Thursday, July 20, 2006

[CNN-IBN] Ragging: The scandal in schools

Link to Report

New Delhi:
The ragging Deepak Sharma suffered when he was at school in DPS R K Puram wasn’t funny. “I remember how horrible it was. My friend and I were taken to a room which was locked from inside. There we were told to pick up an egg with our buttocks. When my friend refused to obey, red chilli flakes were shoved into his bottom. I was horrified and did what they said,” says Deepak.

Ragging in schools, like in colleges, is supposed to be fun. You are supposed to take it in your stride and emerge a winner. But unlike college students, school children are more vulnerable and may suffer emotional damage due to ragging.

In colleges, new students come at the start of a session and enjoy the safety of being a group. That’s not the case in schools. New students, particularly those in hostels, are alone and as a result may have to face the wrath of seniors alone.

A game called ‘magical undies’ at Deepak’s hostel involved forcing five boys to strip and making them compete for four coins lying on the ground. “Only boys who get hold of a coin, got their clothes back,” says Deepak.

Another game involved asking freshers in the hostel to dance in their underwear. “All freshers had to dress up like tribals with leaves attached to their underwear and give a two-hour dance performance,” says Deepak.

Even matrons and wardens are harassed. “They are not spared either,” Deepak. “We used to mix salt in their food, spit in their drinking water and do other pranks. A new warden used to create fuss over small things. So, one day when he came to our room ordering us to go to bed, the lights suddenly went off. We knew we had fifteen minutes at least, so we grabbed a blanket, put it over him, beat him up and disappeared to our respective rooms. The warden couldn’t tell who all were involved and a few days later he resigned.”

Freshers are supposed to wash seniors’ clothes, do their homework and clean up their rooms. They are supposed to do these ‘mild’ activities for four to five months and maybe even till the end of the term.

These incidents may sound funny, but not for students who have to suffer them every day. According to psychologist Samir Parikh, anything against somebody’s consent is unacceptable. “Something as trivial as standing on a table and dancing can be traumatic for some, because each person is different. The whole idea of fun is that the participants enjoy it. But if they don’t, they shouldn’t be forced for it,” he says.

Seniors have their own side of the story. “Ragging is a friendly affair. When I was ragged, I was told to get my seniors eatables from the market, to clean up their rooms, to fetch water and stuff like that,” says Class XII hosteller Akhil Kumar.

And as a senior now, how would he greet freshers? “We only want to take their introduction,” says Akhil.

Neeraj Arora, a former student of Modern School, Barakhamba, says the ragging at his hostel was fun. “On Holi, we used to splash water and colour on the ground and drag the boys over it. We made them do ball room dances together.”

Teachers admit the problem is severe. “Many times, ragging extends to sexual abuse,” says Pragya Seth, a teacher in a south-Delhi residential school, who has often heard complaints from students.

“I have been told of incidents where seniors ask for body massages. Freshers are asked to hold their private parts. Girls were asked to flirt and attract boys’ attention,” she sys.

Principals say strict rules and vigil prevents ragging. Suraj Prakash, Principal, CRPF school says, “We’ve got a system where older students take care of the juniors. Of course, a little bit of bullying is inevitable; after all it’s human nature. But we try to restrict it as much as possible.”

DPS Mathura Road has separated the hostels for Classes XI and XII to prevent ragging. “The wardens are responsible for strict 24-hour monitoring and there is no scope of ragging. There have been no complaints at all,” says principal M I Husain.

Lata Vaidyanathan, principal of Modern School, Barakhamba, admits ragging is becoming a concern for schools. “It would be incorrect to say that nothing happens. Ragging can be fun but we need to prevent emotional and physical hurt,” she says.

Vaidyanathan suggests some structural changes in boarding schools, like placing hidden cameras in rooms and corridors and asking the matrons to go for surprise check ups at nights. “But most importantly, we need to do continuous persuasive counselling with students. Busy schedules so as to tire them in a healthy way will also help.”

Vaidyanathan maintains that though students do come up with complaints, there hasn’t been anything too serious yet. “Sometimes, for a child coming from a very protected environment, even small things are hurtful,” she explains.

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