Monday, June 30, 2008

[Telegraph] Fight against ragging, in cinemas


New Delhi, June 28: Updating your ragging arsenal for the new batch? Time to visit the nearest cinema.

Movie theatres will screen 20-second audio-visual clips from next month to discourage ragging, a vexing nation-wide phenomenon that has destroyed careers and pushed students into taking their own lives.

Top government officials told The Telegraph that anti-ragging advertisements would flash at movie theatres across the country from July, ahead of the coming academic session. Most colleges start new sessions in July or August.

But enter the show late, or slip out for popcorn during interval, and you could risk missing the ads. The messages — which sources said would include warnings to those contemplating ragging and also detail steps a victim can take — will be screened before the start of films and during the interval.

According to the Coalition to Uproot Ragging in Education (CURE), 52 cases were reported in the last academic session, including six that ended in suicides.

The Centre officially uses data supplied by CURE, the only non-government organisation that keeps track of ragging cases.

Some officials, however, say the first attempt by the government to use film screenings to spread awareness about the scourge may prove little more than a blink-and-miss campaign.

The move followed a tongue-lashing from a Supreme Court-appointed panel earlier this month, which blasted the human resource development ministry for “inaction”.

The ministry then finalised a Rs 6-crore media campaign through cinemas, television channels and newspapers.

“Till last year, we released messages only in newspapers. But we realised that our target group — college students — are more attracted to the audio-visual medium,” an HRD official said.

Sources said the messages, to be screened in theatres and on television channels, were ready last year, too, but couldn’t be implemented as the budget for the campaign prepared by the government’s Directorate of Advertising and Visual Publicity (DAVP) had not been cleared.

“But the audio-visual medium has its drawbacks... it is expensive, and messages vanish from the screen after 20 seconds, only to reappear after some time, unlike print,” a ministry official said.

Government officials, however, say this year’s attempt “is a start”.

“We have no choice. Most youngsters see television and movies more often than they read newspapers. And this year’s experience will only help us improve the campaign the next time round,” said a DAVP official involved with the campaign.

The government had got cracking after a directive from the apex court in a 2001 case. The HRD ministry appointed a seven-member panel, headed by former CBI director R.K. Raghavan, to work out a strategy to curb the menace.

The committee last year submitted its guidelines, which were upheld by the court in an interim order. The guidelines allowed a victim to file an FIR if his institute failed to take action against the offender.

The committee also asked regulatory bodies like the University Grants Commission and the All India Council of Technical Education to cut funding of institutions that didn’t investigate ragging allegations.

But neither the UGC nor the AICTE and other higher education regulators linked funding of institutes to implementation of the Raghavan panel guidelines.

At a meeting earlier this month at the HRD ministry headquarters in Delhi, Raghavan ordered the regulators to frame “detailed” guidelines to ensure that affiliated institutes followed the anti-ragging panel’s guidelines.

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