The Times of India
Friday, March 20, 2009
By Shreya Roy Chowdhury
New Delhi --- The picture quality is far from perfect but what is happening is clear enough. It is a video of a ragging session in progress. The lower part of the senior's face is covered with a handkerchief. He has his fresher victim -- head covered with a balaclava -- up against the wall and is slapping him around with at least two cameras (one visible in the video) recording the act.
"Chaar ladko ko patak diya sadak pe ," says the senior to scare the boy whose cries cause much hilarity. In between a voice tells the senior to let go the kid; the response is: "Kya chhor doon yaar? Tameez sikhani parti isko yaar." Towards the end, another joins in. The video ends at 5:11 minutes but the violence may not have.
The blurry video is nothing to write home about. But the description is stark: "a first year guy being ragged by senior students." The category is 'Entertainment'. It was posted on a video-sharing site on December 3, 2007 and has been viewed over 14,000 times -- not a great performance, but not bad either.
Online videos of violent ragging are rare but its other forms -- stripping, lipstick smears and duck walks -- are many. One series has about half a dozen clips of freshers being stripped of their shirts. Seniors paw at their faces and limbs while another set, compounding the shame and documenting the proceedings on their mobiles. The clips, filmed without consent, find their way onto the net. As for their victims, temporary embarrassment has been rendered permanent and personal humiliation, public.
"It has spread everywhere. People rag on social networking sites, make MMSes and circulate them. College principals and directors don't even know," says Harsh Agarwal of Coalition to Uproot Ragging from Education (CURE), an anti-ragging online group started in 2001. Agarwal relates the story of a medical-school student who had his social networking account spammed with scraps from seniors. "They would tell him what to post on whose account and when. The language was filthy. The student had to create a fake account and through that he sent me the link," he recalls.
Psychologist Avdesh Sharma says that the new technology helps immortalize the act. Seniors rag because it gives them a sense of being empowered. Recording it allows them to repeat the experience in the absence of further opportunities. "It works like sexual abuse. For some students the scars remain and the only way to get rid of them is to be in a situation where they are able to inflict them. Filming allows them to share their moment of empowerment with others who don't take moral responsibility for the act but continue to watch it," he says.
In May 2007, the Supreme Court directed educational institutions to register criminal cases against those indulging in ragging after accepting a report on the subject by the RK Raghavan committee. Yet ragging has continued.
"Our society accepts all kinds of atrocities including rape. There is no guarantee of protection. The kids come from rich families and know they can get away," says social scientist Shiv Viswanathan. "If a BMW case can take so long to be resolved, how long will a ragging case last?" he continues, "the parents don't protest and students wait for their turn. They beat up some other guy next year and the continuity of sadism is maintained."
An argument made in defence of ragging says that it is the best way to break the ice with seniors. Agarwal disagrees. He suggests that authorities become aware of psychological studies and phenomenon such as the Stanford Prison Experiment or the Miligram Experiment which offer some insight into the psychology of ragging, need to be studied carefully to understand this problem and for an appropriate solution.