Dear Candidate/Fear Candidate
Historically, women have been harassed in a plethora of ways, be it verbally, sexually, or mentally. Recently, this harassment has also leaked onto online platforms. Many women can attest to this fact, evidenced by the ever present unknown men in the direct messages of our social media accounts. However, there, we have the choice to avoid, ignore, and even block them from contacting us. What happens when that choice, that veil of protection, is not there? The recent Mettl proctoring incidents answered that question for the students of NMIMS university. It’s safe to assume that none among us are completely unaware of what happened, but here is a short summary: NMIMS partnered with Mettl Online Assessment, a software that is supposed to ensure that academic integrity is not compromised, for the recent Term End Examinations. This integrity, however, came at a price for many female students. Proctors, initially thought to be our faculty, were discovered to be random people who were paid to monitor students writing their exams and who were in no way vetted beforehand. These unknown people not only stared at us for hours, they also had access to our email-ids, phone numbers, and in some cases our Aadhar card numbers and addresses. The 360° view we had to provide to ‘confirm’ our test-taking environment even allowed them to look into our homes. Unfortunately, some male proctors went one step further: sending students offensive, scary messages both during the exams on the software and later via social media. Putting 2 and 2 together,
The 4 we have are strangers who have our information and are clearly not afraid to use it for online harassment, possibly worse. It’s clear that this was a severe breach of our privacy and of the trust we place in the university as its students. But the incident lends itself to a much larger sphere of issues too.
On 13th January, the Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh, Shivraj Singh Chouhan, supported the bid of raising the marriage age for women from 18 to 21 years of age. While this is a lot to unpack in itself, it’s the latter part of his statement that’s most relevant to the proctoring incident. The CM proposed that women who leave the house for work should register themselves with the nearest police station and their movements be tracked for their own “safety”. Here we find, yet again, men in positions of authority trying to restrict the movement of women in the name of their own safety instead of working on the cause behind the very need for their protection instead. Not only will this be a severe breach of privacy, the programme also operates under the assumption that homes are the safest spaces for women. Needless to say, this couldn’t be more incorrect, considering that abusers and harassers are sometimes members of the household, and being at home clearly did not stop the Mettl proctors from harassing women. It also opens up a whole new avenue of harassment possibilities for those so inclined. Can the government guarantee that the police who will have access to our locations won’t misuse this information and abuse the power given to them to hurt instead of protect? The Mettl proctors too were responsible for making sure that no malpractices occurred during our examinations, and they too misused the power that came with this responsibility to terrorize students instead. This incident has forced us to ask: does academic integrity hold more importance than our safety and security? When we sign up to be part of any institution, we make ourselves vulnerable to their system. For the administration, these might just be isolated incidents, but for the students, this is a major moment in their life. Institutions have a responsibility to protect their students, and must take this more seriously in light of these disturbing incidents. Here’s hoping our concerns will not go unaddressed.
The lack of response from the university has been disappointing and disheartening. I still had to give an exam after a panic attack and another exam the very next day. I don’t know how my exams ended or how they went by. I really do hope the university starts looking into their students mental health and safety concerns more seriously.
- Jhanvi Adatia
It was quite triggering to see my peers go through something so traumatic and have to turn to social media to have their concerns addressed. It was disappointing to see authorities and individuals we had respected wait till the last possible moment to give an ear to our juniors.
Azania Patel, alumnus and Rhodes scholar at Oxford University
To summarize the horrors of last week would be difficult. But I’ll take this attempt to encourage everyone to check up on your friends. Victims or not, in this period of uncertainty there was one constant: fear. The fear that anything can happen. Anything can go wrong. Anyone can harass me during my exam. Or after my exam. Exams are over, but what if my number is still out there waiting to be exploited? The fear of the unknown brings endless anxieties. So check up on your friends. Don’t hope, but demand. Demand that no student should be brought to the brink of feeling unsafe in their own bedrooms. You only have each other.
That day I was relieved to be done with my last exam and a few minutes later I got a text from the proctor. It was a blur honestly, I panicked and texted my friend who told me to report to the college. I felt so anxious and unsafe inside my own house. I felt like somehow our privacy was never a priority during these exams.
- Radhika Pandere
Asmita Kumbhar & Amatulla Mukadam