Sunday, October 14, 2007

[ET] With apologies to Bob Dylan ...

14 Oct, 2007, 0205 hrs IST,Mythili Bhusnurmath, TNN

Last Thursday, 11 October, was ‘No raging day’. Two years ago this day Amit Sahai, a bright student with a promising future who’d joined the National Institute of Technology, Jalandhar, committed suicide by jumping in front of a running train. He could no longer handle the severe physical and sexual abuse he’d been receiving at the hands of his seniors. Amit could not be saved. But there are countless other Amits whose lives need not be cut short! Or like ....of Apeejay Institute of Architecture and Planning, Noida go through life traumatized by the experience of their first few days in college! But as far as the general public in India is concerned the Amits and .. are just statistics, unfortunate freshers who fell victim to high jinks gone wrong.

Consequently ‘No Ragging Day’ came and went. Unheralded! There were no powerful advertisements of the kind commonly seen on World Literacy Day, World Heart Day, World Standards Day and so on. How many people knew about ‘No Ragging Day’? Or cared? Apart, of course, from the few hundred families who over the years have lost their sons/daughters or seen the future of their children blighted by the actions of some anti-social, nay criminal, youngsters?
And that is the tragedy. Despite the efforts of non-government agencies like the Coalition to Uproot Ragging from Education (CURE), the Supreme Court’s strictures to colleges following the recommendations of the Raghavan Committee, ragging continues to claim young lives/destroy bright futures.

Sadly such incidents are not limited to institutions of dubious repute but afflict prestigious institutes like IITs, NITs and most recently to the capital’s elitist, St Stephen’s College as well. The problem is the authorities, far from acknowledging the existence of the malaise, and taking stern action, are reluctant to admit the incidents as ‘ragging’ for fear it will sully their reputation (as indeed it should).

In the St Stephen’s case, for instance, the authorities insisted on calling it a ‘prank’. A prank? When a first year student receives burn injuries on his knees and hands? This despite the fact that under the Apex Court’s ruling earlier this year ‘ragging’ is now a cognisable office, requiring the college authorities to lodge an FIR. Instead the perpetrators of the crime got away with suspensions and that too for fairly minor periods. Why? Is it because they have powerful parents?

The Human Resources Minister, Arjun Singh, described higher education in this country as ‘sick’; nowhere is this sickness more manifest than in the abuse, both physical and verbal, meted out to freshers in the name of ragging. Yes, ragging is the symptom of a deeper malaise in society. Students under pressure seek an outlet for their anger and frustration, which is why such incidents are more in professional colleges where the pressure to perform is greater. And as pressures of everyday life increase, anger and frustration levels are bound to increase as seen from the increasingly common incidents of road rage and other violence. People seem ready to resort to violence at the drop of a hat.

Is it any wonder then that from May 21 to September 21, more than 50 cases of ragging, including physical, sexual and verbal abuse were reported in the national English media? In contrast to only 15 incidents were reported in the same period last year, according to CURE. And mind you, ragging is like rape. What gets reported is only the tip of the iceberg.

But it is not as though it cannot be tackled. Simple things like putting all freshers in one hostel, routinely done in RV College of Engineering, Bangalore and IIT Mumbai can do much to reduce such incidents. Staggered entry of fresher and seniors is another simple measure that could help since it gives freshers time to find their feet and make friends among their peer group, thus ensuring some collective strength. Migration/degree certificates could have a provision for incorporating remarks wherein mention can be made regarding the student’s involvement in ragging.

Alternatively, punitive action of the kind suggested by the Raghavan committee of holding back UGC assistance, withdrawing AICTE, MCI, DCI recognition could help. While creating awareness is important, it must be backed by strong deterrent action. The argument of the St Stephens’' authorities that the victim was satisfied with the punishment is no defence. Law must be allowed to take its course.

No comments: