Wednesday 17th Sep 2014
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THE GHOST OF RAGGING
Breaking the ice or breaking the bones and nerves?

Cover Story

KHAN YASIR, himself a brilliant student of a prominent college in Delhi, suggests measures to put an end to the reprehensible practice of ragging in our educational institutions.

Aman Kachroo, 19, is yet another victim of ragging. The DPS international pass-out, who recently got admitted to a medical school in Himachal Pradesh, was brutally murdered by his drunk-seniors on March 6. Various wrongs come to the fore when we try to analyse this ghastly incident.
First, there is no provision of ensuring an alcohol-free hostel atmosphere or even so-called prevention of minors drinking despite several laws to that effect. Second, the boy had been a victim of ragging for a long time; still faculty and college authorities looked the other way. Third and most criminal is the fact that though this tragic event took place, college authorities did try to hush up the matter as a petty suicide case. Fourth, and the most ironic one is that the cheerful, all loving, intelligent, accommodating and brave boy, who suffered the pains of ragging patiently for a long time, met this heart-rending end even when he trusted and complained to the authorities concerned about what he was suffering.
Has Aman met any exceptional fate? No! Ragging is a phenomenon harassing the budding youth in educational institutions throughout the nation. How ironic it is that youngsters seek admission in colleges with lots of dreams and enthusiasm only to be shattered later on the altar of ragging or what they call ice breaking sessions.
Earlier on February 27 a girl studying in College of Agricultural Studies (Guntur, Andhra Pradesh) attempted suicide after being forced to perform nude-dance by her seniors. In her suicide note she has also revealed that she was ragged constantly. For example, on one earlier occasion she was forced to stand on one leg in a bucket full of water. Another order was measuring the length and breadth of the room with a matchstick. 
Ragging literally means ‘to tease’. In common parlance it is used to describe active, systematical human rights abuses committed by ‘seniors’ upon ‘freshers’. The duration of this traumatic period of ragging ‘officially’ ends with the celebration of the ‘freshers party’, but they are totally relieved only after the next batch of ill-fated victims would set their feet on college and hostel premises. If juniors dare protest ragging or complain against it, the least punishment they get (if they are so fortunate) for this crime is that they are ostracised from the college fraternity or else they have to endure an extreme kind of violence leading to death or suicide. Severest form of ragging is enacted in engineering, medical and military colleges.
Sujit Saraf in his article “A Ragging Tale” in Indian Currents has narrated his own encounter with ragging which is besides being interesting an eye-opener too; as most of the people do not share such ‘secrets’ even in their later life. He writes, “I went to IIT Delhi in the fall of 1987... When I arrived at my hostel inside the IIT campus, I found a notice posted in the lobby, saying ‘ragging is banned in the institute’... I entered the hostel, was given my room and transferred my luggage into it. I was on my knees ten minutes later with a leash around my neck, announcing my name at the top of my voice... we did many things in that one month... we stood on benches in the dining hall and recited the national anthem, we crawled on all fours and barked like dogs, we marched backwards in unison, we wore our clothes inside out, we ran errands for our seniors, we brought them cigarettes and Campa Cola, we cleaned their rooms... we did push-ups in the street, we barked and shouted and whispered and lived our lives according to the prescriptions of boys barely a year older than us”.
Was this enough? Surely not. Sujit has his share of ‘classified’ portions as well as he honestly writes in one sentence as, “finally, we dropped our trousers, standing naked... doing things that are unprintable”.
 
ARGUMENTS
Like every bad thing, ragging has its supporters and perpetuators. Their arguments, however ludicrous, are worth mentioning as they are widely spread and have been most important factor in sustenance of the evil called ragging. Nearly all such arguments, even farfetched, are summarised as below:
Ragging helps freshers making intimate contacts with their seniors and getting acquainted with the new environment. It is necessary for ‘breaking the ice’.
It helps freshers in boosting their self confidence.
It helps them to break out from their shells and inhibitions.
It teaches ‘humility’ and prepares ‘bachchaas’ to face the real world ahead.
It has proved effectual in ‘shaping up’ unruly juniors.
Do I need to enlist its disasters as well? They are thousands. Let me pick a few, randomly:
Ragging takes place under an environment of extreme fear and tension.
It often involves emotional, sexual and physical harassment.
Unlike the claim of breaking the ice and interacting and establishing relations, it often creates in minds a type of persistent hatred for seniors that at least lives on till the next batch of juniors arrives in the college. In a number of cases, as psychiatrists would argue, this hatred proves permanent.
The victim loses all self respect that had been cultivated over the years in a blinking span as he is forced to do something he would never dream of doing in normal circumstances.
Due to ragging many freshers suffer from stress and trauma and may thereafter continue to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorders.
Many leave their institutions, some commit suicide... and at least a few are murdered...
 
