Date: May 5, 2019
Scene at examination centre – Nagindas Khandwala college, Malad
It was the day of the National Eligibility Cum Entrance Test (NEET) 2019 exam.
After waiting for an hour around campus, checking began. I was standing at the beginning of the line with a few other girls who, like me, were donning hijabs.
When one of the girls lifted her curtain, the security lady said, “Hijab nikaalna padega, allowed nahi hai (You’ll have to remove your hijab, it is not allowed.)” The girls, who were confused, started mumbling. I urged them not to remove the hijab as the National Testing Agency (NTA) – the government agency that conducts entrance exams for higher educational institutions – allows it.
I then went up to the two lady security guards and told them that the NTA has now allowed hijabs in examination centres. They asked us to wait outside the line and called the co-ordinator. Another girl joined us eventually.
Soon, the co-ordinator came in a hurry and said, “checking ke baad hijaab pehen sakte ho lekin examination room me nikaal kar baithna hai (you can wear your hijab after checking, but you’ll have to remove it in the examination hall.)” And then he went away before anyone could say anything.
When I asked one of the co-ordinators about the hijab, he sent me to his supervisor, who spoke in the most immoral way. He said, “Examination room me hijab nikaalna hai (You will have to remove the hijab in the examination room.)”
I responded saying that I had read all the rules before coming for the exam, but before I could speak any further, he shouted and interrupted saying, “Theek hai pehen lena, tumhara roll no. hum NTA ko bhej denge (Okay, wear it. We’ll send your roll number to the NTA.)” And then he, too, walked away.
Our parents, standing outside the gate, were mere spectators to the whole conversation. The girls in the line (even those who wore hijab), too, remained silent. I searched for my father in the crowd but he had gone as soon as the parents were asked to leave.
I stood in line again. When my turn came, the female security personnel checked me behind the curtain, and of course – as instructed – I removed my hijab for checking.
I went upstairs looking for the classroom and saw a supervisor. He had a more amenable demeanour than the others and told me that the head along with all the co-ordinators were downstairs. It was then when I realised that the person who shouted at me, was actually the head of the centre.
In the classroom
I saw a girl in a burqa in the classroom and we briefly talked about the hijab. The examination began.
After around an hour-and-a-half of writing the paper, the same co-ordinator walked in and asked us both to uncover our ears. The other girl got afraid, I assumed, and removed her hijab. But I did not. He suspected that I might be wearing earphones to cheat and I told him that I had already got myself checked.
Unconvinced, he asked the supervisors to mark my roll number and send it to the NTA. When I tried explaining the rules to him, he gave me a look and walked out of the classroom. Other supervisors asked me to sit down and one of them gestured as saying, “nothing of that sort will happen”
I sat down.
It was a three-hour long paper and by then, around 30 minutes had already been wasted, which also included me meditating as I needed to regain my focus. In the first two hours, I was dizzy and I wish I had had a cup of coffee.
After the exam was over and our papers were collected, I went over to the girl in the burqa and asked for some water. She was very kind and we briefly discussed the paper. I didn’t ask her about the hijab.
After the exam
I asked the supervisor about my roll number, to which he replied: “kuch nahi abhi jao (nothing, you can go now.)”
A few seconds later, it struck me. They couldn’t have complained about me because I was simply following the rules. And even if they did, what would they complain about? That I didn’t remove my hijab for the security check? The fact is that I complied with all the stipulated rules.
I felt a sense of victory in the end when I told my father about the incident. But it also got me thinking about how the centre failed to abide by the rules laid out for it and instead, ended up hurting religious sentiments, violating the Constitution and, most importantly, putting students in a distressed state of mind.
And then, later I realised that it was not really a victory because some girls at the centre did end up removing their hijabs under pressure. I doubt if they were able to concentrate on solving the paper.
I also found out that there were two more centres where the hijab/burqa wasn’t allowed. While the hijab wasn’t allowed in Podar High School, Sheth Karamshi Kanji English School didn’t allow burqa.
In the end, I learnt the lesson that constant striving is the only way to bring about justice. As Martin Luther king Jr said, “Freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor, it must be demanded by the oppressed.”
Featured image credit: Flickr