Sunday, June 21, 2009

A life lost to ragging is one too many

Tuesday, 19 May 2009
A life lost to ragging is one too many
Nothing can really excuse the apathy of our society to the malaise of ragging and children dying as a consequence of ragging. Over the last few days, horror stories, each more shocking than the previous one, have appeared in our national media.

On March 8, Amann Kachroo, a 19-year-old student in Himachal Pradesh, was beaten to death by his seniors in the name of "ragging". A few days later a young girl in Guntur, Andhra Pradesh, tried to commit suicide because her seniors had made her dance naked, again in the name of ragging.

What kind of society do we live in that our young children, who are at the most vulnerable stage of their emotional evolution, are irreparably hurt and damaged by this brutal assault upon their fragile self-esteem? How can we sit back and involve ourselves with the trivia of our day-to-day routine, when a cruel and inhuman attack on our own young people takes place in full public view in the name of ragging? How bizarre and ironic it is under the guise of bonhomie, senior students are breaking the hearts, and sometimes the will to live too, of freshers in their college?

Ragging or razing has been around for a long time in many countries. According to Harsh Agarwal, co-founder of the NGO Coalition to Uproot Ragging from Education, "Ragging, hazing, fagging, bullying, pledging, horse-playing etc. are different terms used in different parts of the world but each signifies the same old practice of welcoming freshers in a barbaric manner".
This phenomenon can be traced back to as early as 7th or 8th century AD.
In Greek culture, new entrants to the sport community were subjected to all kinds of humiliations and teasing to inculcate team spirit. With the passage of time this technique was modified and adopted by the military forces, and from there it finally entered the education system.

Since its inception in the educational arena, ragging underwent several modifications before morphing into an organised form of campus violence. The first ragging related death occurred in 1873 when a freshman from Cornell University fell into a gorge as a consequence of ragging.
After World War I, ragging underwent a massive transformation and acquired its current brutal form. Soldiers returning from war re-entered colleges in the US and brought with them "hazing" (ragging) techniques learnt in military camp. "These techniques were used to make individual fail as an individual and succeed as a team," Mr Agarwal said.

In India, ragging did not really plague our educational institutions because higher education was a privilege enjoyed only by certain sections of society and only the mildest form of teasing was resorted to between members of this privileged elite. After the 60s, the spread of education brought students of different castes and communities and that's when the concept of ragging became a cloak for students of one community to tease and assert their superiority over others. Ragging, thus, acquired casteist overtones with very ugly dimensions and repercussions. And soon it became a matter of peer pressure to participate in ragging.

"During the early 90s, rapid mushrooming of new private engineering and medical colleges led to several disastrous experiments with this old practice of ragging. It made southern India a hub of this brutal activity. During the 90s ragging-related suicides began to increase. In 1997, Tamil Nadu, which was one of the worst affected states, was the first to bring legislation against ragging. In 2001, the Supreme Court banned ragging throughout the country. It was now left to college authorities to enforce this law. This led to complete disappearance of daytime ragging on campus, which was a much healthier and safer mode of interaction, while more threatening and virulent ragging in hostels continued to thrive in most colleges", Mr Agarwal said.

Today ragging is a complex phenomenon. It's a form of violence which has not just casteist but also chauvinistic and gender dimensions, and it would be no exaggeration to say that it has the potential to dangerously disturb harmony and innocence that exist (or should exist) in our educational institutions. From time to time, various authorities have made an attempt to contain and curb ragging as a human rights violation.

The Raghavan Committee, setup by the Supreme Court, had submitted a detailed report with recommendations to curb ragging in 2007. The Supreme Court accepted some of the findings of the Raghavan Committee and issued an interim order making college authorities and functionaries responsible for maintaining a ragging-free environment. FIRs could be lodged by parents and/or college authorities in ragging cases.

In an earlier 2001 case, the Supreme Court has held that educational institutions that fail to curb ragging could lose financial assistance or their affiliation. Though guidelines were laid by the Supreme Court in its order on a petition filed by the Vishwa Jagriti Mission, the court, expressing concern over increasing incidents of ragging, observed that ragging cannot be checked merely by making it a cognisable offence.

Several states have felt the need to reiterate the Supreme Court's order. Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, West Bengal, Kerala, Maharashtra and Gujarat have passed laws or issued circulars banning ragging. These laws and circulars list punishment ranging from disaffiliation and imprisonment to expulsion of guilty students and authorities.

It is obvious, however, that these measures have done little to curb this menace. It is equally clear that as a society we have not given enough thought to this important issue, and because it lacks the sensationalism of other headlines, we tend to let it pass without much comment.
The time has come to declare "zero tolerance" for ragging. One life lost to ragging is one too many, and one young mind permanently disturbed or troubled due to ragging is a collective failure of our society.

From this minute onwards, society as a whole should take a solemn pledge to join as one to root out the menace of ragging from our educational institutions.

By - Jayanthi Natarajan - Jayanthi Natarajan is a Congress MP in the Rajya Sabha and AICC spokesperson.

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