As the new academic year commences, thousands of freshers enter colleges with dreams of a carefree life, a life stripped of uniforms and rules. For most of us, our college years are synonymous with the best days of our life, but for some, the picture is not quite as rosy. Each year, the newspapers are overflowing with reports of ragging instances in educational institutions; some of them stretched to the extremes of the victims going into depression or worse, committing suicide. Ragging is a very strong psychological phenomenon which grips both the victim and the perpetrator; and the perpetrators in these cases are mostly everyday students—some of them even belonging to the ‘cream of the class’ category. Then, what is it that prompts a regular student to humiliate another, in the name of ‘breaking ice’?
Ragging Scene in India
In the land of Gandhi and gadhigiri, ragging has been misconstrued like nothing else. Forbearance must come with forgiveness, not out of helplessness. Ragging has long been a part of our culture, the rulers ragging the subjects, the zamindars ragging the peasants, the British ragging the Indians, the ‘upper-caste’ ragging the ‘lower-caste’; the instances are innumerable. It’s exactly this culture that has made its way into our educational institutions and translated itself into heinous crimes that bullies posed as students commit towards their fellow students. When the entire country is fighting for reservations and quotas for the backward class, if a bunch of ‘upper-caste’ medical students at AIIMS get together and say “Yeh chamar log kya karenge”, then it’s not too difficult to see where the perpetrators come from.
One major problem with ragging is that there is a very fine line that separates harmless teasing that might lead to ‘breaking the ice’, to brutal orders that scar the victim, emotionally and sometimes physically. Ragging tasks can range from proposing marriage to a senior girl you’ve met for the first time, to abusing strangers on the road, making love to a tree, describing your parents copulating, stripping in front of a group of people, and even carrying imprints of your private parts as identity proofs.
The Supreme Court passed an order in May 2001, banning ragging of all kinds, in educational institutions and instructed hat all institutions (no exceptions) should have an anti-ragging squad to protect the interests of students. But, even after the law, India has been witness to 20 reported deaths, due to ragging; mostly suicides, but some were alleged murders. Of course there are others who go unreported for various reasons, those who live in lifelong suffering, and those who are forced to pull out of their dream course or dream college due to the same fear. Suicide is the ultimate escape mechanism, according to Rohit Kaler. Kaler, of stopragging.com, an NGO that runs a strong anti-ragging campaign, recalls his days as an engineering student at the Kumaon Engineering College (KEC), where he spent the first few months of his college life. Kaler talks of students whose parents tell them that ragging is something that happens to every student and running away is not the way to deal with it. Kaler recalls an incident where a student called up his parents and begged for permission to come back home. “I can’t tell you what I’m going through,” he said, and his parents didn’t understand that he was undergoing sexual abuse. They asked him to put up with it and not be a sissy. The student committed suicide soon after.
A landmark case in the ragging history of the country was of Amit Kumar, a first year student at Jalandhar-based B R Ambedkar National Institute of Technology (NIT), who committed suicide by throwing himself in front of a train, but not before leaving a suicide note naming ten of his seniors responsible for his death. After going through immense physical and mental torture himself, Kaler dropped out of KEC, appeared for the IIT-JEE and got through IIT Kanpur. But the pain is still fresh as he chooses the anti-ragging campaign over the cushy IITian route to big bucks.
Psychology of a perpetrator and a victim
Ragging is closely linked with masculinity. “Ragging nahi hogi to mard kaise banoge,” seems to be a constant refrain among many people, some of which even include parents. So the idea behind ragging is to make you a ‘man’, ready to take on the world, once you’re out of college. And in women’s colleges, the ‘noble’ intention is to prepare you for a male-dominated world. “We are oppressing you because you will be oppressed by men anyway” is the underlying philosophy.
In fact there have been incidents when the accused were brought in front of the principal and the authorities were shocked to find that the perpetrators were some of the best students they had. So, what prompts them to dive to such depths? Seniors get ‘power kicks’ from making slaves out of their juniors—the sense of power at 19-20 when you have a person completely at you beck and call, can sometimes destroy your rationale.
