With parents keeping vigil outside examination centres in riot-hit northeast Delhi, Class 12 students appeared for their physics board exam despite being distressed over the communal violence that gave many of them sleepless nights and interrupted their studies and concentration.
According to the Central Board of Secondary Education, around 98 per cent attendance was recorded in the first board exam held in violence-affected northeast Delhi on Monday.
Many parents stayed put outside the examination centres during the three hours when their wards appeared for the exam. At many centres invigilators counselled students before they started writing the exams, asking them to not "get stressed due to the past week's events" and focus on the paper.
Outside the examination centres, police and paramilitary personnel were deployed which inspired confidence in parents, teachers and students.
Police personnel also gave roses to students outside some centres to wish them good luck before their exam.
Like Priya, a Class XII student who is a resident of Maujpur, many students said their preparations were affected due to the violence.
"I had prepared for the exam but I didn't get sufficient time for revision due to the riot situation. I could not sleep or focus because there was so much fear in the locality," said the student after her physics exam.
Her mother Yogesh accompanied her daughter to the examination centre.
Parents said they had counselled their children to appear for the annual exams and not waste an academic year.
Ekta Yadav, a resident of violence-hit Yamuna Vihar area, said she was tensed while preparing for the exam do to the clashes and as her parents along with her neighbours were guarding the localities.
"The paper was neither difficult nor easy. We had heard reports about stone-pelting and firing in the nearby localities. Fortunately, my locality was safe. But I could hardly focus on preparation because there was always fear," Yadav said.
Had the riots not taken place, Yadav said she would have prepared peacefully.
Another student, Mohammad Aahil, said, "My father's factory in Karawal Nagar was vandalised during the riots on February 25 and when the situation worsened near our home in the same area, we left for a relative's place in Ghaziabad.
"I didn't have my books and somehow studied using the internet. The situation is still tense and we are scared of returning to the area. I do not even have my books for my chemistry exam."
Aahil said they plan to return home only after Holi.
Another class 12 student, Riya Jain, a resident of Maujour, said her coaching centre was closed as teachers at the centre could not come because of safety concerns.
"Even though we had some doubts before the exam, we could not clear them," she said.
Her friend Kanishka Sharma said rioters were sitting right outside their homes and there was fear that they could be attacked.
Shoaib, a resident of Karawal Nagar, said, "Stones were being pelted on houses in the area, vehicles were being torched while my parents motivated me to concentrate on preparing for exams. I have had sleepless nights in the last few days because of fear".
Rohan Arya, a resident of Maujpur, said, "Physics and Maths are tough subjects and due to riots I could not go for my tuitions in Karawal Nagar".
Students also said that during the first two days of the violence, they could hardly concentrate on studies as gunshots and loud threats were ringing out in their localities.
Mohammad Izrish, whose son is appearing for Class XII exams and daughter for Class X exams, said his children were traumatised after seeing rioters roaming in their locality in Bhagirath Vihar with sticks, swords and guns.
"One of my daughters lost consciousness after seeing the scene and due to the fragile emotional state of my children, I shifted to Nehru Vihar to my brother's place. We returned when the situation calmed down but went back to Nehru Vihar after it seemed that the situation could again turn tense," he said.
Seema Gupta, head of Gyandeep Vidya Bhawan school which was one of the exam centres, said 22 students did not turn up for the exam.
"However, we received information about one student that he had left for his village from Mustafabad due to riots. We do not have any information about the other students. Some of them are also private students," she said.
Gupta said they called up their school's students and assured them of all the help. The school authorities said that if their uniforms had been burnt in the arson, they need not worry as they would be allowed entry in casual clothes in the respective exam centres.
Farooq Nawab of Victoria Public School said, "Out of 121 students who were to appear for Boards, 120 were present. The one student who did not appear had also not taken the practicals."
Sudesh Sharma, a teacher at Hindon Public School in Harsh Vihar, said his daughter appeared at Victoria Public School and when violence broke out in Maujpur, he was present there.
"Stone pelting had started near Maujpur Chowk and we thought students would not be safe. I helped at least 20 students in reaching their homes. At that time violence had not spread to inner lanes of Maujpur and through the lanes, we walked almost eight kilometres to Loni border from where we took a tempo to Harsh Vihar," he said.
After the students were rescued, two school buses were torched and stones were pelted at the school building.
At Hindon Public School, which is one of the exam centres, 23 students were absent during the exam on Monday.