Thursday, June 11, 2009

Rampaging ragging

It is one of those pieces where I feel angry with myself for writing so late. Not that I was unaware of the incident which brought this ever-prevalent monster back to light, but the thoughts had flickered and died out amidst the platitudes of routine life. The revival was triggered when I recently caught up with episode of 'We The People' on NDTV. The discussion was covering recent acts of violence committed in the name of ragging, particularly the one which took place in Dr. Rajendra Prasad Medical College in Himachal Pradesh leading to death of a teenager Aman Kachroo due to severe beating by his drunken seniors.

One of the panelists was the father of deceased boy --- Dr. Raj Kachroo, who had the courage to come out and voice a balanced opinion against this growing menace even in the wake of his own terrible loss. There were a few other noted names on the show --- like Deepak Paintal, the VC of University of Delhi who took the controversial yet sanest stand of complete eradication and defended it adequately, famous columnist Jug Suraiya who insisted on discriminating between 'good' and 'bad ragging, based on the halcyon days of his adolescence. He recounted, to the glee of some members of the audience, how ragging used to be indeed quite innocuos in his hostel, and just involved hurling water-filled condom balloons --- really innocuous and stupid....yeah! Other panelists included R. K. Raghavan of the Raghavan committee which submitted a report with the government in 2007 advising certain measures to eradicate the evil, filmmaker Manish Gupta who has made a movie 'Hostel' based on his real experiences of ragging in engineering college and who was ballistic in his support for complete ban and also towards likes of another movie maker Apoorv Lakia. Lakia is an alumnus of Lawrence School Sanawar, which was the spot for a recent incident involving beating of some junior students by their Class XII seniors. He, however, expressed surprise of a 10-year old on the occurrence of this incident at his revered school and tried to make us believe in the golden days he had spent there interspersed with being made 'murga' by the prefects (form of punishment where the defaulter crouches and holds his ears_more details on --- but that was it, he insisted.

I think the show was pretty good and covered most of the related issues, giving space to all viewpoints (.. how else can you get Lakia on airwaves for so long a time - it exceeded the combined run-time of all his movies at the theaters !!). Nonetheless, I still want to share my sentiments on this through this blog. The reason in part being that, though I have had a fair share of fun in my college life spanning DU's St. Stephen's and IIT Delhi without perpetrating or suffering this menace myself, yet I kept seeing around myself and reading about varying forms of it - consensual, coercive, light fun, sick - really the complete spectrum! And again and again I have been convinced of the complete futility and hypocrisy of this mindless exercise, which had reared its ugliest face in the case of Aman Kachroo and cost him his life.

Let us face it guys (and girls) - there is really no justification of ragging. If we are making ourselves or someone else believe that, without ragging, the students who attend the same institution for 3-4 years will be left exchanging nods as strangers at their graduation ceremonies, the whole argument crumbles on being dealt with an iota of logic. Alas we never-got-to-know-you-better excuse because there was no ragging, is so hollow and cliched that even a political speech before elections will sound fresh to that. If there is a sincere intention of both seniors and juniors of extending a hand out, I don't see why such an awkward, and often embarrassing, interaction required to break the ice. And seriously, if a senior refuses to help you and makes the above excuse, it's good that you escaped the clutches of that psycho. 'Dance for me so if you need this set of notes' - sounds like a perfect gentleman, isn't it! So once and for all, let us give a rest to this friendship argument for ragging - we all know that there are much healthier avenues to know each other better.

A related issue is that of 'good' and 'bad' ragging. But 'good' for one can be a 'torture' for other. If you are a dancing sensation in your school, asking to burn the dance floor on a hip bollywood number is a cakewalk and surely a lot of fun (On second thoughts, even if I dance like Hrithik Roshan, I will not be willing to shake a leg on someone's command) - but the person standing next to you might have been born with two left feet. The prospect of dancing in front of a group including his own peers and seniors can be horrifying. Yet another excuse often furnished by seniors/raggers is 'you-need-to-open-up' program. Not every student thinks that he/she requires a majors in dance/drama/poetry.. and maybe harassment by the end of program! Another hazard of letting even non-physical ragging unabated is the danger of it quickly devolving into something more perverse. Unbridled authority is dangerous, esp. in hands of 20-year somethings. There have been ample examples of physical and sexual abuse in the name of ragging - it might just have started with the usually thought to be innocent song and dance routine or something of that order. And really, the whole idea of any sort of authority exercised in this hierarchical fashion is quite perverse in itself. As far as lighthearted teasing goes, that is a usual riot even in close-knitted friend circles - but demanding such a right just because of academic seniority is pretty baseless. All the people who pass off as teasing seniors are just a bunch of deeply insecure people who vent their insecurities and impress themselves in a twisted fashion through an aggressive act of ragging - rest all the excuses are rubbish and mere hypocrisy. So we need not bother ourselves with drawing lines between good and bad ragging - there is just one line to be drawn, that of ragging (in any form) or no ragging.

This also brings us to an important question of responsibility. I think besides meting out irrevocable punishments to those directly involved in propagating this menace, the relevant authorities should also be held accountable. The importance of the institutional responsibility cannot be diluted, esp. after the report tabled by Additional District Magistrate of Kangra makes it clear that, in Kachroo case, the college authorities behaved imperviously to student complaints of rampant ragging in the institution. Moreover, evidence for physically abusive ragging in the college dates back to at least 2006. Such apathy on the part of the institution should lead to charges of criminal neglect against the top management and in absence of remedial measures educational licenses may be revoked. Also, each student, junior or senior, should feel responsible towards curbing this menace and fearlessly report the perpetrators to the authorities. To ensure and encourage the report of such incidents without any fear of retribution, setting up anonymous helplines for students should be helpful. It has reached a proportion where any price is a small price to pay because nothing is more precious than human life and dignity.