Sunday, March 15, 2009

Ragging Menace

What is the first thing that comes to mind when you say first day of college? That is an easy one as ragging. But ragging has come to mean a whole lot of different things to different people. So what is ragging: a dreaded activity or the route to new friendships?

Ragging in colleges has become a trend. Students who are responsible for ragging fail to realise the trauma and mental pain a fresher undergoes while being ragged. A healthy atmosphere must be created among students wherein they must be taught moral values of respecting one another, be it senior or newcomers. The management and the staff of the college must instil in the minds of students a bond of friendliness.

Ragging, which was thought to be a fun means of mingling with juniors and newcomers has now become an offence. Few cases of brutal ragging in the past have scared many to death. The term "healthy ragging", now doesn't exist. And many students believe in making fun of freshers and demoralising them.

Cheap thrills that seniors derive from torturing their juniors is what ragging has become in the present scenario. And the degree to which this "torture" is stretched is usually a reaction to a junior’s response to a senior. While the regular junta in all colleges sees it as harmless interaction, there are enough horror stories doing the rounds that have made ragging almost a criminal offence.

While the traditional ones stick to making their victims sing ba ba black sheep (with action) atop the canteen table, creative minds indulge in many risky and humiliating activities that can mar freshers for life. These become nerve-racking trivia on the first day of college among petrified freshers.

Latest Shocking Case
The recent shocking death of first year medical student Aman Satya Kachroo in Dr Rajendra Prasad Medical College in Himachal Pradesh due to ragging once again highlights the plight of students who have to face this form of harassment and torture. For this it is the college authorities who are largely to blame. Kachru, a first-year-student, died after four seniors reportedly ragged him and 13 other batchmates.

The provisional autopsy report confirmed that Kachru died due to brain haemorrhage. The four accused have now been arrested and the college principal has resigned taking moral responsibility. Clearly there was negligence on part of the medical college which did not take the boy’s repeated complaints seriously. The students’ life could have been saved had his college been more alert to the abuses being carried out on its premises and had followed the Supreme Court’s guidelines on ragging.

Supreme Court’s Directives
The Supreme Court, which has passed several orders regarding ragging, has in the past noted with concern that educational institutions were not implementing its orders with the seriousness they deserved.The apex court had cracked whip on students indulging in ragging, ordering educational institutions to file FIRs against them and saying that the punishment had to be "exemplary and justifiably" harsh to act as a deterrence against the recurrence of the abhorrent practice.

The Court, while accepting most of the recommendations of the Raghavan Committee that looked into ways to end the practice of ragging, also put the onus on educational institutions to file a criminal case against the perpetrators of ragging if the victim or the parents failed to do so.

Only six States have enacted laws against ragging and Himachal Pradesh, where Kachroo was beaten to death, is not one of them. A Private Member’s Bill to ban ragging has been pending in Parliament since 2005. While anti-ragging laws would help in securing convictions against those who inflict this form of torture, they are far from enough to prevent the practice. As the Raghavan Committee rightly noted, stamping out ragging requires the involvement of educational institutions, government authorities, the media, and civil society and the maintenance of a “continuous vigil” through the setting up of “anti-ragging squads and committees” at the district, State and central levels.

The latest tragedy proves that the Supreme Court’s directives are still being flouted. Most colleges brush such incidents under the carpet. They are afraid of their reputation becoming tainted. Or worse, they just don’t consider it as being anything beyond some ‘harmless’ initiation ceremony. Action against such colleges must be harsh. If they are public or semi-public bodies, their financial grants should be severed and the person-in-charge must be held guilty for apathetic behaviour.

It is clear that the apex court judgment has not been implemented in letter and spirit by the law enforcement agencies and other stakeholders. Despite the Supreme Court emphasising the need for educating the society and spreading awareness on this issue, not much seems to have been done at the national level.

UGC Regulations
In 2008, educational institutions all over the country witnessed many "ugly" ragging cases. Despite strict rules and regulations, senior students didn't stop ragging freshers. The increasing incidents of ragging, despite the Supreme Court ban has forced the University Grants Commission (UGC) to ask all the educational institutions in the country to spell out punishment for it in their prospectus and brochures recently. Moreover, the UGC also wants the institutions to seek an undertaking from parents for punishing their wards caught in ragging.

The Central and State Governments have been “requested” by the UGC to enact a law prohibiting ragging in educational institutions which will contain provisions “to treat ragging as a cognisable offence. Since ragging in its ‘perverse’ form can have serious psychological impact affecting the self esteem of an individual, ragging should be treated at par with rape and other atrocities against women, ill-treatment of Dalits, besides others.” The UGC has proposed strict punishment against defaulters.

This is a step which, if implemented, would go a long way in ensuring that educational institutions take their obligation to prevent ragging seriously. The court had also authorised colleges to suspend students if it were found that they were guilty of ragging. In this regard the Medical Council of India and the Dental Council of India were also directed to frame regulations in consultation with the UGC which were to be binding on institutions. But as the incident in Himachal Pradesh shows that ragging remains entrenched in our educational institutions in spite of the strict penal provisions that make it illegal.

In the absence of cooperation from educational institutions, the criminal laws which deal with ragging are perhaps not sufficient. There may be need for Parliament to frame a law specifically against ragging which would also fix the culpability of educational institutions that have allowed ragging to take place, in addition to ensuring the strict enforcement of anti-ragging laws and monitoring of the same. Unless this is done our colleges and universities will continue to harbour anti-social elements and young lives will continue to be unnecessarily hurt or snuffed out.

Educational institutions have greater role in shaping the character of students who pass out of their portals. However, these temples of learning have failed to instil a sense of confidence, direction or aspiration for higher values of life in students. As a result, character building and overall personality development of students has taken a nosedive. The parents and teachers of the present generation have to share the blame. Though laws are enacted against this evil, these laws are toothless. Parents and teachers should be more vigilant and should educate the students about the evils of ragging.

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