Frights of passage
The Supreme Court has often been criticised for judicial activism but its directive on ragging in campuses will be met with approval across the board. The apex court has made it mandatory for colleges to file FIRs against students accused of ragging based on the recommendations made by the Raghavan Committee, set up by the HRD Ministry. The victims of this peculiar form of introduction to educational institutions have long had no forum of redressal. Of course, the law forbids any form of torture, but the authorities have tended to dismiss the practice as senior students engaging in a bit of fun to break the ice with freshers.
In fact, not until there is a death or severe injury does a ragging case reach the court. Students who have dared to complain have faced the brunt of their seniors’ ire and have opted to drop out of college. Entry into any professional college in India is a traumatic process. The preparations and competition take their own toll on students. For those from economically and socially disadvantaged backgrounds, admission to a good institution is the key to a better life. To deprive them of this is criminal. Worse, the number of students committing suicide due to ragging has steadily gone up. A survey by a voluntary group found that of the 64 cases of severe ragging reported in the media between January 2005 and December 2006, 11 resulted in death, 10 attempted suicide and, in 23 cases, injuries.
Ragging is no longer an innocent rite of passage. It does not promote camaraderie between new students and seniors. This is because what was once considered a lark has become a sadistic form of abuse. One of the most gruesome instances was a 1998 case in Tamil Nadu when a 21-year-old student was murdered for resisting a senior’s attempt to rag him in violent ways. The victim, a vice-chancellor’s son, was chopped to pieces and stuffed in a gunny bag. Sexual abuse is commonplace in most professional colleges, especially in the hostels, in all states, from West Bengal to Maharashtra, Punjab to Tamil Nadu, in premier institutes like the IITs and lesser colleges. The entire purpose of ragging now seems to be solely to humiliate and demean.