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When "Ethics" Can Get You All Riled Up: The pile of allegations

Diksha Singh

Several things have transpired over the last year (first year of my Ph.D. course) but there is one issue that stands above all the others. I have been trying to forget about it, get over it or at least pretend that I’m no longer affected by it, but even after so long, a mere mention of certain words or events makes me feel a lot of different things, all at the same time. Some of these feelings would include a good amount of guilt and regret and finally an exclamation of the near mental torture, but not so severe in case it sounds so. The “issue” pertains to a particular course which was taught in our first term. For narration purposes, I have renamed my batch mates.
The sessions for the course commenced as per the schedule and before we knew it, the end term exam was scheduled. The instructions were laid before us by the faculty. It was a “self-managed” exam, a type of exam I hadn’t heard of. Self-managed exams meant there would be no invigilators throughout a five-hour examination. We could go out and come back in at any given time for snacks or washroom breaks. There wouldn’t be any restrictions. The faculty expected us to hold onto our morals in the absence of an invigilator for the entire exam duration. Pretty liberal and magical right? The faculty certainly did not foresee an avalanche of unwanted complications approaching.
The exam was conducted on 25th September 2019, two days before the last day of the term. We were allotted a classroom fitted with no cameras (big mistake). Imagine the level of trust the faculty thrust upon us. As planned, the faculty went around the class distributing the question booklets. The exam commenced and everyone started scribbling fiercely as if their life depended on it. After a span of a few minutes, the faculty left us to ourselves. And by the way, we also signed a written statement before the commencement of the exam where we declared we would abide by the rules which included no engagement in any kind of malpractice.
We didn’t abide by the rules though.
Soon, voices were raised slowly, phones were popped out and study materials were retrieved from bags. I calmly watched the scene unfold in front of my eyes. Sooraj was loudly describing what he was writing about and Dhanvanth could not lift his head and write because he placed his phone on his lap to copy. One scholar was loud enough for people sitting in the next class to hear what he was up to. While all this happened, another scholar wandered around like a lost bird in the classroom asking for points and ideas about her topic. Rosy, who was sitting right next to me has quite an image of being the ideal student, so she was subtle about copying. She turned in several directions asking away her doubts.
Amidst all of this, Aadarshini could not fathom that people could go to such an extent to score good marks. She believed it was unethical and unfair and it bothered her greatly. I told her (after exiting the hall) if she reports this to the faculty, there will be serious repercussions. She said she is ready to let this matter go if the evaluation of answer sheets will be absolute and not relative.
At first, I thought this was just a phase, and Aadarshini wouldn’t report this to the faculty. She didn’t put in any effort in concealing her disappointment and hence she had discussions with different members of the batch. Anyhow, the discussions didn’t last for long because we had our presentation of the end-term paper on 27th September 2019. I had forgotten about Aadarshini’s problem with cheating by 27th morning. I just wanted everything to get over and head towards home for the term break.
On the presentation day, everyone presented their work one by one, and soon we were listening to the last person. It was around 3 pm when the faculty stood in front of us to give a general opinion about the presentations. I was just waiting to run by then because my bus to return home, was scheduled to depart at 4.30 pm.
Post his general remarks, the faculty urged us to ask questions. We obliged and many asked their doubts, last of them being Aadarshini’s legendary question. She raised her hand confidently, followed by, the faculty nodding in her direction. She asked how will the papers be evaluated, absolute or relative grading. The faculty, at first said it will be absolute, everyone will score according to what they’ve written, however, for some answers, he may employ relative marking due to the nature of the question.
This led to the utterance of the most infamous dialogue of this issue by none other than our beloved Aadarshini. She said if the marking is going to be relative then she has a “concern” that everyone didn’t follow the “ethics” of the exam.There was impenetrable silence post this. The faculty was taken aback for a moment but then he composed himself and advised to talk later about this in person. What happened after the faculty left the room, is only known to me by various accounts of my friends because I literally ran to grab my things from the hostel and headed towards the bus stop.
Fortunately, I boarded the bus on time and got myself settled. I was curious though, as to what happened. I texted Aadarshini asking about the ongoings and she said she will call later. What did I do next? I replied staunchly to any message that popped up in WhatsApp because I had to kill 6–7 hours of the bus ride. Samar started the discussion in the WhatsApp group. He said it wasn’t fair that everyone had to suffer because of one person’s “concern”. The words “concern” and “ethics” are going to be used infinite times by everyone from now on. As I said, I was active and I started defending Aadarshini.
