In 3 Idiots (2009), Aamir Khan’s character makes a dramatic entry in a scene where he hoodwinks his seniors and escapes being ragged. Around the time the film released, Dadagiri, a reality television show in which four juniors get ragged by seniors, ran for two full seasons on UTV Bindaas, a youth channel. This came with the Darwinian subtext: Whoever survives, wins. Hostel, a film about atrocities related to ragging, directed by Manish Gupta, has just released in theatres.
Ragging is often perceived as a cute little joke—something every child needs to go through to toughen up. Instances of students being killed, such as Aman Kachroo—a medical student who died in 2009 in a ragging incident—tend to be thought of as one-off cases. This myth of normalcy is one of the reasons ragging still exists, even in its violent manifestations.
Ritual: A file photo of students ragging freshers at a Delhi; Photo by Arvind Yadav / Hindustan Times
Carreen Pakrasi, a Delhi-based ophthalmologist whose son will go to college next year, feels it’s all about “kids getting to know each other”. “I went to medical school and was never ragged, and think that as long as it’s not violent or aggressive, normal ragging is fine,” she says.
Experts say there is a problem even with the “normal” forms of ragging because they do not offer any choice to the victim. “If we are indeed projecting it as a kind of ‘interaction’ through which the seniors and juniors become friends, I’d like to see an instance when a junior has refused ragging and the meeting ends with them shaking hands and parting as friends,” Harsh Agarwal, co-founder of Coalition to Uproot Ragging from Education (CURE), said at an anti-ragging round table on 31 December in Delhi.
Official/government refusal to acknowledge the scale of the problem and inaction in enforcing the ban on ragging have not helped. Aman’s father Rajendra Kachroo, who runs the anti-ragging foundation Aman, says, “HRD (human resource development) (additional) secretary Sunil Kumar said there is no ragging in our country.”
The fact is, in the 2008-09 academic year, 18 lives were lost to ragging (including murders and suicides triggered by it) in the country, and 19 the following year. These are numbers compiled by the non-profit SAVE that works to prevent ragging. A chunk of the cases go unreported, or under different subheads, says SAVE’s Delhi chapter head Ajay Govind. “One ragging-related death at the Officers Training Academy, Chennai, was reported to be a case of ‘suicide caused by severe stomach ache’,” says Govind, whose documentary When Boys Do Cry details torturous accounts of ragging.
Govind recounts taking a workshop in October in a Dehradun college where students justified ragging-related deaths: “Only 11 students have died, but lakhs have been positively moulded. Those 11 must have been weak,” he was told.
Engineering graduate Nitin Menon recounts his experience at the Cochin University of Science and Technology. “I was never physically hurt, but mentally, they affect you. They use fear tactics, will catch you in a group and make you do just anything they want. Because I had a neat handwriting, I would spend most nights during my first year writing their assignments,” he says.
Ragging, notes Ramjas College hostel warden Tanvir Aeijaz, stems perhaps from the oldest form of hierarchy in society: patriarchy. “Within patriarchy, just like women are subordinated to men, younger (people) are subordinated to their seniors,” he says. Which perhaps explains why ragging victims turn perpetrators within just a year.
Bearing that hierarchical framework in mind, Govind’s organization suggests ragging be replaced by another tradition. “Ragging can be replaced by mentoring, which will also foster relationships between juniors and seniors. Only here, seniority will have to be accompanied by responsibility,” he says.
Besides a fresh model, what’s needed is a constant deterrent. “Perpetrators must be caught and punished,” says Sameer Parikh, a mental health professional. “Studies prove that fear is a great deterrent.” he says.
We also need to change the way we view ragging, says Aeijaz. Parents need to realize that the power dynamics ragging perpetuates can prove dangerous for a child.
Help at hand
A phone app Eyewatch can empower students being ragged
While the psychology of ragging and the hierarchy that drives it can take a fair bit of time to get rid of, there is an immediate band-aid solution on offer. Security Watch India, a non-profit organization, has launched a phone application to empower students. This is how the app works: When a student feels threatened, he/she presses a designated button on the phone which sends out text messages, emails and phone calls to eight friends/relatives. The phone goes into automatic video mode and the recording is visible to those eight people, as well as to the 24-hour call centre of Security Watch India. The location is also flagged on Google Maps. The service is free and can be downloaded from www.eye-watch.in, but requires a smartphone with a data connection.
Hostel released in theatres on Friday.