Saturday, March 21, 2009

Ragging Commentary

Ragging needs social ban, more than laws
22 Mar 2009, 0226 hrs IST, Dhananjay Mahapatra, TNN

The first recorded cases of ragging were in the 8th century BC during the Olympics in Greece. The practice spread fast and menacingly — first to the armed forces and then to educational institutions. Even though it claimed its first victim in Cornell in the US in 1873, it was World War I that injected cruelty into the mechanics of ragging. Students who had gone to war, returned to college, grimly determined to use newly learnt methods of torture on campus.

From then, the practice has been responsible for the untimely demise of many a parent’s dream. The latest victim is Aman Kachroo who was recently beaten to death by senior students at the government-run Dr Rajendra Prasad Medical College at Kangra in Himachal Pradesh. Sadly, he may not be the last. It will need more than a change of law to change the mindset of those who rag college freshmen.

Worldwide, government measures have been too little and too late but many believe they have at least succeeded in instilling fear in the minds of students about the consequences of torturing junior members of the fraternity.

Why has this not happened in India? Ministers and government officials have largely been silent on ragging. The exception is Tamil Nadu, which tried to bring in anti-ragging legislation in 1997.

The lack of perception about the grave fallouts of ragging could be gauged from the action of the Himachal government subsequent to Kachroo’s death. The last time the state had promulgated an anti-ragging ordinance was in 1992 but it lapsed after the government of the day was dismissed. This time, it took them 12 days to draft a new one, which the Centre approved.

India’s failure to recognize ragging as a social problem forced the Supreme Court eight years ago to say, in a public interest litigation filed by the Vishwa Jagriti Mission, that “some of the reported incidents have crossed the limits of decency, morality and humanity.” The Court was referring to the deaths, suicide attempts, sexual abuse and mental torture inflicted on freshmen by senior students.

Even so, it did not ask for the offenders to face criminal charges. In 2001, the Court referred to the special legislation enacted by some states making ragging a criminal offence, with the stark comment: “Ragging cannot be cured merely by making it a cognizable offence.” A two-judge Bench said: “We feel the acts of indiscipline and misbehaviour on the part of the students must primarily be dealt with within the institution and by exercise of disciplinary authority of teachers over students and of managements of the institutions over the teachers and students.”

The Court’s high hopes of institutions, their management, teachers and students was dealt a terrible blow by an NGO report that revealed seven ragging-related deaths in 2007 and 31 between 2001-2007. The Court was forced to realize that a lenient approach would not work. It asked former CBI director R K Raghavan to find a comprehensive, if bitter, antidote to the evil.

Bitter it was. The Raghavan committee offered 50 suggestions, some stringent, others pre-emptive. The Court accepted its report and directed educational institutions, at the very minimum, to expel the guilty. It also allowed institutions to register police cases against the accused. The message the Court wanted to drive home was that “the punishment should be exemplary and justifiably harsh to stop the recurrence of ugly incidents”.

It deterred many but didn’t stop ragging altogether.

Not least, students at the Himachal Pradesh college where Kachroo died. It did not stop senior girls at the Government Agriculture and Medical

College in Guntur, Andhra Pradesh, from forcing a fresher to strip dance. The victim could not bear the humiliation and attempted suicide.

Now, the Court has threatened the principals of these colleges with contempt of court proceedings. It has also decided to take stock of anti-ragging measures by the two concerned state governments. But are stringent laws enough to tackle this menace? It would also require a collective transformation in the mindset of all of us, individually and collectively.

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