My opinion at that time was that if we are playing the blame game, then we should shower our anger upon both the accused and the accuser. But the atmosphere then, was different. More than half the number was involved in malpractice and that’s why the accuser was targeted relentlessly. I tried to stop them, making my statements which would later land me in trouble. Few self-righteous people went on and on about ethics, trust, and integrity and how malpractice in a mere exam wasn’t worth losing one’s reputation in front of a faculty, especially in a Ph.D. program. After a point I quit, clearly having achieved nothing but a bunch of enemies.
I waited for Aadarshini’s call till I reached home but she didn’t call. What was more disappointing was that she didn’t support me in the futile group conversation. I know nobody pushed me to participate in the first place. Aadarshini told me a week later that it was a mistake to have said anything at all in the group. If Aadarshini realized I was doing a mistake, considering I was taking her side, I think she should have been courteous enough to at least text me and ask me to stop.
But she let me fight.
During the term break, I received a mail from the faculty asking me to either visit his office (if I’m in the campus) or give him a call. I gave him a call and he asked me two questions. He asked me what did I see during the exam (regarding Aadarshini’s complaint) and what did I think was the best possible solution. I honestly told him whatever I saw without pinpointing names and I suggested a re-exam would suffice the need.
I informed about this conversation to Geethika (my roommate) and she advised me to keep low about this, which I did. Later I learned, the faculty had contacted three others to enquire about the same.The reason why the faculty probed only a few students and not everyone, is known to no one.
Aadarshini didn’t call me throughout the term break. I got to know everything only after returning to the Campus. I informed Aadarshini that the faculty had contacted me and I told him about malpractices. She confessed that she had only told him about “verbal discussions” and not about the usage of phones and study materials. I would have known that if she had called me. But she didn’t and I didn’t know the details and it was I who officially revealed to the faculty that phones and study materials were used. Great turn of events, isn’t it?
I became the main complainant even without wanting it to be.
To top this revelation, there was another fine detail. Apparently, the faculty hadn’t contacted me randomly. He called me only because Aadarshini had asserted that there were other two individuals who did not cheat in the exam, after refusing to take names of those who actually cheated. I was one among those unfortunate beings.
I wanted to tell my parents everything but I didn’t because then they’ll reprimand me for getting trapped in a matter which wasn’t my problem to start with. I was angry or maybe I still am, at Aadarshini for not calling me during the term break and taking my name in front of the faculty and therefore officially making me a part of this issue.
Soon, it was known to everyone that two individuals apart from Aadarshini had informed the faculty about malpractices and thus everyone inferred that one of them was me considering I defended her in the WhatsApp argument.
On 4th October 2019, the batch decided to visit the faculty and try to convince him that no one cheated. I could not attend the meeting due to some reason. The outcome of the meeting was that we were to re-write the exam and I was happy that everyone agreed and that no one was punished and that it was over. Unfortunately, it was far from over!
Later that evening, two scholars from the batch mailed the faculty informing him about their unwillingness to re-write the exam. The faculty dropped the plan to conduct the re-exam and went quiet for two months, leaving the batch to speculate outcomes. Samar, in agitation, hinted that somehow Aadarshini and I were responsible for this as well.
This was the first false accusation on my head and I was furious.
A series of actions followed for two months spewing hatred and frustration. The batch was divided into three groups: a bigger group consisting of ten members, who believed it was unwise to inform about the malpractice, a smaller group of four members including Aadarshini, Geethika, Nisha and I (Nisha and Geethika had been kind enough to stay with us) and finally two others, who remained confined to their isolated lives.
The bigger group were on a quest to find any chance to get back at us, to take revenge for the atrocities they were subjected to. Wait, let me rephrase that according to my opinion. The bigger group were on a quest to find any chance to get back at us, to take revenge for the atrocities they thought they will be subjected to.
They tried to keep classes on weekends so that we could not go home, they tried to keep information from us regarding classes or exams, tried to keep us away from festive gatherings which was personally tormenting for me, and took every batch decision without involving the four of us. We were being ostracised for standing with Aadarshini.
