It’s our collective systemic failure which even in its expression of addressing the concern reflects a lynch mentality.


In another major embarrassment to the honourable chief minister of Bihar, Nitish Kumar, Ruby Rai – a girl from the state and formerly its Class 12 “topper” – has emerged as an icon of the state government’s failure. This time it is on another crucial front – education.

During the campaign for Nitish ji last year, among many other things, I spearheaded the “Bicycle Campaign” led by a group of women cyclists in Patna.

These women were mostly the beneficiaries of Nitishji’s scheme and used the same bicycles that he gifted them to do door-to-door campaign for him.

I had seen a generation of my own neighbourhood friends in village not go to school because it was far off and thus was not safe for women to travel.

I only wished they could continue because with time, I lost most of them – to marriages. They were married off and had kids in a year or two. With little to talk in common, we drifted.

So, when Nitishji started the Mukhyamantri Balika Cycle Yojana in Bihar, I was supremely happy. Bicycle for millions of Bihari girls became a symbol of pride, freedom and an instrument to succeed in life.

Riding on it, confidently whizzing past the aaris (gaps between fields), girls had started going to school. I smiled each time I saw girls on the bicycle thinking they were symbolic of a generation set free.

But today, when I see Ruby Rai reduced to a joke on mainstream and social media, I feel pained. I feel sorry for a “system” that could not keep up.

Are we being fair to Ruby?

I feel embarrassed at our collective failure, which even in its expression of addressing the concern, reflects a lynch mentality.

I cannot see Ruby at fault when she said yesterday, “I merely wanted to pass, not to top.”

I do not see her as the culprit for she is a victim. And I cannot see her character being lynched so brazenly for she must already be so embarrassed and so singled out that I fear Ruby will lose her mind.

I share the same sociocultural reality as her. I am a Bihari woman who has lived a major part of my life in rural Bihar. So, I know how much agency she would have had earlier in deciding her fate. I also know what she must have been going through now after being reduced to a “fake” in the eyes of the world she comes from.

When one of my distant buas sang beautiful Sanskrit shlokas in front of my newly-wed mother, my mother requested her father to send her to school for formal education.

Also read – With such rotten education, Bihar toppers’ ignorance expected

My grandfather refused flatly and said, “Ekra padh likh ke commissioner bane la to he na. Baad me chulha hi foonktai. Bas chitthi patri bhar seekh jaaye, bahut hai. (She does not need to be a commissioner. Ultimately she has to cook and clean. She should have basic literacy to be able to read and write letters).”

This story did not end with that generation. My own friends from village did not study much. Not because they could not but because they were not allowed to.

In the age of a changed marriage market scenario now, mere housework was not guarantee of a “suitable” marital alliance. Now grooms demanded education certificates or “degrees”.

However, acquiring degrees and gaining real education do not fit the order of the day in a highly casteist and patriarchal society of Bihar.

Besides, girl education is meant to serve either of the twin purposes in my state – get any kind of government job and/or marry another government employee. There is no reason why a procured degree cannot fulfil this purpose.

In perfect collusion with the local administration, degrees have been churned at fixed rates with proper seal and signatures from education officials in the state.

In this context, are we being fair to Ruby?

Is it fair to single her out and point solitary fingers at her? Is it justified that those who are operating this “system” enjoy the daily dose of sarcasm and laughter at her expense?

Does Nitishji know how many Shiksha Mitras in Bihar who teach these students have genuine degrees? Does his education department know which universities in Bihar do not furnish illegal degrees?

Does Bihar administration not know the authenticity of the degree, before appointing employees in its system at lower levels?

The answers are all in affirmative. And sadly, that is where the problem is.

Bihar suffers from an epidemic of cheating to get on with education. Knowledge has gradually slipped away from the priority list of our system.

From a state which has one of the highest rates of teachers’ absenteeism cases, what is the incentive of the students to come to school? How is Ruby responsible for knowing what to write on Tulsidas then?

Even if Ruby is punished and penalised, what do we achieve? Does her punishment prove a point about a brilliant system in Bihar? Does it absolve us of a collective sin?

Does it break the nexus between the system and the subject? And most importantly, does it assure that girls will be allowed to go out and study?

It is ironic that in the noise and din to “nab the culprit” in haste, symbolic lives have been butchered while the system stays on unrepentant.