UP's crackdown on cheating has left an entire region helpless
Left red-faced over widespread cheating during exams, UP has clamped down on the copying mafia this time.
Measures have been so strict that over 10L students, or 15% candidates, simply skipped the board exams in four days.
But in Kaushambi, the "nakal ki mandi" ("cheating hub"), this has turned life around drastically. Locals, deprived of one of their major sources of earning, are helpless.
As UP cracks down on cheating, Kaushambi suffers
The cheating market grew drastically in the 1980-90s, courtesy schools
According to Ashok Kumar Mishra, a school principal in Kaushambi, the local cheating industry can be traced to 1986, "when private schools began to be authenticated by UP board."
But over the years, the licensing rules kept getting slacker.
Soon, even schools that had never seen students were mushrooming. A time came when they were luring students not for studies, but for certificates.
There was need for many lodging and eating options
The cheating market employed almost all locals. Poorly-paid teachers took to solving papers for extra money.
As thousands of students arrived for month-long exams, locals rented out spaces in their premises and set up dhabas.
Once the system was established, it became a compulsion; students not wishing to cheat would be deprived of facilities during exams, forcing them to pay up the next time.
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In a couple of years, money and opportunities fell sharply
The market has now come crashing down. Farrukh, a dhaba-owner who earned Rs. 40,000/day during peak season, hasn't made more than Rs. 3,000/day this year.
Mahendra, grocery-seller, used to rent out his shop for Rs. 50-200 per person, but not anymore.
Maurya, who earned Rs. 4,000 per season solving papers, had to quit.
Youths employed by schools to lure "students" were out of work.
An alert government has now clamped down on cheating
This time, the education board is alert. Several anti-cheating measures have been employed: CCTVs have been installed in exam halls, armed police deployed, special task forces formed and Section 144 imposed in some places.
Forty-four of Kaushambi's 88 exam centers have been declared "hypersensitive."
The cheating industry is decreasing, but isn't dead yet; 62 people were arrested in Atrauli in February for cheating.
But will the crackdown have a long-lasting impact?
Many agree the crackdown is superficial. During exams, the education department asked exam-centers to install voice recorders.
"I don't have a problem following the order, but where (in Kaushambi) can I find a voice recorder?" asked Mishra.
He said due to CCTVs, cheaters had started dictating answers outside of camera range. And if they can fool CCTVs, "how long will voice recorders deter them?"
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