Friday, July 11, 2008

[EducationWorld] Delhi: Tightening screws

Even as a new academic year has begun and bright-eyed students are streaming into college campuses across the country, the R.K. Raghavan Committee, appointed in December 2006 by the Union HRD ministry, (following a Supreme Court directive) to suggest and monitor measures to eliminate intimidation, molestation, assaults etc aka ‘ragging’ in college campuses, has severely criticised college managements for lack of seriousness in curbing the ragging menace. At the third review meeting of the committee held on June 11, Raghavan, a former CBI director, made his displeasure clear with the “post-office like attitude” of higher education regulatory organisations such as UGC, AICTE and Medical Council of India.

“These regulatory bodies have become too close to educational organisations and believe in tokenism. But I have told them in no uncertain terms to punish institutional manage-ments not following our anti-ragging guidelines endorsed by the Supreme Court on May 16, 2007,” he says. Raghavan’s annoyance with apex level regulatory organisations is shared by the Coalition to Uproot Ragging from Education (CURE), which together with Society Against Violence in Education (SAVE), was instrumental in helping the Raghavan committee formulate its anti-ragging code circulated to colleges and universities before the beginning of the academic session last year.

It’s routine for UGC and other regulatory bodies to issue stern instructions to college managements at the start of every academic session. But thus far no college has been penalised for ignoring these instructions. Due to inaction of past decades, these warnings are seldom taken seriously by college authorities and senior students, and ragging continues unabated. Last year despite the strong anti-ragging recommendations made by the Raghavan Committee and endorsed by the Supreme Court, more than 70 cases of ragging were reported in a span of five months in the English media. The number of unreported cases and those reported in the vernacular media are many times more,” says Harsh Agarwal, who co-founded CURE along with Rajiv Ram in 2001.

In the June 11 meeting attended by representatives of UGC, AICTE, Medical Council of India, Dental Council of India, Nursing Council of India, UGC informed the committee that a separate cell has been constituted within the commission to investigate ragging-related complaints from colleges and universities. Moreover a visiting committee has been constituted by UGC to sensitise institutions about the scourge of ragging. The visiting committee will have powers to recommend dilution of grants under various UGC schemes for colleges and universities not complying with the anti-ragging measures stipulated by the Raghavan Committee.

“We will publicise the measures against ragging in our campus as per the committee directives and are ready to implement them,” says Dr. A.K. Agarwal, dean Maulana Azad Medical College, New Delhi.

According to Harsh Agarwal of CURE the HRD ministry and regulatory bodies must list the measures they have taken in the past year to enforce the recommendations of the Raghavan Committee. “They must detail cases where they have punished raggers. Even to this day, ragging victims have no idea about the complaint registering authority. Last year CURE sent a proposal to the HRD ministry to launch an anti-ragging campaign but didn’t receive any response. Ditto when we proposed to declare October 11 as ‘No Ragging Day’. It is really unfortunate that despite our offer to help them on this issue, regulatory bodies are not willing to involve us. CURE will be closely monitoring the progress and hopes that this year the HRD ministry and other regulatory bodies will be serious about strictly punishing institutions that tolerate this humiliating ritual,” says Agarwal.

CURE is all set to mount a nationwide awareness campaign against ragging and is hopeful the HRD ministry will support it. Meanwhile freshers subjected to harassment are advised to contact CURE or SAVE for support. “Ragging is a criminal offence punishable under the Indian Penal Code, 1860. And under the Raghavan Committee’s guidelines it is incumbent on institutions to file FIRs related to ragging incidents and support the victim. So, don’t fear when you step into college life,” advises Agarwal.

Autar Nehru (Delhi)

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