People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


Vol. XXXIII

No. 34

August 23, 2009

RAGGING IN VARSITIES & COLLEGES                                         

 

Only Cure Is Campus Democracy

                                                          V Sivadasan 

 

RAGGING in educational campuses has become a hot topic in our public debates --- in academic circles as well as in the media and in legal and administrative circles. This menace has claimed a few young, valuable lives and has been a cause of harassment to a big multitude of students. The problem has particularly aggravated in the last five years when a large number of ragging cases have been reported from various parts of our country. Moreover, the menace had been getting more and more intense by the day. For example, the number of ragging cases reported during the academic year 2007-08 was twice the number reported in the previous year. In the last five years, 28 students died of injuries sustained during ragging and 11 students committed suicide after being subjected to ragging. Out of these 39 unfortunate incidents, 11 deaths and five suicides occurred during 2007-08 alone. A recent instance shows that the evil has penetrated an institution like the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) which had been proud of its ragging-free campus for decades.

 

CRUCIAL

QUESTION

This menace has naturally evoked extensive campaigns against ragging, by the government and by other agencies as well. Thus we have witnessed a number of rules, regulations, declarations and of course court verdicts over the last few years. Of late, the human resources development (HRD) minister Kapil Sibal and some noted educationists have also joined this debate. The Supreme Court verdict on ragging and the Raghavan committee report are the focal points of these debates.

As for the University Grants Commission (UGC), it has also made major interventions on this issue, issuing a series of regulations and circulars in this regard. It has even started a twenty-four hours helpline for the victims of ragging. In its circular dated June 17 this year, and sent to the universities and colleges all over the country, the UGC has recommended several steps to be taken by the heads of educational institutions to stop ragging and to punish those who indulge in such activities. The circular was in accordance with the orders of the judiciary, including the Supreme Court, and a number of legislative enactments on the subject.  

But, then, the crucial question is: Why has it not been possible to put an end to this inhuman practice in our educational institutions despite all these measures? That is the question which we all should ask at this juncture. 

 

HARROWING

EXPERIENCES

On the whole, be it a girl or a boy student, ragging injures the dignity and self-respect of the individual who is subjected to it. It is estimated that, in one or another form, ragging is practised in at least 80 per cent of the institutions of higher learning in India. The Karnataka Education Act defines ragging as “causing, inducing, compelling or forcing a student, whether by way of a practical jock or otherwise, to do any act which detracts from human dignity or violates his person or exposes him to ridicule or forbear from doing any lawful act, by intimidating, wrongfully restraining, wrongfully confining, injuring him or by using criminal force to him or holding out to him any threat of such intimidation, wrongful restraint, wrongful confinement, injury or the use of criminal force.” This broad definition covers the nature of ragging in all its  aspects.   

Ragging can be in any form, the mildest being the practice of asking the freshers to introduce themselves. There is nothing particularly insulting in introducing oneself. But the queries often cross the limits of decency, and the young students are at a loss to give the answers expected of them by the ‘big brothers.’  It is not uncommon for the seniors to fish into the pockets of the juniors for money or to ask them to buy cigarettes for them. The more harrowing experiences include the measuring of the length of a football field with matchsticks, doing surya namaskar in the blazing sun at noon, or cleaning the closets in the seniors’ rooms with bare hands. It has also been observed that senior students from the disadvantaged sections of society are also subjected to ragging by their more privileged peers. The freshers who come to the college with great expectations of a warm welcome are disillusioned on the very first day when the don of a ‘ragging mafia’ demands them to lick the sole of his boots as a sign of servility.   

The report of the R K Raghavan committee, constituted by the Supreme Court, cites several such incidents. For example, Bijoy Maharathi, a student of B Pharma, was tortured to death during ragging. The death of a Naga student in his hostel room in Imphal, the firing by security officers in a college in Patna to chase away a group of students who tried to rag their juniors, and the parading of more than a hundred students naked along the corridor of a hostel in the prestigious IIT at Delhi are some of the instances documented in the report. In Gujarat Vidyapeeth, an institution founded at Gandhiji’s initiative, a case of seniors inflicting burns on the naked bodies of their juniors was reported. In Viswabharati University at Shanthiniketan, some girl students subjected a junior of theirs to sexual abuse. In Hyderabad, a junior student killed two of his seniors who had ragged him. The report also mentions instances of ragging in prestigious institutions like international schools. It was after the submission of the Raghavan committee report that Aman Kachru, a first year student of medicine at Himachal University, was tortured to death during ragging. The college is named after Dr Rajendra Prasad, India’s first president.  