For a long time, I tried to justify what I did, both in my head and to anyone who would listen but it was no good given the sweet response from my batch. I tried to convince myself that malpractice had happened and if people didn’t want to be punished then they should have just abided by the rules. It was that simple!
But everyone disagreed, they insisted, at no cost the faculty members should know, any such event has occurred. They were resolute to deny any charges and did the same till the end. They said it would affect their lifelong reputation, and I couldn’t take it seriously then. Only later I understood, how seriously the faculty had taken this issue. I hadn’t spoken in the group or to anyone else post the very first virtual conflict. I learned it was best to keep quiet and that enough damage was done.
I knew the majority hated me but I didn’t know what they were saying about me. One person from the larger group surprisingly confided in all the tales of my “manipulation”. The majority thought that I was the mastermind behind this whole fiasco. I planned and coordinated the whole event with Aadarshini. Now, I haven’t heard these things myself but I think, I accidentally gave them enough “evidence (WhatsApp fight)” to perceive the matter this way.
This was the second false accusation on my head.
The title of mastermind affected me. It lingered in the back of my head, constantly nagging. I’m sure I didn’t want their friendship because I’m often happy with just a couple of people around but I guess I didn’t want them to think that I meticulously planned to put a stain on their careers.
After two months, the faculty decided to finally put an end to this situation. He privately called Aadarshini and told her he had an intuition against certain people after correcting the papers. He informed he needed confirmation and asked her to take names. She obliged and accused Sooraj and Dhanvanth.
Aadarshini told me about this the same evening and requested me to keep quiet about it because this time she decided not to let everyone know what she did. I felt guilty keeping her secret so I told my friend from college and my parents. There was no relief though. She had no right to burden my head with her secret.
The faculty convicted three students after the meeting, Sooraj, Dhanvanth, and Samar. While Sooraj and Dhanvanth weren’t surprised, the decision came in as a shock to Samar. He had been representing himself as the most honest person since the beginning of this academic scandal. I could empathize with him since I know how it feels to be accused of doing things you haven’t done, but I couldn’t. I instead felt bad for the other two, only because they had been decent and Samar had been commenting rudely since forever.
Weird isn’t it? The people we choose to be compassionate with.
Three of them were asked to re-write the exam but with an elaborate syllabus and a more difficult question paper. They nearly passed but with immense difficulty.
After writing the exam, Samar had turned into a toy that chants only one word if you put the key in, and here the word was “ethics”. He would pick up on any opportunity he could find and bring in ethics to remind us what had happened to him. It was annoying, to say the least. He wanted people to know that he was falsely accused and convicted. He wanted people to remember it all the time. I feel he kind of sees himself as the unsung hero or the innocent victim. I sometimes think he wants an apology, then shrug the thought away because of his “charming” behavior.
Ethics meant something good, something moral for me before, now it is just a word uttered by Aadarshini on 27th September 2019, which gets everyone riled up.
Soon, I came to know about another thing that I had done according to my batchmates. They had a theory (about who accused whom) they believed, that Aadarshini accused Dhanvanth of cheating, and I had accused Sooraj. I was clueless and affronted by this unwanted theory.
This was the third false accusation.
I confronted Sooraj, and tried to tell him that it wasn’t me. He merely shrugged and smiled the whole time. His gesture was clear even though he wasn’t saying it, “I hear what you are saying, but I don’t trust it one bit”. I tried my best anyway. It was then that he described how difficult the situation had been for them. If the guilt and regret were sand particles before, they were sedimenting into thick heavy rocks now.
Life is wonderful when it bombards you with lessons after you’ve committed the blunder.
He talked about the new angle that the majority had given to this matter. They thought this happened because we were all related to Kerala and they weren’t. They were essentially stereotyping.
I’m not from Kerala but have lived in Kerala for 11 years. My roots lie in Bihar. I was doubtful because I don’t fit into the Kerala category and it is absurd to form judgments based on our backgrounds anyway. Sooraj mildly stated, “are tum bhi to ‘pseudo-Malayali’ ho” which roughly translates to “Hey, even you are a pseudo-Keralite”. I just said I wasn’t whatever he called me. What I felt after hearing this is something I’m still trying to describe.
A condescension.
A hint towards disloyalty for one state and loyalty for another.

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