Freshers, who are only too eager to please their seniors, make friends and fit into their new surroundings, stop rationalising and mindlessly obey the bullies. And then it gets to a point where it’s too late to back out, and things go out of hand. No one can really decide what kind of ragging is harmless and when it really crosses the line, which is why anti-ragging campaigns are against all kinds, even the ones that might sound like fun.
Many victims even shy away from sharing their experiences with people, or reporting ragging incidents to police, sometimes even in extreme cases. Complaining is usually the last option. The public opinion turns against you. If you rat on someone, you’ve turned a whole batch of seniors against you, sometimes even your own batchmates desert you, you’re ostracised and stuck with the ‘snitch’ tag. It’s also believed that once the ragging session is over you become great friends with your seniors, and if you resist ragging, then effectively you’re coming in the way of a long-lasting friendship. Seniors also tell freshers that it is they who will be helping them through their college life with notes and any other form of support they might need, which makes the freshers a little apprehensive about antagonizing them.
Some people feel that ragging is more a social evil than a crime and that it’s necessary to spread awareness about ragging to curb it. Ragging victims are often picked at based on caste, religion and regional differences. It so happens that the victims who survive ragging sessions without going to extreme steps like dropping out or taking their lives, often become immune, so much so that they become part of the same system. Victims become perpetrators. Victims are often told that college ragging prepares them for the outside world and the harassment at workplace but any experienced person would know that no such ragging incidents take place in work spaces.
Laws Governing Ragging
Funnily enough, the anti-ragging laws are very strict in our country. Maybe they’re not implemented for the same reasons. For example, if a senior calls you to his room and locks the door, it’s a criminal offence. Wrongful confinement alone is punishable upto three months in jail; and then there are obscenity laws. In fact every form of ragging is covered under the IPC, but the May 2001 order states that any instance of ragging must be solved by the college authorities and that police can intervene only with the permission of the college authorities. The Supreme Court also appointed a committee to curb this ongoing menace. The committee headed by R K Raghavan, former Director, CBI, put forth many suggestions, one of them being that in a case of ragging, the onus should be on the defendant to prove his innocence instead of the victim. The 2007 Supreme Court order has overruled this suggestion. Though there are strict anti-ragging laws in about 9-10 states, the menace is still as prevalent as it was earlier. Tamilnadu, one of the badly affected states, was the first to ban ragging on its campuses, and has successfully managed to curb it to a great extent.
Judgements so far and the authorities’ attitude towards ragging complaints
Though there have been many arrests and suspensions, ragging victims are still bereft of justice. This may also be due to the callous attitude of the authorities. Most people seem to think that ragging is the done thing in colleges and you are a sissy if you can’t live with it. It doesn’t really help matters that out of every fifty people who are ragged only one or two go to detectable extremes. These people are usually termed ‘depressed’ and academically weak and unable to cope with the pressures of college life. Very little investigation goes into their deaths because the college authorities also like to keep it hushed.
Ragging takes place because boys and girls are experiencing bodily changes and grappling with growing up pressures. One of the reasons cited for ragging is the boys and girls exclusion in most hostels. Two institutions which have managed to rein in ragging to the greatest extent are IIT Kanpur (IIT-K) and Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU); and this could primarily be because girls and boys are allowed to mingle freely. Another mechanism deployed by IIT-K is the counsellor system that’s adopted in a lot of western countries. Every academic year, a committee of counsellors, consisting of students, is constituted and put in charge of guiding the freshers. Each fresher is assigned to a counsellor who becomes your friend/ philosopher and guide. Many believe that the bond resulting from this counsellor system is sometimes deeper than the one supposed to result out of ragging sessions. Spreading awareness about ragging and its ill effects could also go a long way in bringing about an attitudinal change in the minds of students and authorities. Only if we, as a society, look down upon ragging, will we ever be able to curb this menace.