Saturday, May 19, 2007

[Hindu] The wrong rite of passage

A form of torture, which can cause severe emotional and physical damage, ragging enjoys the surprising status of a rite of passage. This dubious initiation ritual continues to be practised despite the ban slapped on it in 2001. While six States have enacted anti-ragging laws, there have been very few cases registered under them. The Supreme Court's order, which recognises that mere prohibition is not enough, places severe curbs on ragging by adopting a totally new approach. Preventing or taking action against the practice will now be the collective responsibility of the educational institution and no longer the lonely burden of the victim and his family. Institutions have been directed to file cases with the police whenever ragging incidents come to light; failure or delay on the part of the authorities to do so "would make them liable for culpable negligence." Concerned about maintaining their reputations, educational institutions often prefer to sweep ragging incidents under the carpet. The broad thrust of the court order is to make such institutions and those who manage them fully accountable for any such incidents.

The slew of directions issued by the Supreme Court is based substantially on the recommendations of the committee headed by R.K. Raghavan, former Director of the CBI. Appointed under the mandate of the court, the committee has devised a comprehensive methodology to tackle the ragging menace — one that involves educational institutions, the media, civil society, and government authorities at different levels. At the heart of this approach is the setting up of anti-ragging squads, anti-ragging committees, mentoring cells, and monitoring cells at the levels of institutions, the district, the State and the Centre. As the Raghavan committee has rightly observed, "without the active involvement of the multitude of bodies and authorities, a continuous vigil cannot be maintained." Some of the committee's far-reaching recommendations — to make ragging a specific offence under the Indian Penal Code and to amend the Indian Evidence Act to shift the burden of proof from victim to perpetrator — will require the approval of Parliament. Those who defend ragging as a fun activity that promotes a feeling of togetherness should take note of the alarming statistics about the initiation ritual. According to the Coalition to Uproot Ragging from Education, of the 61 reported cases of ragging in colleges since 2005, 11 led to the death of the victim, ten provoked suicide attempts, 12 caused mental problems, and five ended with the victim leaving the institution. Such figures roundly disprove the idea that ragging is just a harmless icebreaker between seniors and freshers.

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