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August 4, 2009

The horror of ragging — Dr Jyotsna Bhattacharjee

‘Ragging’ is a term, which has acquired a larger than life image in recent years. We all are acquainted with it and have realised that it is a stigma in the education system. This practice of ragging is not new; it has existed in Europe since a long time. It is a form of abuse and humiliation on the new comers taking admission in various institutes. It has prevailed in Australia, Britain, India, Sri Lanka and many other Commonwealth countries. Ragging is similar to the American practice, which is known as ‘hazing’, though more severe. The unorganised new comers to various institutes are forced to put up with severe forms of mental, physical and sexual abuses by the senior students. The freshers are too frightened to oppose their tormentors and the seniors are quick to take advantage of their fear and nervousness.

We all know the bare facts of ragging. But we have not tried to delve deeper into this barbaric phenomenon, which has become a nightmare to the young freshers and have ruined the future of many a brilliant student. This evil practice of ragging exists in various countries under different names like hazing, pagging, bullying, horse-playing etc. Ragging is not a new phenomenon – it can be traced back to 7th or 8th century. Apparently it existed in Greece long back. The new entrants to the sports organisations were subjected to all kinds of humiliations and ridicule with the purpose of encouraging team spirit in them – so that they could identify themselves with the team. This practice of ragging went through lots of changes and in course of time it was adopted by the military forces with the same motive. They also wanted to make the new entrants bold and strong. Ultimately it entered the educational scenario. In the educational institutes ragging went through lots of modifications before acquiring the present form of campus violence without any positive motive. It has become a barbaric practice indulged upon the new comers by the senior students to derive perverse pleasure.

During the 10th century in the European countries student organisations were formed in various institutes and later on this practice was adopted in the USA as well. Several student organisations emerged in different universities in the USA. During that period ragging or hazing, as it was called in the USA, existed in its most rudimentary form. It was a practice used only to test the courage and the stamina of the freshers. But in course of time ragging gradually became more and more violent. The first death due to ragging occurred in 1873, when a fresher from Cornell fell into a gorge and died. During the first World War ragging became more brutal. Some soldiers returning from the war re-entered the college and brought the practice of ragging and when they left it was passed on to others.

India once did not have the practice of ragging and this practice was actually imported from the west along with the English education. At the beginning it existed in the Army and English public schools and gradually it spread to other institutions. Till a few decades back ragging was not a serious problem in India possibly because higher education was not so wide spread then. But when higher education became accessible to all the people, ragging became a means to settle enmity amongst the students belonging to different castes or communities. Then during the 80’s ragging became more barbaric in India. And during the 90’s this practice became more and more savage. Ragging-related cases of death and suicide began to increase. In 2001 the Supreme Court of India banned ragging through out the country. It became the responsibility of the college authorities to enforce the law and stop ragging. As a result ragging was stopped in the college campuses during the day but it became more brutal in the hostels.

Today the situation is such that the students are afraid to enter the hostels. We have forgotten that ragging is a foreign culture and it is disastrous to the nation. It is harmful for our country. Many people believe that ragging is necessary to make freshers bold and sociable, which would be beneficial to them in the long run. But this is nothing but a myth. Ragging does not do a mite of good to the students, it rather harms them in a terrible way.

Ragging, an imported legacy, is wide-spread in India’s education system. Various Sate legislatures have passed anti-ragging legislations, yet it is still going on. The tragic consequences of ragging have often been reported by the newspapers, yet they have not been given as much importance as they deserve by the people in general. In case of some ragging-related death, it seems to be the individual families, who suffer. Ragging violates Human Rights and as such it deserves proper attention of the concerned authorities.

Students come to enter the colleges with abundant hope for a bright future, and some parents go through immense hardship to get their children admitted into some college. These new comers away from home need compassion, help and consideration from the senior students. But when they find that the famed institution where they were so happy to take admission is nothing but a ‘centre of horror’, they naturally get petrified and some end their lives to escape the severe humiliation and acute torture inflicted on them by some senior students.

Mere enforcement of law cannot possibly eradicate the evil practice of ragging. College authorities should be more vigilant and the students should be motivated to get actively involved to end ragging once for all, so that the bright future of so many brilliant students is not ruined. Otherwise the whole system of education would collapse.
(The writer is former Head of Philosophy, Cotton College). ASSAM TRIBUNE

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