Seven days ago, a 26-year-old UPSC candidate was left with no choice but to begin a hunger strike after grievances of thousands of aspirants like her were met with the government’s apathy.
Over the past month, Priya Kumari and a few others had been dropping mails, making phone calls, visiting offices and sending out tweets to the Union Public Service Commission, Prime Minister Office, and Department of Personnel & Training, requesting them to postpone UPSC Prelims-2020 to be held amid the pandemic on October 4.
“We have been left in a hopeless state, with our voices unheard by the government authorities. Fasting as a protest was my last resort,” said Kumari. She began her fast on the morning of September 11, before having her last meal the previous night.
The protest is about more than just missing an exam, it’s about compromising the fundamental rights of suppressed voices. The National Defence Academy (NDA) exam, that was conducted by the UPSC on September 6, saw only 37% attendance as against 60.2% in 2018. Moreover, many suicide deaths have been reported by NEET and JEE aspirants after the Supreme Court’s refusal to defer the exams.
“After hearing about these reports and the government’s apathy towards the plight of students, I decided to collectively raise our voice,” Kumari said. She got in touch with co-aspirants she’d met through online channels who had addressed their concerns regarding attending the exam.
The exam was postponed from 31st May when the country was witnessing around 8,000 new Coronavirus cases a day. Currently, the cases are increasing at a rate of 90,000 cases per day. Cities are becoming unsafe and the treatment for Coronavirus is unaffordable for many people from poor families. Amid this, forcing aspirants to travel to cities, where most of the exams centres are located, would be a cruel step.
There is no denying that the lockdown has deepened the fault lines among the population — be it economic, geographical or health-related. If the government would choose to go ahead with the exam, it would mean negating issues being faced by people from flood-ravaged areas (including Bihar and Assam), people with disabilities, respiratory illnesses or Covid.
“Is it people’s mistake if they suffer from a respiratory illness or have been infected with corona? Many UPSC aspirants are corona warriors and have been infected with the virus. Is this how we choose to thank them for their service to society?” asked Kumari. The exam will be a violation of Article 16, (Equal Employment Opportunity), Article 14 (equality before law) and Article 21 (no person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty), the aspirants said.