Help offered to visually impaired students in form of scribes is turning into a business, where on one hand deserving students find it difficult to get a scribe, on the other hand, many ‘coaching institutes’ offer scribes as ‘proxy’ candidates to solve papers on behalf of students in exchange for lakhs of rupees. Depending on the exams, several visually impaired candidates have reportedly been asked anywhere from Rs 1 lakh to 5 lakh from scribes.
The availability of scribes in exchange for a large amount of money has made seeking payments in return for helping in exams an unsaid norm. This puts candidates, especially those from low-income backgrounds at a disadvantage.
In 2021, a 31-year-old person with visual impairment, Satvir Jogi, had to miss his exam as he failed to find a scribe despite multiple attempts. For Jogi, who has been applying for several government exams in the last few years, arranging a scribe has always been a challenge.
“Due to a paucity of reading material for visually impaired candidates — online and in physical form — even the preparation for an exam is more difficult when compared to visually-abled candidates. To top it off, we have the biggest challenge of finding scribes. How are these exams fair and equal for us?” says Jogi.
He adds, “I have given from Rs 1,000 to Rs 2,000 on multiple occasions to scribes to write my paper. If a visually impaired candidate is lucky, then they sometimes get a volunteer scribe on time, otherwise, scribes demand money as per their wish for appearing for exams.”
Scribes Also Being Used as Proxy Candidates
Lack of resources and limited vacancies for the visually impaired has made many take the illegal route as well. SK Singh, a rights activist for people with visual impairment and secretary of the National Association for the Blind, claimed that the scribe business is an open secret now. It stems from a lack of scribe resources and other challenges, including not enough material to prepare for exams and fewer job vacancies for people with visual impairment.
They demand anywhere from Rs 2,000 to just appear for the exam to Rs 5 lakh to clear it. With the demand for more money, scribes also give services to prepare on the behalf of the candidate and appear for the exam, alleged SK Singh, a rights activist for people with visual impairment and secretary of the National Association for the Blind.
“Unemployment rates are at an all-time high and everyone wants to secure a job. Several scribes have found this opportunity to make money out of it. They demand anywhere from Rs 2,000 to just appear for the exam to Rs 5 lakh to clear it. With the demand for more money, scribes also give services to prepare on the behalf of the candidate and appear for the exam.”
‘With Our Scribes Don’t Worry About Passing Exam’
To get to know some of the ‘proxy scribes’, News18 tried to contact a few of them. One such person, who runs a coaching center in Mumbai, told News18.com, “We have an academy. You only have to give us the syllabus and make us meet the candidate. We are quite experienced at it, so you don’t have to worry about passing the exam.”
He said, from teachers to students his academy has scribes candidates of all ages and for various exams.
Speaking about the fee charged for being the scribe, he said it depends on the exam. “While the fee is less for the non-technical exams, the fee will be more for technical exams. But don’t worry about the fee, we have an installment system also. A candidate can pay even after they get a job,” he said.
‘No Complaints Received of Scribe Business’
The authorities, however, claim to not be aware of any ‘scribe business’ going on in exams.
When News18 contacted the Department of Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities, which is under the Ministry of Social Justice & Empowerment, an official, on condition of anonymity, said, “Till now we have not received any complaints of ‘scribe business’.”
“In the future, however, if we get any such complaints we will inquire about it. Meanwhile, if there are reports of policy being misused, then the state government can inquire into it.”
The official added, “The policy is made for the betterment of the candidates, but there are people who might take advantage of the loophole, but there are bodies to look into it.”
Lack of Consensus Among Authorities Over Qualification, Availability of Scribe
The authorities have allegedly also failed to come to a consensus about implementing guidelines for availing of scribe facilities. While the guidelines issued by the Ministry of Social Justice and Employment published the Guidelines for Persons with Benchmark Disabilities in August 2018 give candidates the option to either bring their own scribes or request one from the exam-conducting body, in many cases authorities deny candidates to bring their own scribe.
In the recently held TS TET exam, many candidates were uncertain till hours before exams whether or not they will get a scribe. Candidates from different districts of Telangana said that their admit cards mentioned that candidates with 40 per cent disability can avail scribes, however, there was no mention if they will be provided with a scribe by the exam conducting body or if the students can get their own scribe for the exam. The confusion escalated among the candidates when the TSTET helpdesk set up in different districts of the State provided mixed information to the candidates.
News18 tried to call some of the district helpdesk numbers to verify the claims. An operator from the Hyderabad helpdesk said that candidates will have to go to the exam centre a day before the exams to inform the administration that they require a scribe and then they will be allocated a scribe. Meanwhile, the Khammam helpdesk said the candidates can get their scribes but they have to be only Class 9 qualified. However, Hyderabad’s helpdesk claimed that candidates cannot get their scribe and only the exam-conducting body (Department of School Education) will provide a scribe to candidates with disabilities.
The TET convenor Radha Reddy denied the claims of confusion among the candidates. She told New18, “There should be no confusion among the candidates as these exams happen every year and candidates should know that students cannot get their own scribes. Those who fit the disability criteria will be provided with a scribe at the exam center.”
While guidelines by Ministry clearly state that candidates have option of bringing own scribe to seeking one from exam conducting bodies, rules often change at state-level.
On informing the qualifications of scribes TSTET convenor said that scribes will only be class 9 pass and inter-pass. The guidelines issued by Ministry, however, suggest that scribes should not be more than the minimum qualification criteria of the examination. However, the qualification of the scribe/reader should always be matric or above.
Similar incidents of confusion over the scribes’ availability and qualification are reported in multiple educational and recruitment exams.
Demand for a National, State Scribe Pool
Activists have been demanding the government create scribe banks so that any examinee can readily avail of certified scribes on a voluntary basis. Under a watch, this can also put a stop to proxy candidate business.
Activists cite the lack of Central or State-regulated scribe pools, which can be accessed by anyone, to the burgeoning illegal scribe business. To add to their woes, guidelines related to scribes are unclear across the country.
SK Singh, says, “The government had come up with the qualification guidelines to curb exam malpractices, but that is only working against students. There can be multiple ways to curb malpractices. Why is the onus not on the invigilators to check if the candidate is using the help of their scribe or not? Putting a cap on the scribe’s qualification curbs visually impaired and other candidates with disabilities to appear for exams.”
The General Secretary of the National Platform for the Rights of the Disabled, Muralidharan, said that these norms would only make it more difficult for the candidates to find a scribe. He said, “If a national and state scribe bank will be available, this will automatically curb such practices.”
Founder of the All India Conference of the Blind, J L Paul, said, “Under Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016, all visually impaired people have the right to education and the government should make sure that they get it. There are no proper efforts made by the government to make sure that all visually impaired students get a scribe. For this, a national and a state scribe bank will be very beneficial.”
Calling the scribe qualification law draconian, another visually impaired student Animesh, who has done his MA in International Relations from Christ University Bangalore, said, “The government has these rules to avoid malpractice but at the same time our infrastructure is not that well developed. So first the government should develop a network and then come up with such guidelines. Like Ola and Uber, there should be online scribe pool apps through which we can check the scribe’s qualifications and practise with them.”
This story is produced as part of the Laadli Media Fellowship 2022