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Sunday, January 02, 2011

Ragging rights and wrongs

Prof Rajita Chaudhuri follow some off-beat trends like organizing make up sessions

Many steps have been taken in recent years to weed out ragging from campuses; but worries still nag college freshers and their parents. Aliya Abbas finds out why

School is behind you. You are ready for life in a college. There is excitement in the air. But amid the burst of activity an indefinable fear lurks in your heart. You have heard horror stories about bright young freshers being mentally pulverized by seniors on college campuses around the country. The dread of ragging psyches you out of your mind.

Indeed, ragging is rampant across India despite the authorities threatening stringent measures against the perpetrators. Once treated as a mere initiation ritual, it constituted largely harmless ribbing senior students indulged in to welcome newcomers to the campus. It was all done in jest and good humour. Ragging remained within civilized parameters. In recent years, however, the practice has assumed 'illegal' proportions. As ragging crosses the limits of acceptability, it is important for new students to know their rights and stand up for them. An anti-ragging law is in place.

Over the years, ragging has metamorphosed into something ugly. In the 1980s and 1990s, it used to be limited to undisruptive acts that usually culminated in singing, dancing and bonhomie. But in recent years, ragging has turned nasty, even life-threatening. Physical assaults, sexual abuse and mental torture have scarred many students for life, forcing some to opt out of their colleges, some to take the extreme step of killing themselves.

Prof. Raman Rao, principal, Jawaharlal Nehru Technological University (JNTU), Hyderabad, says, 'It is our duty to protect the interests of each student. They come here with high hopes. Every college or university in the country should take stringent measures to stop ragging.'

No law can be effective until people are aware of it. Says Harsh Agarwal, co-founder of CURE (Coalition to Uproot Ragging from Education), a Delhi-based NGO, 'There is a need to define ragging. Before making laws, one has to accept ragging as a social evil rather than as a mode of breaking the ice between new and old students on a campus.' He suggests that students could be educated through seminars, debates and street plays, besides other modes of communication. 'Ragging is not just limited to government colleges but has spread to new private institutions as well,' he adds.

Ragging is such a scourge that both students and their parents are today wary of colleges and hostels. Who can forget the tragic case of Aman Kachroo? Last year, the 19-year-old lad went to study medicine in Himachal Pradesh. He was beaten so mercilessly by his inebriated seniors that he lost his life. Since then, many students have been reported to have committed suicide after being ragged.

To prevent recurrence of such incidents and help students across the nation, the University Grants Commission launched a 24x7 toll free helpline (1800-180-5522) last year. Nearly 300,000 students from various states approached UGC for help but only 500 lodged formal complaints against either the college authorities or the culprits. Most students are apprehensive of the likely repercussions of standing up to this reprehensible practice. Says Agarwal: 'I am in favour of a soft approach. Just implementing laws or levelling charges under various sections of the Anti-Ragging Act will not help. Instead students should be made aware of what can be done to prevent ragging.' 'College authorities should encourage friendship-based activities, where students can learn from each other. Only then will India be a ragging-free nation. We should sensitise parents, teachers and peer groups in both universities and colleges,' adds Agarwal. The good news is that awareness is growing nationwide. The media has taken up the cause and that has helped make people aware of the ugly and fatal consequences of ragging. The Human Resources Development Ministry and various college authorities, too, have strengthened rules to prevent ragging.

There has been an appreciable increase in reporting of ragging cases in recent times, but there is still a long way to go. Ankit Mehrotra, a fresh graduate from a leading engineering college in Gurgaon, says, 'We were not ragged on the campus but while returning home in a college bus. We were forced to perform demeaning acts in front of girls.' Asked whether he ever reported the matter to the college authorities, he says he did not for fear of the consequences. 'I had to complete my term there at any cost,' he says.

The fact that many students still refrain from reporting cases of ragging to the college authorities or their own parents proves that the laws are still not strong enough to inspire confidence. Until iron-clad laws are implemented, the exercise aimed at eradicating ragging will be futile. But on many campuses, some success has been achieved. A professor at Delhi University's political science department, says, 'Because of anti-ragging laws and the active role of the various college authorities, no cases of ragging have been reported from our campus.' He adds: 'We conduct surprise checks in and around classrooms as well as in the hostel premises, this way we make sure that no untoward incident occurs.' Similarly, Christ College, Bangalore, is ragging-free. 'We see to it that no such incident ever happens in our hostel. Parents leave their children here trusting us. It is our responsibility to provide them with a healthy environment where they can study in peace,' says Cicily Cherian, warden of Christ College girls' hostel.

Bengal Engineering College, once a notorious hub of obnoxious forms of ragging as well as student unrest, has shed that reputation to a great extent. The college, located in Shibpur in the outskirts of Kolkata, has witnessed much improvement since Ajay Kumar Roy took over as the vice-chancellor in 2009. 'This isn't just media hype; things have really changed in BE College,' says first year student Soumitra Kar.

In Hyderabad's JNTU, the campus has reported no cases of ragging but the hostel has. Says a B.Tech student T. Mohan Chary: 'About six months ago, at least five students were suspended for ragging. They were handed over to the police. In fact, our principal also made sure that they did not appear for their semester test, leave alone the final exam. Since then, no case of ragging has been reported either on the campus or from the hostel as stringent actions are being taken and we are spreading awareness about ragging through seminars and other significant mediums.'

A fresher, Anushka Siddiqui, is excited about beginning her higher education in Delhi University. She says she does not fear being ragged at all as there are strict rules. Her mother, Ranjana Banerjee, a lecturer at JNU, agrees: 'The authorities are taking serious steps to curb ragging. So I have no apprehensions about sending Anushka to college.'

DU might have got its act right, but not every college or institute in this country can claim to have weeded out ragging for good. Worries continue to cast a shadow on young minds as many loopholes still remain to be plugged.
(Some names changed on request)

A success story

Jyothi Nivas College, Bangalore

The college follows to the T all the rules laid down by the Anti-Ragging Committee. They include:
Cancellation of admission
Suspension from attending class
Withholding/withdrawing scholarship/fee concession and other benefits
Debarring from appearing in any test/examination or other evaluation process, and withholding the results
Debarring from representing the university in the fest, sports or other such events
Suspension/expulsion from the hostel
Rustication from the college for a period of up to 4 semesters
Expulsion from the college and consequent debarring from the admission to any other institution
Fine of Rs.25,000/-
In the case of offences of very serious/grievous nature, referring the case to police, in addition to any other punishment
Collective punishment where the offence is committed collectively by a group or by a class making it difficult or not possible to identify specific persons

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