There’s good news for all of us with sons and daughters about to go to college. The Supreme Court has finally taken action to eradicate ragging. If the court is successful in imposing its will on our educational institutions, this repugnant practice will be consigned to the dustbin of history.
Last month, the apex court gave strict guidelines to tackle the ragging menace. Taking note of the recent spate of violent ragging incidents, one of which led to the death of Aman Kachroo at a medical college in Himachal Pradesh, the court came down heavily on ragging in educational institutes.
It has ruled that each state should have an anti-ragging committee, that students who indulge in ragging under the influence of alcohol must be sent to rehab centres and that anyone involved in ragging must be psychologically assessed and treated. The court has also directed all state governments to give undertakings about the steps taken by them to stop ragging.
Action against ragging is long overdue. It was a practice introduced by the British to help break down a child, so that he could be remade in the school’s image. Under the British, this physical and emotional abuse was usually strictly controlled by schoolmasters to ensure that the humiliations were within certain boundaries.
And it worked. From as soon as the student entered the school or college, he was subjected to ragging and the whims of his seniors and masters. In a regime that demanded unthinking conformity, regurgitation, mindless drills and unwavering obedience, those who accepted these humiliations ingratiated themselves with their masters and, in turn, would be allowed to visit humiliations on new groups of young students.
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Along with the prefect system and fagging (where junior pupils carried out minor tasks for seniors), ragging was integral to British colonial education.
Among other things, it was a way of measuring acceptance and loyalty to the school and the British Raj. Rebel against it and you wouldn’t last long in the militaristic regimes that trained the servants of the Raj. It also reinforced the power of seniors over juniors.
Of course, there were other institutional phenomena to instill mindless obedience and conformity. Drill, uniforms, the prefect system and physical education combined to provide a potent moulding force. On top of it, there was the examination system designed to test how well a student could retain and regurgitate what they were told. Though ragging was an institutional abuse, it did not consist of extreme violence. In this system, only the headmaster and designated masters were allowed to beat children with sticks, among others.
Recently, there has been much confusion about ragging. Instances of bullying, extortion and revenge have been cited as ragging, whereas they are, in fact, serious criminal acts. Kachroo was allegedly beaten to death by some seniors after he complained about them ragging him.
On 3 May, seven class XII students of The Lawrence School in Sanawar, Himachal Pradesh, were sent home for allegedly beating up class X students.
The same day in Coimbatore, Tamil Nadu, a 19-year-old management student, Akhil Dev, was nearly blinded after he was thrown down the stairs and beaten with a steel chair because he had refused to give his seniors money.
Ragging is a form of bullying and helps create and maintain a culture of bullying; but not all bullying is ragging. Ragging sometimes involves threats or assaults, but not all threats and assaults should be classified as ragging.
New-generation schools and colleges have replaced ragging with a welcoming student induction programme that involves the buddy system or some other form of mentoring. Fagging in schools has been outlawed. The prefect system, so perfect for undemocratic societies, has been replaced by elected student councils, uniforms have been replaced with dress codes. Corporal punishment has been banned and replaced by teachers with personal and conflict management skills. Regurgitation tests have been replaced by ongoing 360-degree assessments.
As we all know, our education system is stuck in the colonial past. Little has changed despite the recognized shortcomings.
Our education managers have so far proved incapable of managing the change to non-abusive democratic learning. Many of our senior educators are locked into the indoctrinated positions of their own outdated abusive education.
The Supreme Court has got it completely right. We should support its attitude and attempts to initiate change. Not only ragging but all forms of degradation, humiliation, punishment and abuse should have no place in any civilized system of education. In the same way as they are not tolerated in any well-run corporate organization.
Once again, courts are riding to the rescue but they shouldn’t have to. They are forcing professional educators to take responsibility that they have not taken for decades.
The long-term answer is to hold education managers accountable for ridding institutions of abusive practices and introducing modern education.
Abha Adams is an education consultant. She writes a monthly column on training and education as they relate to careers and the workplace.
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