A study carried out by a committee mandated by the Supreme Court (SC), funded by the University Grants Commission (UGC), has come up with shocking revelations about the persistence of ragging in many higher education institutions across India.
Based on a sample of over 10,000 students from different parts of the country, the report indicates that an overwhelming number of victims, as high as 84%, did not complain about ragging by their seniors or peers.
The reasons behind their reluctance to report these activities, which range from teasing to serious physical and mental trauma, are baffling. For, apart from the obvious fear of reprisal or lack of faith in the system to deliver justice, many students felt ragging to be a necessary rite of passage that prepares them for the harsh realities of the world.
According to the findings published in The Times of India, about 33% even claimed to have "enjoyed" being ragged by their seniors, while 40% said the experience later helped them forge stronger friendships. Around 62% students, surveyed from 37 institutions across India, said those who ragged them as freshers went on to help them with their curricular work in the years that followed.
The report not only confirms the widespread incidence of ragging in spite of strict actions recommended by the UGC against the offenders but also, more alarmingly, a tendency to normalise ragging by its targets as a necessary evil.
Such an attitude goes against the tireless efforts made by NGOs and anti-ragging cells in institutions for years to promote better awareness of the problem and inculcate a spirit of fearlessness in reporting any misconduct. But a resigned acceptance of ragging as part of the deal isn't uncommon. Google CEO Sundar Pichai mentioned his own experience of being ragged, calling it "pretty mellow", when he visited his alma mater IIT Kharagpur earlier this year.
Ragging, mild or not, stems from a deep-rooted instinct to exercise power, usually over those who are in a relatively disadvantaged position vis-a-vis the perpetrators. Confirming this thesis, the report pointed out that in Maharashtra much of the ragging was directed at so-called 'outsiders' to a particular region or those who were non-Marathi speakers. Uttar Pradesh, recording 97 complaints of ragging between 2007 and 2013, was the leading state for such misdemeanours.
In many cases, what begins as 'light' bullying or teasing (excuse the oxymoron) often turns into vicious assault and mental torture that can leave the victim scarred for life. Examples of such 'initiation', which cross over into dangerous terrain, abound.
Last year 21 students of a medical school in Kerala got into trouble for forcing freshers to wash toilets as part of ragging them, and then forcing them to drink the dirty water. In Karnataka, a Dalit student from Kerala, at a nursing college in Gulbarga, was called "black" and had toilet cleaning liquid poured down her gullet by her seniors. The woman ended up in a hospital back home with severe damages to her food pipe. And last, but not the least, only last month, a group of freshers were forced to watch pornographic movies through the night by their seniors and sexually abused at the National Law Institute University in Bhopal.
Ragging doesn't begin abruptly in college but usually originates much earlier, in school, when students are subjected to bullying, some of which often spirals into horrific crimes. A 17-year-old girl was locked in a bathroom on her first day of school in Jodhpur and allegedly "sexually assaulted" by her seniors last year. Days before this incident, a 15-year-old boy in Bengaluru allegedly committed suicide, harassed by bullies at his school and feeling betrayed by those he called friends.
And so, the process of injustice that begins with normalising such abominable behaviour in adolescence becomes toxic in the youthful years. Unless the rot is addressed from the moment it begins, students in India have a long wait ahead of them to be treated with dignity and safety that is right of any human being. Contrary to the received wisdom, it is the lack of ragging that is likely to imbibe in them empathy and kindness, qualities that will prepare them much better to face the challenges posed by life.
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