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Vyapam: India’s deadly medical school exam scandal

A medical school admission examinations scandal in India has turned into a veritable whodunit with thousands of arrests, mysterious deaths and the suspected involvement of top politicians and bureaucrats. Soutik Biswas travelled to Madhya Pradesh to investigate.

The call came late in the afternoon when he was taking some foreign journalists to meet victims of clinical trials near the central city of Indore.

It was 13 July 2013, six days after the local police had caught half a dozen students from a city hotel who they suspected were plotting to rig medical school exams.

Dr Anand Rai, a medical officer himself, has the reputation of being a feisty – if sometimes, reckless – whistle-blower, so he was helping the police with intelligence about how medical school exams were being rigged in Madhya Pradesh.

“There was a man on the line threatening to kill me. He said don’t do this job any more,” says Dr Rai, 38. The man rang off.

Two minutes later, the man called again. “Don’t you give this number to the police. You will pay for it, if you do,” he said, before hanging up.

Highest bidder

Dr Rai promptly handed over the number to the police, who tracked the call to Mumbai. A local police team went to Mumbai and arrested the caller.

The man, an assistant professor in a private medical college, turned out to be the mastermind of what has now turned out to be one of India’s biggest scandals, involving the rigging of mainly medical school admissions. He told investigators that Vyapam officials were complicit in the scandal. Vyapam is the Hindi acronym for anoffice that conducts more than 50 examinations for government jobs and medical school admissions in Madhya Pradesh.

How examinations were rigged:

  • Candidates hire impersonators – medical students from neighbouring states – who write their exam. Impersonators even appear for physical education tests.
  • Candidates pay ‘scorers’ – again medical students themselves – who sit close to them during the examination and help them cheat.
  • Question papers are leaked and sold to candidates.
  • Answer sheets are rigged and higher marks given to the candidate.
  • Unfinished answer sheets are filled up later by teachers involved in the scam.

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