In search of honestyApology campaign of the Madhesis is important because it shows Nepal a new way to live
It was a hot summer evening in my room on the middle floor of Hostel No2 in Rajendra Nagar ‘Colony’ of Patna in the early 1980s. Our MA English exam of eight papers, each at a week’s interval, was to commence the following morning, and I was seated on the wooden coolness of my chair because even the loincloth felt like a heating pad under the ‘hot-air’ fan.
These exams had come at the end of two years of lectures, from Shakespeare to TS Eliot—and after heartbreaks, heart repairs, skirt chasing on bicycles and months of coolness on the wooden chairs, torn and slashed pages of the British Council Library, rumours of how so-and-so, a chamcha or a prospective son-in-law or a beloved caste man, had stood ‘first-class-first’ in the previous year’s exam and who had already been anointed to be first-class-first in our eight four-hour-long exams.
So I had been resolutely feeling the coolness of my wooden chair for the past few months for hours-on-end every day after having wasted considerable time wallowing in a one-sided failed infatuation with a kind, artistic classmate while my father had by then emptied the cowshed of livestock and my mother had first pawned and then sold her gold-coin ring given to her by her Dharam Aai, mother by faith, named Sodosari in our Rajbanshi village in Morang. They had also begun sharecropping one neighbour’s land after another when our neighbours had seen that their friend, Punditji, was running out of his livestock, and taking pilgrims on pilgrimages was not proving enough to support his stubborn son’s monthly expenses of a couple of hundred rupees in the Indian university. Besides, our neighbours would be in the Dankutta hills anyway during rainy and winter months.
Are you with us?
As I was playing Shakespeare’s lines in my head with my eyes closed, “As flies to wanton boys are we to the gods/They kill us for their sport,” and so on, I heard a knock on my door. I assembled my cloths and looked out. A group of my classmates stood before me. I was delighted. I thought they had come to offer good wishes and boost my morale for the exams. The leader among them spoke, “We have come to ask for a favour. We are asking for your support. Would you join us?” “Of course,” I said. I thought my classmates had come to propose group study, in which case I stood to benefit because I had been studying by myself and the wooden coolness of the chair had not been enough to make up for the lack of camaraderie.
“You know that we hail from outlying districts—north, south, east and west. We have nobody here in this city. Nobody cares about us. You know who stood first-class-first last year and who will stand first-class-first next year,” he said. I had indeed heard about it. They said the top picks of the exams were already a foregone conclusion.
“Well, then, let’s study together and harder,” I said. “Too late,” he said. “The exams begin tomorrow. Besides, no matter how much we study, the sons and daughters of local big shots would go for pairabi after the exams.” Now, I had heard of this word; I knew it meant advocacy. The lawyers did pairabi on behalf of their clients before the judge. But here he was saying that the examinees’ parents or even professors would reach out to other examiners at other universities where the exam papers would be sent and have the marks manipulated. A thin man then came forward. He came from a north-western district immortalised in a racy Bhojpuri song of swaying waist. “We have decided that we would cheat in the exams tomorrow, and if so-and-so professor who runs an exam mafia tries to stop us, we would collectively rebel and boycott the exam. That’s why, we have come to ask for your consent and solidarity. Are you with us?”
Yes and no
I was stunned, confused and a bit scared. I had never cheated in an exam because I had taken a vow right before my 10th grade board exam that I would never cheat or do anything else for a single mark on my marksheet/transcript that does not reflect my honest labour. A professor of Sanskrit had once asked my roll number after the exams, taking me to be his caste man, and ever since I had suspected the authenticity of my marks in one of my Sanskrit papers.
Once in college, my father had asked me in his letter to meet a certain person in Deoghar and get a document. I had travelled by bus for the better part of a day and collected the document. It turned out to be a nameless BA Pass certificate. That holiday when I came home, I told my father never to ask me to do such a thing again. He took pilgrims and patients from far-flung
areas in Nepal to India’s holy places and hospitals as social service because he knew every nook and cranny of the complex country and rural folks in the hills and plains of Nepal did not know what lay on the Indian side of the border. Many thought he would get them not only physical and religious well-being but ‘career well-being’ as well. My father never mentioned the matter again.
And now my own classmates offered a persuasive argument to turn a closed-book exam into an open-book one. I even feared that if I refused to go along, they would not only cut me off but even beat me up because if they had nobody in the provincial capital, I had come all the way from a Nepali hinterland, from where I walked three to four hours to reach a paved road to catch a bus, and changed five buses and trains altogether to get to that town after a 24-hour journey. So I said I understood their position and was persuaded by their logic. I would not oppose their decision and action. But I would not do it. I took the exams spread over eight weeks and returned home to my village. The results came out a few months later. I had not done badly despite my terrible handwriting.
I am sorry
There is no doubt that many of those who cheated in the exams or who were favourites of their professors had talent or were good students—many have done pretty well in their careers—but the process tainted their achievement. The doctors’ scandal in Nepal and fake grade 12 toppers in Bihar are part of the same victims/beneficiaries of the education mafia in the region. Even the legitimate education system is deeply flawed; it teaches little in terms of thinking, reading and writing. When the already flawed system gets corrupted by administrators, educators, family members and students themselves, the entire society loses its direction. That is what has happened both in north India and Nepal. That is why the ongoing Apology Pledge (I’m sorry) campaign of the Madhesi intellectuals assumes special significance because it breaks a new ground in social honesty and tries to do the right thing by acknowledging historical injustice and apologising for it. It shows both Bihar and Nepal a new way to live and be.