 

ABJECT FAILURE

IN DOING JUSTICE

Although the brutality of ragging evokes indignant reaction, there is an abject failure in getting justice done for the victims. The responses of the authorities to the complaints about ragging often turn out to be like extended forms of ragging. This is especially true of self-financing institutions. Their sagacious mentors change their tune the moment they learn the names of the culprits. They advise the victims of ragging to be accommodative and, through this route, the concerned institution avoids any concrete action. That things like ragging are part of the game, they convince the hapless students. The parents of some of the perpetrators of ragging are often the perennial sources of money for the management and it is only natural that their wards go unpunished for their grievous offences. 

Moreover, there is a school of thought that advocates ragging, in small doses, in educational institutions as part of socialisation. It kills the stage fright, they argue. Such ‘optimists’ include some of the teachers and even parents. What they forget is that some of the victims of ragging lose not only their stage fright but also their dignity, or sometimes their lives, during the exercise. In a number of cases, the impact of ragging remains a critical psychic phobia for the victim.   

In most of the cases, leaders of the ragging gangs are from affluent families, which is the reason why the government and other agencies turn a blind eye to the incidents of ragging.  It was only when some of the victims turned out to be wards of the representatives of the upper echelons of political power that the attention of the mainstream media was drawn towards this menace. Many of these playboys know Gandhiji only from the watermarks on the wads of currency notes lavished on them by their over-indulgent parents, and it is the arrogance and unruliness of these students that find its outlet in ragging. Only politically aware students can offer effective resistance to this sort of criminal activities.   

 

REAL REMEDY:

CAMPUS DEMOCRACY

Importantly, such campuses as have active students unions are generally observed to be free of ragging. None of the institutions mentioned in the Raghavan Committee report had an active students unions functioning there. See some examples of such institutions. Patna University is the hunting ground of the notorious Pappu Yadav. Aligarh Muslim University recently witnessed a spate of killings; here even the vice chancellor’s residence was not safe from the vandal gangs. At the Vivekananda College of Nursing in Bangalore, some of the students dared to question the management about the exorbitant fee rates and were beaten up by the goons hired by the principal and his cohorts. At the PMS Dental College in Thiruvanathapuram, harassment by some of teachers led one of the students to commit suicide. The ban on and exclusion of students’ politics in these institutions has a clear political agenda behind it. The R K Raghavan committee’s report emphasises on the need of conducting democratic elections to the students’ unions in colleges. The report also underlines the need to implement the Lyngdoh committee report.

But both the Raghavan committee and the Lyngdoh committee were constituted on the basis of the Supreme Court’s orders. So the question is: Who is responsible for implementation of the recommendations of these committees? The responsibility, clearly, lies not with the students or the teachers, but with the central government and educational bodies like the University Grants Commission. But the performance on this front, as we have seen, has been dismal.

The Raghavan committee report also speaks of the need to provide opportunities for the students to express their varied talents. This refers to the literary events, arts festivals and sports meets.  Here the report invokes the Biblical aphorism: An idle mind is the Devil’s workshop.   

The Raghavan committee report comes to the conclusion that interventions by the students unions can go a long way in preventing ragging. The report specifically recommends that elected representatives of the students should be included in the anti-ragging squads. The committee appointed by the UGC in 1999 also recommends students’ representation in such squads. Given this context, it is sad to learn that students union elections were held only in four of the country’s 26 central universities. A vast majority of the students in these institutions have virtually no personal experience about a students union and its potentials. It is evident that active student participation and democratic processes in the educational institutions is a basic requirement for preventing such maladies from infesting our campuses.  

There is no dearth of sermons on ragging from the august personalities who head the government and the University Grants Commission.  But why don’t they have the will to implement the recommendations?  The answer is simple. Such a stern step would be certainly against the vested interest of certain groups who have high stake in the politics and academics of our country. The presence of students unions would be a threat not only to those who indulge in ragging, but also to those who are engaged in the commercialisation of education and make profit. For example, it is impossible to have a students union of any kind in many of the North Indian universities, forget about holding the really democratic elections. These campuses are the free hunting grounds of goon gangs. The fact of the matter is that both the Congress and the BJP, along with other bourgeois landlord parties, are opposed to campus democracy. There is an atmosphere of desperation and helplessness in these campuses. Only a small minority of students, who are politically conscious, have been able to offer some resistance to ragging and the reign of terror of the criminal gangs. Ragging is the product of an aversion to politics, or, rather of a dehumanised form of right wing politics. Legislation and judicial verdicts alone can, therefore, not free our campuses from ragging; only democratic students’ politics can do it.  Therefore, the need of the hour is to intensify the process of democratisation in our campuses. If the JNU had been totally free from this evil for three and a half decades, the credit mainly goes to the democratic students politics. Only that can save our students from this barbarian practice of ragging.