Code for NEET is concerned, it does not permit any such activity alleged by the parent of the candidate," virtually washing its hands off the incident.

The passing of the buck and lack of clear directives raise questions over whether such incidents will really stop.

  • There are no answers to how these agencies are selected. There is also no clear guidelines on how candidates will be frisked or what kind of sensitisation and training is provided to these security persons.

  • Despite such incidents repeating since 2017, there are also no NTA guidelines on what will be the consequences of such misbehaviour by those at the exam centre.

Like journalist Sunetra Choudhury pointed out on Twitter – the incident shows a complete lack of empathy and also points to a 'fear of women bodies.'

"Why else would a bra be considered a threat?" she wrote on Twitter.

Or as journalist Dhanya Rajendran, quoting a friend, said – the incident is not about rules but about 'wielding power.'

People wear bras, which have metal hooks, and it's time for the NEET exam friskers to make peace with that.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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Topics:  Women   Bra   NEET 

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