SSC Exam Scam: Ordeal of a protesting youth

A young protester, one among hundreds worried after the purported leak of SSC questions papers online,speaks of the ordeal he and his comrades went through, while protesting for justice

Photo by Burhaan Kinu/Hindustan Times via Getty Images
Photo by Burhaan Kinu/Hindustan Times via Getty Images
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NH National Bureau

I have no memories of how all of this started. Nor do I have an idea of how I stood in the protests for 18 long days. Till I completed my BTech, I seem to have lived a relatively sheltered life. But these 18 days changed me forever.

Be it living in the fear of being lathi-charged in the middle of the night, witnessing a youth being slapped for seeking permission from the Police to install mobile toilets for women protesters, or watching a protester get arrested to create an environment of fear, I now know what it takes to stand against the ruling establishment. Isn’t India a democratic country, I would regularly ask myself. Aren’t people allowed to exhibit their angst against a corrupt system in democracy? How did the Anna movement grow so big? Are only youth meted out with such treatment? Well, all I still have are just questions.

What we faced were not atrocities, but oppression. Systematically-unleashed oppression.

Be it living in the fear of being lathi-charged in the middle of the night, witnessing a youth being slapped for seeking permission from the Police to install mobile toilets for women protesters, or watching a protester get arrested to create an environment of fear, I now know what it takes to stand against the ruling establishment.

Initially, SSC just tried to push us aside. When a delegation went to their office on the first day of the protest, February 27, we were asked to return the next day. The morning began on a startling note. While hoping to meet the SSC Chairman, the police arrested one of our friends and tried to intimidate a small group of us who had stayed there overnight. But the police’s plans turned out to be as unsuccessful as our delegates had the meeting with the SSC officials later that day. Our systems are shut down and they will only start functioning once the 72-hour-holiday for Holi ends, SSC told us. We will disburse to celebrate Holi, they must have anticipated. But that’s when our struggle began.

A few more meetings between our delegates and the Commission were quite futile. SSC was coming up with one excuse or the other, and we with another reason to hold on, to struggle. SSC showed the first signs of accepting that they can’t just brush us aside on March 1. A notice put out read: SSC will recommend thatthe Department of Personnel & Training recommend that government recommend a CBI Inquiry into the SSC-CGL tier 2examinations conducted on February 21. That was the first lollipop we were offered, which we outright rejected.

In response, the police threatened us with a lathicharge if we did not vacate the place. Determined, we stayed on and black Holi was celebrated by the protesters the next day, March 2. SSC’s response was not empathetic, which we had anticipated, but they came out all guns blazing in their bid to suppress any voice of dissent. Mattresses were not allowed, so protesters had no choice but to sleep on the roads. In fact, the truck driver hired to get the mattresses for us was arrested by the police. Metro gates were shut down so that we could not use the loo.

But when we still held on, on March 4, SSC accepted recommending an inquiry into all the SSC-CGL tier II exams conducted between February 17-22. It was the second lollipop offered. Our demands stayed the same, but the media was used to propagate that all our demands had been met as the Union Home Minister announced a CBI inquiry into CGL examinations, and those still protesting were just politically motivated youth from the parties not in power.

We tried to put forward our position through a press conference, but most media outlets chose to ignore everything we said, even though we offered some strong evidence of discrepancies in the Commission’s work.

Be it living in the fear of being lathi-charged in the middle of the night,witnessing a youth being slapped for seeking permission from the Police toinstall mobile toilets for women protestors, or watching a protestor getarrested to create an environment of fear, I now know what it takes to standagainst the ruling establishment

Then, our phones started getting monitored. I was sitting with a friend and my phone rang. The screen suggested that this friend was making a WhatsApp call to me, though his phone was in his hand, locked and untouched. His phone had been hacked. I was shocked and wondered, had ‘they’ accessed my phone too? Could ‘they’ see my personal photos? What about my Right to Privacy? Though unsure, I decided to delete all the pictures on my phone, just in case.

Why was a student movement against corruption taking such scary turns? Were we a threat to national security that our phones were being monitored? What was our mistake? To stand against wrong and stand strong?

I even understood the meaning of ‘Social Media Management’. Soon, videos we would post on Facebook or YouTube would be removed. Our hashtags would be spammed with irrelevant posts. The teachers who stood in our support started getting threat calls. We were stunned by this welcome to our democratic right to protest. Many of us had never come out on streets before to protest.

We had an answer to all their atrocities and suppression tactics. Performing ‘SSC ka shraddh’, ‘SSC ki Terahvi’, frying pakodas under ‘Make in India’ scheme were our ways of responding. But by now, media had clearly disowned us and our movement. It was SSC’s platform now. In media conferences, we were being declared politically motivated. But we continued our protests and we continued peacefully.

Till date, all we have gotten are lollipops. But we are content to fight for our rights. We will not stop until our demands are fulfilled and not twisted. We sought justice and we will seek justice.

We will return to Delhi in a grand way on March 31 for a Yuva Halla Bol. If they do choose to turn a deaf ear till then, our first demand will be the resignation of the responsible persons at DoPT. We can assure the government that it will be an unprecedented youth movement against corruption in the system. Peaceful, as always.

(As told to Vikrant Jha)

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