Friday, June 05, 2009

Anti-hazing groups help campuses keep a clean slate

New Delhi It is the third day of college, and the sprawling University of Delhi campus is teeming with new students looking to make friends, fill out forms and familiarise themselves with their new lives.
At 9:30 on the windless humid morning two female commerce undergraduates nervously walk into their college with heads down.
They pass five khaki-clad constables standing guard against the newly outlawed practice of "ragging", as hazing is called in Indian English.
This year, colleges in the capital are for the first time trying to stamp out hazing, using closed-circuit TV, police and special squads of volunteers. But some seniors aren't ready to comply. "Fachchas!" screams one of them to the two undergraduates, using Indian campus slang for first-year students.

"Are they calling us? Will they rag us now?" asks Rupika Pant, 17, a short girl in blue jeans and a brown T-shirt, clutching her bag tightly.
"Don't turn to look, keep walking," whispers her friend Nihar Goyal, 18, who is wearing a traditional long tunic and pants, hastening her steps.
But within seconds, senior students surround them, ready to tease, taunt and torment.
"What are your names?" one of them demands. "Don't you know you have to say good morning to senior students?"
"Do a hot Hindi movie song for us. Show some moves," commands a young woman in the group.
Pant and Goyal play along, singing and trying to move their bodies in a snakelike hip swing common in films from the cinema industry known as Bollywood.
But not all the seniors are so bold. Nearby, a group of them sits at the cafeteria watching new students.
"College is no fun this year. We can't rag. The rules have become so strict. Look how fearlessly these fachchas are walking about," says Niti Malik."I am so scared to call out to them. The college may take my ID card and phone my parents. There are cameras and informers everywhere."
"There are so many suicides, rapes, complaints of physical and psychological abuse every year, so the court banned it," says Natasha Bawa, 20. "But we don't want to do the dangerous type of ragging. We just do the fun stuff."
Other senior students lounge around on the floor of the college corridor, hiding from the squads and calling out to freshman students softly.
At about 10:30, a man from the anti-ragging squad walks around distributing booklets called "Respect Humanisation, Say No to Ragging." He tells new students to report incidents.
"I was a ragging victim, and I was abused for months," says Harsh Agarwal, who runs a watchdog group called Coalition to Uproot Ragging from Education. "I could not talk to anyone, because people think it is OK to rag. They laugh if you complain. But the lines between mild and heinous ragging is blurred because it is always nonconsensual."
"It is much worse in small towns," he adds. "As more and more students from poor and lower-caste backgrounds enter universities in India, ragging has also become a way of shaming them into submission." After the music video is done, he takes the auditorium's microphone. "What is ragging?" he asks the students, opening a discussion. "Do you know that 30 per cent of ragging in India is heinous in nature and results in lifelong emotional scars?"
Gradually, the students warm up. Some ask if demands to dance, sing and do push-ups constitute hazing. Others find courage to talk about their own difficult experiences.
Pole dance
"I was forced to smoke and drink. Cigarettes were stubbed into my thigh," a young man says into the microphone.
"I was made to do a pole dance in front of everybody," says a woman.
Another student says he was told to strip.
"A gang of guys came after me yesterday. They used foul language," recounts Shumail Mirza, a young man studying history. "They were nasty bullies. I was really scared and ran for my life."
Banned or not, another hazing session is underway at 1pm in a closed classroom. Two new male students are told to tear their clothes off and behave like beggars. A woman is told to dance an "item number", a catchphrase for seductive dances in Bollywood films.
Suddenly, the door is pushed open and a member of the volunteer squads bursts in. A stern-looking Sukhjinder Singh takes some of the students in hand and drags them out.
"Don't you know the rules? Should I complain to the principal?" he shouts.
Suddenly submissive seniors apologise and run helter-skelter to get away.
At 1:30, Singh is in the principal's office to report the incident. "I will not allow any ragging in my college. It is against the law," declares Rajendra Prasad, the principal. "Things can easily descend from being fun to being offensive in no time. College life is not only about fun, freedom, liberty. It is also about responsibility."

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