College rites and riots

Ancient, tribalistic initiation rites have equivalence in an electricity-lit India, writes Amitava Sanyal.
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Updated on Aug 12, 2007 01:03 AM IST
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Hindustan Times | By Amitava Sanyal

College seniors’ instruction: Piss on an electric heater. Possible result #1: You get a shocking tingle between your toes, your seniors roll on the floor, you buy peace in college. Possible result #2: You refuse to follow an initiation rite not mentioned in your college brochure, your seniors read you the riot act, and then implement it.

Given that there is hardly a third possibility on our campuses (you squeal, the dean takes the seniors to task, they leave you in peace), it’s difficult for any fresher to opt for the second option. That’s why such ancient, tribalistic initiation rites have equivalence in an electricity-lit India.

Seniors tell you it’s a “fun” way of “breaking ice”. As a result, ragging has remained de rigueur on Indian campuses despite a 2001 Supreme Court ban. Forget ‘ice’ — if it does not break your bones, it can still maim your pride. Last week, a Chandigarh Medical College student committed suicide after being humiliated by seniors.

Harsh Agarwal, a victim of physical abuse at Allahabad’s Motilal Nehru Medical College who co-founded CURE (Coalition to Uproot Ragging from Education), says, “It’s remarkable that this old western way of initiation into sporting teams, recorded as far back as the ancient Olympics, has become rampant in the subcontinent.” It’s not yet off western campuses, either. An 18-year-old died last week after being forced to binge at a party in Rider University. There has been at least one such death every year in the US for the past 35 years.

CURE’s analysis of 64 such cases in 2005 found 38 involving physical or sexual abuse. Taking note of this and the Raghavan Committee report, the Supreme Court is set to issue a ruling this September. The interim order it passed in June asked NCERT to include anti-ragging modules in the school syllabus.

Repeat ten times: “I shall not make anyone sing the national anthem with ‘boom-boom’ for every third word.”

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Monday, October 25, 2021