Five women were arrested on Tuesday in Kerala for allegedly forcing girls who appeared for the National Eligibility cum Entrance Test in Kollam district to take off their bras to be allowed to write the examination, PTI reported, citing the police.

The police had registered a first information report in the matter on the basis of a complaint of the father of one of the girls who appeared for the medical admission exam at a private educational institute in Kollam district’s Ayoor town on Sunday.

The matter came to light on Monday after the girl’s father told the media that her daughter had suffered a traumatic experience of writing the three-hour-long examination without her bra.

Three of the arrested women are employees of an agency hired by the National Testing Agency that conducts NEET and the other two work for the exam centre.

The National Testing Agency had first dismissed the allegations as fictitious. However, as the controversy erupted, the Union Education ministry said on Tuesday that the National Testing Agency has formed a fact-finding team to look into the allegations, PTI reported.

“Further action will be taken based on the report of the fact-finding committee which will visit Kollam,” a senior ministry official said.

Meanwhile, the National Commission for Women wrote to the Kerala Director General of Police Lokanath Behera seeking a time-bound investigation into the matter. The commission told Behera to inform it about the action taken in the case within three days.

Objection to bras with metal hooks

The officials who allegedly stopped the girls had objected to bras with metal hooks, NDTV reported.

“They asked me, are you wearing underwear with a metal hook?” one of the girls who had to undergo the ordeal told the news channel. “I said yes, so was asked to join that line.”

According to the girl, the officials had formed two queues – one for girls wearing bras with metal hooks and another for girls with innerwear without the hooks. The girl told the news channel that they were then told to take off their bras and that she did not know if she would get them back.

After the examination was over, the girl said that she saw others crying in shame. At this, one of the women security employee reportedly asked them: “Why are you crying?”

The security personnel also told the girls to take their bras in hand leave without wearing them.

“We were very embarrassed to hear that,” the girl told NDTV. “But everyone waited to change. It was dark and there was no place to was a terrible experience. When we were writing the exam, we put our hair in front as we had no shawl to cover ourselves...There were boys and girls and it was really difficult and uncomfortable.”

The case

The complainant in the case had said that the bulletin issued by the National Testing Agency did not mention about a ban on bras with metal hooks.

The bulletin states that the candidates are not allowed to bring “any metallic item” in the examination room.

The bulletin also mandates that in case the candidates are wearing “cultural/customary dress” for the examination, they should come at least an hour before the last reporting time “so that there is enough time for proper frisking without any inconvenience to the candidate while maintaining the sanctity of the examination”.

The complainant said that when his daughter refused to take off her bra, the authorities at the centre said she would not be allowed to write the exam.

“Many students were cutting the hooks of their innerwear,” he said. “The mental state of the students was disturbed and they could not attend the exam with confidence...When students refused to remove their innerwear, they were asked whether their future or innerwear was important.”

Besides this, all the bras that were seized had been placed together in a storage room without any regard to the Covid-19 norms, according to the complaint.

This is not the first instance in the state where a student was made to strip for appearing for an examination. In 2017, four teachers were suspended for asking a girl to take off her bra before entering a NEET centre in Kannur. The Central Board of Secondary Education, which then used to conduct NEET, had said the incident was a “consequence of overzealousness” of the staff members.

A year later, another candidate for an examination was forced to take off her bra in Palakkad town. In her complaint, she had said that the male invigilator was staring at her chest during the the examination. She had “felt humiliated” due to this, the complaint stated.