Wednesday, May 23, 2007

UCAN: High court ruling on hazing will benefit suffering students, bishops say

NEW DELHI, India (UCAN) – Church educators in India have welcomed a Supreme Court ruling on hazing.

The May 16 ruling came after the country's apex court heard recommendations of a government committee that studied hazing in Indian institutions of higher learning. The court wants the Indian Penal Code amended to make hazing punishable under the law.

The court ruling "will benefit many students," especially freshmen who suffer from seniors' "ragging sessions," said Father K.J. Antony, secretary of the education commission of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of India. Hazing, commonly called "ragging" in India, sometimes leads to tension and violence, the Salesian priest told UCA News on May 21.

Mani Jacob, who heads the ecumenical All India Association for Christian Higher Education, noted that the practice has caused deaths in several colleges and hostels. "Ragging," he told UCA News, has "become a law-and-order problem" that many Indian institutions have trouble tackling.

Welcoming the ruling "both as an educationist and as a parent," Jacob said that even student political organizations resort to hazing to induct freshmen into their associations.

Jacob wants "a new kind of socialization" to help freshmen interact with seniors. He wants school administrations to organize sports and cultural programs to help students in different classes mingle. Authorities should also publicize the court ruling in their institutions, he added.

Now hazing "could be controlled," he remarked, adding that Christian institutions would "be happy to follow" the Supreme Court directive.

The court wants a "comprehensive definition" for hazing to include abetment to hazing, criminal conspiracy, causing injury, wrongful confinement, use of force and assault. It also favors "exemplary (and) justifiably harsh" punishment.

The court also wants hazing cases tried on a fast-track basis to avoid delays. For this, it called for an amendment to the Criminal Procedure Code.

The Coalition to Uproot Ragging from Education, a volunteer organization, recorded 61 cases in colleges and three more reported in Indian media during 2005-2006. Of the 51 colleges whose students were involved, 19 are architecture colleges, 18 engineering institutions, nine medical schools and five polytechnic colleges.

The court took a cue from the government committee's call for tough measures to address the problem. It wants the onus of proving innocence to be on the accused. The court also wants local police to register official complaints from victims or from parents dissatisfied with institutional action on hazing cases.

The stipulation on the onus, Father Antony says, will make seniors "more careful to avoid ragging juniors." The priest also welcomed the court asking educational institutions to file criminal cases against those responsible for hazing, even if the victims or their relatives refuse to complain.

There is the possibility of juniors taking advantage of the court ruling, Father Antony cautioned, referring to the possibility of false accusations against seniors, who would then have to prove their innocence. But the new law will benefit many, he added.

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