Sunday, February 25, 2007

[Malaysia] Ragging 'a way of life in military'

KUALA LUMPUR: Ragging is banned at military training camps. In practice, there is unofficial ragging of cadets to build their discipline and character.

While ragging does not officially exist at such institutions, it is carried out with the tacit acceptance of the authorities who see no harm in something that can help in the long run.

Most military personnel, in fact, believe it is can instil esprit de corps in cadets.

Senior armed forces personnel interviewed by the New Straits Times, who insisted on anonymity, concurred that ragging was a way of life in military training.

They were, however, equally in agreement that what happened to Royal Malaysian Air Force trainee Muhammad Hazim Ahmad Azman at the hands of a group of senior cadets at the Tanah Merah camp in Jitra was excessive.

Hazim was said to have been put through mental and physical abuse following a misunderstanding.

He was allegedly slapped, kicked, punched, stepped on and made to crawl on his knuckles as part of the torture.

He was also beaten with broom sticks and boots and forced to drink jugs of water until he vomited.

The seniors also allegedly forced him to eat nasi lemak mixed with grass, dunked him in sewage, forced him to gargle and wash his face in sewage and drink urine.

A fellow cadet, who could not stand seeing Hazim being put through the ordeal, recorded the incident with his camera phone and exposed it.

All officers interviewed agreed that ragging existed in military camps, although on a scale which did not come close to what Hazim went through.

One officer said he went through ragging from his seniors during his training.

"It’s normal. It makes us tough. How can we train soldiers to be tough if it does not happen?

"Yes, what the air force trainee was said to have gone through was a little extreme, but I wonder what he did to deserve it. Usually, ragging is done to a group and no one is singled out," said the officer.

It was the same with other military personnel interviewed.

All professed the character-building aspect of ragging and expressed concerns as to why Hazim had been singled out.

They all said ragging was done to groups of cadets and not individuals.

Another officer said: "For instance, if a cadet does something wrong, his seniors will rag his entire squad as a form of punishment. This is to teach camaraderie and teamwork. In war, the mistake of one person can be fatal to all the members of a squad, platoon or even the entire regiment.

"The fact that Hazim was singled out for ragging is unusual. Maybe he was a ‘hardcore’ case.

"Don’t be mistaken, I believe his treatment was too harsh. What I’m saying is, maybe, he is not totally blameless."

Yet another officer said what was done in training camps was not ragging but punishment to teach discipline to cadets.

"Military life is all about discipline and working as a team with fellow soldiers. Without these two things, you and those around you will fail.

"Cadets are punished for the smallest things because even the smallest mistakes can cost someone his life," he said.

However, this officer, too, agreed that what had been done to Hazim was out of the ordinary.

A senior officer attached to the Defence Ministry said ragging as a form of instilling discipline and esprit de corps in trainees was normal in training camps.

"It’s the military way of life. However, it is not practised in schools such as the Royal Military College, because although RMC is under the armed forces, it is still just a school and not the military," said the officer.

As many as 15 senior cadets of the camp are being investigated by the police and the RMAF for allegedly abusing Hazim.

Police will decide whether to take them to court while the RMAF, which has set up a board of inquiry, will decide whether to suspend or expel any of the cadets.

The board of inquiry is expected to take two weeks to complete its investigations.

RMAF chief Jen Datuk Seri Azizan Ariffin has spoken out against the treatment of Hazim.

Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak, who is also Defence Minister, said what the seniors did was despicable and unforgivable.

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