Aman Kachroo is not the first teen to die of ragging. But there is one curious first: this time the death has not led to any ‘public debate’.
This time the defenders of ragging are silent. Who knows, maybe some of them have changed their views and are now lighting candles at Jantar Mantar. There are no TV debates calling ragging fun. This time no one is arguing that a murder case should not be used to defame the socially productive ‘tradition’ of ragging. This time nobody is asking how boys will become men unless they are ragged, and nobody is calling the victims sissies.
What has changed? Have the chickens come home to roost? DPS, Gurgaon, Kashmiri Pandit — have the defenders shut up because
the victim was a ‘person like us’? Is that all it needed, the life of a metro-bred boy rather than a small-town loser? Has the debate, that should have been settled with the Supreme Court’s 2001 ban, finally been settled 8 years and two dozen deaths later?
It sounds crude but it’s true: Aman Kachroo was lucky to be murdered than forced to commit suicide like most others. Had he committed suicide, the world would have been blaming him rather than his seniors. Nine out of 10 ragging suicides are by freshers who hang themselves from the ceiling fan of their hostel room, rarely leaving a suicide note. In all these cases, the victim is blamed. Must be depression. Exams? Relationship? Family discord? But since Aman was literally lynched to death, the standard template can’t be used this time.
Ragging continues because society at large wants it to continue despite legal injunctures. In an essay where he recounts ragging in Delhi University, Amitav Ghosh writes, “There were nights when we slept in drainpipes around Pandara Park rather than go back to college to face our seniors.” The rest of the essay convinces you that had it not been for ragging he wouldn’t have become the writer that he is!
That’s the manner in which selective amnesia is applied. Such mythmaking is then reflected in TV debates, newspaper features, and in the portrayal of ragging in films such as Munnabhai MBBS. The images you get to see are not of young bodies hanging from fans, eyes bulging and tongues popping out, but those of day-scholars singing and dancing in the canteen.
The most important arena of legitimising ragging is the oral passing-on of stories of parents to children, from alumni to students. A practice that teaches you to submit, to be subjugated and humiliated rather than to refuse orders becomes a ritual.
And so it is that when a student commits suicide, the first response of many is that if hundreds of other students in their same hostel didn’t commit suicide, why did this one? The ensuing victim-blaming makes sure ragging survives. The media’s focus on ragging ‘cases’ rather than the everyday goings-on in hostels also makes sure that the cases are seen as exceptions. The student who drops out, or becomes mentally unstable, or is ostracised by his/her hostel community for complaining are not highlighted. Even the family and peers begin stereotyping them as ‘shy’ and ‘timid’.
In 2002, Anoop Kumar committed suicide in a Lucknow college because his parents won’t let him drop out and return home to
Kanpur. He had told his parents that he couldn’t even tell them what he was being subjected to. It was the shame of sexual abuse. It’s amazing that a society that does not approve of homosexuality looks the other way at sexual ragging. His parents regretted their stubbornness just as Aman’s parents regretted not taking their sons protestations seriously.
The regret of Aman’s parents is just as well the regret of the defenders. For the first time, contempt notices have been issued to principals and the University Grants Commission is pretending to wake up. The evidence is so strong that the four seniors could make history by being the first to be convicted of ragging death. Most of all, when a new government comes to power, it will hopefully look into the Raghavan Committee’s 50 recommendations and, at the very least, amend the Indian Penal Code to make ragging an offence.
(Shivam Vij is a journalist with Open magazine. His book, Ragging and the Making of Men, will be published next year)