ORIGIN OF RAGGING
In fact the excuses to defend this ‘tradition’ are lame and unfounded. There have been no cases of ragging and all such stuff in our traditional educational institutions. As far as madrasas are concerned, I see the respect and reverence and care with which the juniors or newcomers are greeted. Then whose ‘tradition’ is it?
Let no one be astonished that it is another fruit of blind emulation of the so-called developed, cultured and civilised west. The worst part of in this aping-western-culture-phenomenon is that we do not even hesitate to adopt the things which the west tried and rejected for their follies and disasters long ago. For example, we are still persisting with population control programmes while many western countries are giving incentives for producing more and more children, because these population control programmes have marked negative growth rates and thrown their population on the path of extinction.
Ragging is actually a practice derived from ‘hazing’ and ‘fagging’. “In English public schools,” writes Amit George, “fagging was a system under which a junior boy performed certain duties for a senior generally with the full approval of the authorities.”
The more reprehensible version of this seemingly innocuous fagging was inspired from hazing – a practice that originated in US. It was a “ritualistic harassment, abuse or humiliation with requirement to perform meaningless tasks.”
These are the definitions just like the definition of ragging being an ‘interaction’ or ‘ice breaking’. Then what could be the real situation on the ground is imaginable. At least it was so fatal that led to its outlawing and gradual banning. We could not even ape properly. What a shame!
Truly speaking, ragging – often explained as a tradition or ‘teaching harsh realities of life’ – gives seniors an unfair opportunity to abuse and exploit the freshers and derive sadistic pleasure. The myth of teaching harsh realities of life too is amazing; it connotes that what nonsensical and preposterous excuses people could come up with to defend a gruesome crime against humanity. Splintering all the (il)logic behind this ‘thesis’, Sujit Saraf writes, “I have never found any use for the education my seniors so generously imparted to me. I was called upon to suffer humiliation in silence, bark like a dog to break the ice between my peers, managers or subordinates, or insult my co-workers to gain their confidence.”
 
THE WAY OUT
Several laws and legislations have been enacted but the apparition of ragging is still haunting the educational institutions in India. The most astonishing fact is that ragging in educational institutions exists only in India and Sri Lanka (A Fight against the Evil, Indian Currents – 3 September 2006). Talking specifically of India, in 1997 Tamil Nadu – one of the worst affected states – was the first state to pass legislation against ragging. In a landmark decision, the Supreme Court verdict in its response to PIL (Public Interest Litigation) filed by Vishwa Jagriti Mission in August 2001 banned ragging.
Most colleges and educational institutions across the country since then have proscribed the ragging on paper, defined anti-ragging policies, formed grievance-cells and mentioned all this in prospectus and admission forms. At least one can easily spot undersized nameplate type notice boards that would read, “Ragging is prohibited in the institution.” Albeit, ragging is persisting and every now and then media reports some or the other poor victim of this appalling amusement. Why? The answer may not be that simple. As we have seen that ragging is derived from the criminal practices of the fagging and hazing from the west, there is a need to ostracise the very thought that keeps modernity and westernisation on a single pedestal. Our educational institutions from the primary level must educate the pupils that western technology could be (and should) be followed, nay developed upon, but their abominable and vulgar culture is not worth a single thought as adopting and aping it is a distant matter. Chapters on the ills of ragging must be included in the text books.
Ragging takes place because of a mindset that ‘we’ were victimised then why, when we have ‘evolved’ into seniors and are ‘authorised’ to victimise others, should refrain from doing so? This mentality needs to be changed. The Prophet’s saying that, ‘love for your brother what you love for yourself’, must be our guiding principle. And even after being a victim of this ‘tradition’ ourselves we must vow not to inflict the agony on our juniors that we got through under duress. This will help a lot in putting an end to this horrible chapter in the history of Indian education. Otherwise we too will be accountable for perpetuating this inhuman practice.
The recommendations made by the Raghavan Committee appointed by the Supreme Court are adequate enough to wipe out this menace if only implemented sincerely. But the reluctance of the teachers and authorities in getting rid of this nuisance is lamentable. Anti-ragging cells – it seems are more interested in patching and hushing up the incidents and preventing them from becoming ‘cases’. This phenomenon is needed to be changed if the ghost of ragging has to be knocked out. The perpetrators are needed to be punished severely at the earliest. Special measures and vigilance must be taken for hostels where the juniors are most vulnerable and all at the mercy of their seniors.
Someone has said that boycott or extermination of any tradition is impossible unless and until alternatives are provided with. Well! In lieu of ragging a constructive interaction between seniors and juniors in full view of the teachers can be arranged to break the ice on first day of the college.
Unlike seasonal opposition to ragging (when one victim loses his/her life at the beginning of an academic year), ragging in all its forms must be vehemently condemned until it is exterminated root and branch. Current rules and regulations (much worse their implementation) have proved useless and ineffective in tackling the menace. And so there is a need not only of making stringent laws but also implementing them in letter and spirit. Government and college administrations must be more vigilant and proactive in this respect.
The primary and foremost cause for such incidents occurring at regular intervals in our educational institutions is the dichotomy between formal education and morality and ethics. This loophole in our educational system is the root cause of all the evils in our society right from corruption to redtapism and from bribery to scams. The perpetrators in all the reported cases must be severely punished so that in future it might act as a deterrent and ‘seniors’ never dare do such an act. Also there ought to be a provision that the students that have complained about being ragged by their seniors should be provided with enough security and assurances that victims may not hesitate in trusting the authorities in future.


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