The cheating industry in India is endemic , due to poor teaching standards, the absence of adequate school facilities, extreme competition and highly oversubscribed universities. The ubiquitous network of so-called ‘ cheating mafias ’ engaged in this organised crime profit from the desperation of students and parents seeking “good marks”.
Though recent months have seen significant crackdowns , especially in Uttar Pradesh , cheating has shaped the course of millions of graduates’ lives. Manoj Kumar, a pesticide shop owner in Bulandshahr, talked about experience as a cheater. This account has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.
When I failed my 10th board exams the first time, it was because of negligence. It came to me as a no shocker, and I decided to work hard for my second attempt. But I failed again. I can think of a number of reasons why that happened. The marking scheme has always been strict in the Uttar Pradesh Boards. Our syllabus was so vast, it was nearly impossible to learn it all. And barring a few, most of my teachers never bothered to teach us properly. I couldn’t even pass Science, my favorite subject.
Seeing my dejection, my father, an Army retiree, met the school principal and asked if something could be done. The principal had been taking nakal ka theka (cheating contracts), where the student pays a teacher with contacts in the Board, to be allowed to cheat during exams. One of my seniors told me that there was once even a scuffle between the principal and a schoolteacher who were competing for the maximum number of students. Eventually, they reached an agreement so as to not attract attention.
There are no fixed rates and the money per exam differs from one thekedar (contractor) to another. In 2008, I had a total of six exams, for which my father paid Rs. 12,000 to the principal. At that time, one had to pay Rs. 1,000 to the pass, and Rs. 4,000 for a division. For a first division, the amount of money was higher.
I chose Aligarh as the examination centre and stayed with a distant relative who was kind enough to drop me to the centre for the six days I was there. He had no clue what was happening inside. Neither did the students—each day was different.
We weren’t required to prepare chits, because either the invigilator dictated the answers, or guidebooks with answers were provided. Some students paid extra money for “special arrangements”, which meant someone else would solve the entire paper for you. Once, I saw a middle-aged man who had come to write his son’s exam.
During me science exam, there was a surprise inspection. The invigilator told us to leave the answer sheets blank. After the inspectors left, we were told to come to the invigilator’s house with our guidebooks in the evening. He hadn’t submitted the day’s sheets, and we spent the whole night writing answers. There was a man who kept an eye on things outside.
I repeated the entire process for my 12th board exams. When you know you will pass, you don’t care to study at all. But good marks can only take you so far. I wasn’t clear about what I was going to do after school. I did a BA in agriculture studies in Meerut. When my course got over, I applied everywhere in the sector, but couldn’t get through the interviews. After three years, my father helped me open a pesticide shop from his savings, because pesticides have been booming lately. The business is doing well.