Dear Mr P. Chidambaram,
On March 8 last year, Aman Kachroo was lynched to death in a college hostel in Himachal Pradesh. It was just another case of ragging. It happened nearly eight years after the Supreme Court (SC) of India banned ragging in May 2001. In fact, since May 2001, there’s been at least one ragging death every other month, as reported by the media. You can imagine how many cases are hushed up, blamed on academic pressure and ‘depression’, and never investigated into. We are also not going into the much larger number of cases of attempted suicides, drop-outs, and not measuring the psychological impact such cases have on freshers.
In 2001, the SC’s orders said that an educational institution that is unable to control ragging would face grant cuts or be de-affiliated from bodies like the University Grants Commission, All India Council For Technical Education, Medical Council of India, etc. Not one of them ever found any college unable to control ragging. Their bureaucrats issued circulars and thought their signatures on the circulars were good enough. Years later, some of them told the SC that they didn’t have the power to act against institutions — even though an SC order had empowered them to do so.
Sir, in 2006 the SC took note of the fact that despite its banning of ragging five years ago, it was continuing. So it set up a committee, headed by former CBI director R.K. Raghavan, to find out why. In the capacity of an anti-ragging activist, I was taken upon by the committee as a consultant. I got to see closely the working of the committee. They went from state to state, met students and educationists, conducted surveys and studied state laws. If the committee can be faulted, it is for working too hard, for making too many suggestions and for believing that its report would have an impact.
While the SC was still deliberating upon the committee’s report last year, Aman Kachroo was killed. Most ragging deaths are suicides. Throwing oneself before a running train is a less popular method to escape the four walls of the hostel. When the fresher feels that he has no recourse, he chooses to hang himself from the ceiling fan of his hostel room. Aman Kachroo case was a rarity only to the extent that he was lynched to death. But since he was from Delhi, the Delhi media played it big and everyone took note of the case.
Aman’s father ran from pillar to post trying to get anti-ragging measures implemented. It took him a few months just to get the Human Resource Development ministry to get going a national anti-ragging helpline. Despite very little publicity of the helpline by the ministry, it got 1.6 lakh calls in just eight months, till February. While that is some indication of the prevalence of ragging, it is worrying that of this huge number only 350 complaints were registered and of those 350, only 18 educational institutions chose to respond.
Two days after Aman Kachroo’s death I wrote that it won’t be the last case of ragging death. Sadly, I was not proved wrong. Aman’s father had vowed he’ll not let another ragging death take place. He now says he feels defeated. Since then the death cases reported include those of Ankita Vegda in Ahemdabad, Sneha Dani in Mumbai, Chintumoni Bordoloi in Guwahati, Dheeraj Kumar in Amritsar, Anirban Dutta in Durgapur, Poonam Mishra in Lucknow, Satyendra Singh in Jamshedpur, Greeshma Shanker in Trivandrum, Ayan Adak in Kolkata, Prashant Chitalkar in Pune, Sridhar in Puducherry, Gaurav Sadanand Raut in Nashik, Premlatha in Kancheepuram and a few days ago, Satwinder Kumar in Mumbai.
I dig out names and cities because numbers don’t count.
I think, of the 50 recommendations made by the Raghavan Committee, the 45th recommendation is important. It says that the Indian Penal Code should be amended to make ‘ragging’ a cognisable offence along the lines of Section 498(a). It does not ask for any special punishment, but only to implement other IPC sections, starting from wrongful restraint to murder. We need the law to enshrine the word ragging as a crime so that freshers and parents feel empowered to go to police stations and police officers to not think that it’s a trivial matter, which can be resolved through a ‘compromise’. As the report argues, “We see no reason why enrolment in an institution or an academic programme should immunise perpetrators of heinous crimes which otherwise attract the penal provisions of law if committed by an adult citizen outside the academic precincts.”
Sir, the SC had asked the Home ministry to consider this recommendation. But your esteemed officials felt (as reported by The Indian Express on March 12, 2009) that the SC directives were good enough. If this is the case, then why did the SC make the recommendation and why is my list of names of young lives lost to ragging increasing faster than it ever did?
Sir, I know you are busy fighting big problems like terrorism and Naxalism. But there is a siege within. A simple step by you can make thousands of hostel corridors places of hope rather than despair.
Shivam Vij is a Delhi-based human rights activist. The views expressed by the author are personal.