Saturday, May 19, 2007

[DailyExcelsior] Deeper social causes

By Aarti

It has a large higher education sector — the third largest in the world in student numbers, after China and the United States. Barring a few exceptions, many of our colleges and universities have grown into massive, under-funded and ungovernable institutions. On one hand at many of them, politics has intruded into campus life, influencing academic appointments and decisions across levels. The cause for concern is that campus violence in the country is assuming dangerous proportions. At times it makes one ponder if our colleges and universities are turning out to be the best refuge of criminal elements?

Some recent incidents of violence on our campuses portrayed below are not only disturbing but clearly depict symptoms of a deeper malaise.

This 27 April, students protesting the killing of a final year petroleum engineering student went on a rampage at the Aligarh Muslim University. Paramilitary forces had to be deployed on the campus to bring about normalcy.

An undergraduate engineering student in Hyderabad was injured on 22 April this year, when one of his seniors allegedly fired on him inside the college premises. According to eyewitnesses, as students were collecting hall tickets for the examinations, the senior suddenly brandished his revolver and fired six to seven rounds. This shows how the gun culture has permeated into student life.

A minor altercation between some students of Arts and Social Science faculties during a cultural programme on the Banaras Hindu University (BHU) campus last December, culminated in ransacking of public property and destruction of motor vehicles.

Violence on the Bengal Engineering and Science University campus in Kolkata last August claimed the life of a third-year student. What began as a minor misunderstanding amongst two rival students' union led to the deceased falling off the second floor of the hostel.

Denial of readmission to some students at the Jamia Milia Islamia whom the varsity officials had identified as 'known trouble makers' and rusticated by the previous Vice-Chancellor ended with several students unleashing violence destroying property and vehicles last June.

Last February, Cochin University of Science and Technology, Kochi witnessed violent clashes. A combination of factors including differences among employee and student organisations besides brutality unleashed by groups from outside the campus had shattered the peaceful atmosphere.

The menace of ragging is another important issue that seems to end in violence on the campuses. It is believed that as early as 7th century A.D, in Greece, new entrants to the sport community were subjected to all kinds of humiliations and teasing to inculcate a team spirit in them. With several modifications, such teasing became nasty with the first ragging related death reported in 1873 when a freshman from Cornell University fell into a gorge as a consequence of ragging.

Even though the forms of ragging may vary, generally it tends to create an environment of persistent fear. It is not uncommon for a fresher to be forced into performing petty work for seniors, like doing their academic assignments, cleaning their rooms, fetching them food or attend to some daily necessities. Ragging, instead of serving as an interactive session between the seniors' and the juniors', at times, reaches monstrous proportions.

According to a recent report "Ragging in India", compiled by Coalition to Uproot Ragging from Education (CURE), ragging is not 'harmless fun' as perceived by many people. That close to 25 cases of suicide have been reported due to ragging in the last seven years depicts the gravity of the situation. Severe ragging is widespread in colleges where students stay in hostels, more so in professional institutions like engineering and medical colleges where on account of ragging; a fresher is totally at the mercy of seniors with no support from family and friends.

A Supreme Court judgment in 2001 banning ragging defined it as any disorderly conduct whether by words spoken or written or by an act which the effect of teasing, treating or handling with rudeness any other student. This includes indulging in rowdy or in-disciplined activities which causes or is likely to cause annoyance, hardship or psychological harm or to raise fear or apprehension thereof in a fresher or a junior student or asking the students to do any act or perform something which such student will not do in the ordinary course and which has the effect of causing or generating a sense of shame or embarrassment so as to adversely affect the physique or psyche of a fresher or a junior student.

Following the ban, it is possible that many educational institutions across the country may play down incidents of ragging to save themselves from embarrassment besides prevent the institution's reputation from getting tarnished.

Another CURE study has revealed that between January 2005 and December 2006, as many as 64 cases of ragging were reported by leading newspapers and news channels. 61 reported cases were from colleges and three from schools. Of the 51 colleges identified where ragging took place, 18 were engineering institutions, 9 medical colleges, 5 polytechnics and 19 from architecture colleges. Notably, the kind of ragging that students were subjected to was ascertained only in 41 cases. If 11 deaths took place due to ragging, another 10 attempted suicide and 23 were injured.

A recent survey by Lucknow University's Social Work department concluded that over 80 per cent students were ragged in hostels and 70 per cent found the varsity unsafe due to ragging and abusive behaviour of the seniors. Around 93 per cent students felt that during initial period of an academic session, when ragging is normally reported, special guidelines for striking a rapport between the seniors and the juniors would be of help.

Under directions from the Supreme Court, the anti-Ragging Committee constituted by the Union Ministry of Human Resource Development headed by former CBI director RK Raghavan is to submit its report to the apex court this 15 May.

The HRD Ministry has also suggested that different universities, colleges and educational institutions form anti-ragging committees comprising of representatives from the student community, guardians, parents and teachers.

It needs to be realised that recurring incidents of violence on centres of learning not only affects the academic calendar but can create avoidable fear psychosis amongst students. This can also have long term repercussions. Steps in the right earnest to uproot violence in college campuses merit consideration.

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