The shocking death of 19-year-old Aman Kachroo sharply reminded the nation of our inability to curb the menace of ragging in institutions of learning, despite the recurrence of incidents that result in injuries, attempted suicides, and even death. To make indefensible suggestions that this habitual intimidation of junior students is a way of breaking the ice and fostering fellow feeling reflects utter insensitivity in the face of such tragic incidents. Ragging or hazing is no gentle rite of passage but a ritualized form of torture that can cause severe psychological and physical injury.
The prevalence of the phenomenon and the damage it can do has been reinforced by reports of other incidents of attempted suicide after being ragged by seniors. In early 1990s, ragging was recognized as a problem and since then it has been debated and discussed to find a solution. It seems the authorities have always ignored to understand the hidden psychological mysteries associated with this menace and have not moved much from the point, where we were 10 or 20 years back. In an attempt to look for a quick solution they have perhaps focused only on the law and order aspect of ragging but ignored to probe its psychological side.
It is very difficult to comprehend, that though ragging has taken so many innocent lives and ruined so many bright careers, it is perhaps the only social and human rights problem in the world in which the victim himself/herself becomes the perpetrator of the crime. It is beyond comprehension how a victim who is tormented badly makes his abuser his best pal in a short span of time and starts to believe and practice the same custom on his juniors. Actually, there are a set of myths, mindset and brainwashing involved with ragging which explain how it translates into a strong belief system which can be called as a psychology behind this evil.
Some of the misunderstandings that support the concept of ragging are: ragging helps in breaking the ice between the seniors and fresher’s; it helps in making friendship; it helps in emotional bonding between the students; it helps in personality development of the students; it helps them to get rid of their shyness; it prepares them for the real world. Not only students, but also teachers teaching in universities and colleges, people who went to college several years ago or even people who never went to college but just heard about the virtues of ragging blindly believe in such myths.
It is easy to find people around us from all walks of life who strongly believe in such myths. There is a major mindset problem whenever we try to define and draw the limits of ragging. Any discussion on ragging eventually turns into a debate on mild versus severe ragging. People forget that all tragic cases of ragging started only in their milder forms or it was fun for someone. Hence, it is impossible to draw a line once ragging starts. Also, strictness alone cannot solve this problem but will lead to confusion.
Another strong reason behind ragging is the failure of our schools to inculcate in our youngsters a feeling of respect for people from different backgrounds. As a result when youngsters go to college, ragging becomes a soft tool to manifest that hatred they nurtured against people from other communities. It is a bitter fact to accept but across the country ragging is mainly done on the lines of caste, region, language, religion, economic background and all other different diversities that we have in society. To some extent bullying in school is the seed that germinates into ragging in college.
Across the world, people bully others to establish their supremacy by making fun of someone’s background or certain traits which might be in minority or some traits which are considered ‘funny’. It could be on someone’s accent, physique, native place or economic background. Schools in the western countries have started to take bullying as a serious offence and have started sensitizing their students against it. However given the enormous diversity in our country, bullying in school is on a much larger scale in India but the problem is yet to be recognized.
These kinds of activities gradually get transformed into a psychology which in turn influences not only young minds but society as well. It is a strange paradox when movies like 3 Idiots and Munna bhai show ragging scenes, people find them to be humorous and forget the protests that they participated in the past. So a question arises as to how anti-ragging laws can be implemented as long as the society does not accept ragging as a social evil but still seek humour in it.
The implementation of anti-ragging laws has to be done by the society and on the society and this would be possible only when there is conviction and consensus on that issue, which seems to be currently lacking with regard to ragging. In short, ragging is more of a mindset problem than anything else. Though it looks simple to solve it by making strict laws but we can never solve it unless we change the mindset as well. This can be done best by going into the roots of this problem. Ragging is an attempt or a technique by seniors to break their juniors psychologically.
The experience is sometimes so shocking for the juniors that it takes away their whole personality, though it may also help in ‘traumatic bonding’ and a manipulative behavior. It is pertinent to ask whether, for the sake of bonding, is it justified to go this far and try destructive methods at the cost of one’s liberty, dignity and personality or even life. In order to solve the problem of ragging, laws have been framed, ragging has been banned by the Supreme Court, and 24-hour helpline number has been started. However, it seems that the problem just refuses to die down because the pillars that support the concept of ragging are still intact.
Educational institutions have not yet tried to address the fundamental reasons that justify ragging. The institutes are yet to make students think on this issue. The solution lies in thinking and institutes have to give students a chance to think and question the reasons that support this menace. Not only students but everyone needs to introspect and realize. Ragging has flourished in India under the eyes of educational authorities who prefer to look the other way or shift the onus on the hapless victims themselves by suggesting that in the event of their being ragged, it is up to them to file complaints and seek redress.
Presently ragging is seen as an age old ritual by the college community and until and unless people act on the above issues seriously, college authorities will continue to label ragging deaths as suicides due to academic pressure; majority of the ragging incidents will continue to go unreported; seniors and teachers will continue to believe that ragging is a healthy interactive and personality development exercise; media will continue to report only sensational stuff about ragging; parents, relatives and society will fail to understand the pain of the ragging victim; and as a result of all this, the harsh provision to curb ragging might soon lose its deterrent effect and we may never be able to solve this problem. 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. The principal responsibility for the continuance of this sadistic practice must lie with the educational institutions themselves.
The Supreme Court, in a reiteration of its interim order in 2007, has described ragging as a ‘human rights abuse’ and has directed all educational institutions to curb it with an iron hand. The Court’s approach based substantially on the recommendations of the committee headed by R. K. Raghavan places the onus of preventing ragging on the institutions themselves. This approach of making the authorities liable for culpable negligence is the only effective way of tackling the menace. As the Raghavan Committee has 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.