Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Is it really funny?

I came to know that recently released movie 3 Idiots has a scene on ragging, shown in a lighter sense. This is director Raj Kumar Hirani's second film, first being Munnabhai MBBS, where ragging has been used as a theme to make the audience laugh.

Today I tried surfing on net to find the details of this ragging scene and came across several hundred blogs and websites where this scene was immensely appreciated and was considered one of the most humorous scenes in the film.

I find this extremely shocking as hardly 9 months back, when a medical student died because of ragging, the entire nation stood as one and we all condemned this menace. However today it seems we have forgotten the tragedy perhaps too soon that we are trying to find humor in that same tragic issue.

This not only shows the insensitivity towards the issue but more importantly such acts significantly add to the confusion already existing in the society vis-a-vis ragging. Millions of people, who don't know anything about ragging but have watched Munnabhai MBBS, still remember the scene from this film and believe that ragging is all about dance and fun.

This act of glorifying ragging by showing it in lighter way in films, newspapers, etc. does nothing but strengthens the justification, which students give to support ragging.

Here I am not suggesting of censorship usually advocated by social activists. I believe that censorship must come from within, by the call of conscience. Nevertheless, we all know that film is always considered as reflection of society and what film does reflect in this case is our poor understanding and thus lack of sensitivity with regard to the issue of ragging.

I remember, in June this year I was watching We the People on NDTV 24X7, the discussion was on evils of ragging. However, as usual the discussion soon turned into a debate on mild ragging versus no ragging and surprisingly majority of the participants justified mild ragging for ice-breaking between students.

It is needless to explain here that all the tragic cases of ragging started only in their milder forms. We cannot define what is mild ragging. Stripping or dancing in public may be fun for someone but extreme trauma for others. Moreover I fail to understand the logic of holding a week long ragging mela to facilitate mass friendship-something which is extremely amusing and sounds like a forced friendship crash course.

I doubt we would even think of having a debate on mild terrorism or mild caste system. Similarly I doubt any film director would be so insensitive to try to extract humor from sensitive social issues like Sati or Dowry.

We need to ask ourselves that why there is still so much ambiguity about social issue like ragging. Why does the society still see ragging as fun? Have we made enough efforts to sensitize people about the evils of ragging?

I strongly believe that we are yet to establish ragging as a social evil and unless we address this fundamental problem, we will always find it difficult to implement the laws framed to contain ragging.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Ragging at JNU: Close your eyes and say there is no evil

Recently, several newspapers reported how JNU which has been ‘ragging-free’ for forty years registered the first complaints of ragging in August this year. Calling JNU ragging-free for forty years is like closing your eyes and saying there is no evil.

No, I do not have any evidence to say that ragging existed in JNU before this incident occurred. However, at CURE, we have received ragging complaints from many students who study at so-called ragging-free campuses. Why do these college do not know about this?

Firstly, even if they knew they would do their utmost to hide this and protect the image of their college. Secondly, why should they look for something they do not want to find in the first place! If they find it out, then they will have to make efforts to solve it and hide it. Ragging is a severely complicated issue and its readdressal has led to violence and unrest in campuses, like the recent hunger strike at JNU. Why to try to detect something which will cause you undue trouble?

Thirdly, colleges lay the onus of reporting ragging incidents on freshers. We, at CURE, have several times stressed, that the fresher cannot be expected to report ragging incidents. He/she is under tremendous fear and pressure not to report ragging incidents and get himself/herself in a worse situation. Most cases show that when ragging incidents are reported, not only the senior batch ostracizes the fresher, in many cases, the campus also tries to hush the case and further victimize the victim.

Thus my question to JNU is whether they were proactively monitoring to detect any ragging incidents at campus? Were they doing surprise rounds in hostels at odd hours in a bid to detect ragging? I guess not. They were probably expecting that the fresher would come and complaint that he had suffered ragging. This is what I call close your eyes and say there is no evil. I reiterate: the onus of reporting ragging incidents cannot be on the victim.

I have nothing against JNU or their administration. My objection is to the reactive attitude of campuses, which should rather be proactive. Only then would they actually detect and clean ragging. On the contrary, I am impressed with the JNU administration in the way they took strong measures against the perpetrators of ragging, when the first fresher mustered the courage to complain in the last 40 years. I hope this shall set a strong detterent against ragging in future batches.

JNU’s case remains exemplary in depicting the complexity of ragging. As I already mentioned, it depicts that our classification of ragging-free campuses is wrong. Without proactive monitoring in place, there is nothing which confirms that the campus is ragging-free. On the contrary, there are umpteen reasons to believe that a campus claimed to be ragging-free is not so. So stop calling campuses ragging-free till there is a proactive manner to detect ragging implemented in them.

Secondly, what is very interesting is how the drama unfolded after the expulsions were made. The senior students started a hunger strike, Gandhian-means for probably the most anti-Gandhi-ends. This shows how any action on ragging leads to arm-twisting from student-mobs and undue disciplinary problems in campuses. Also, what is not surprising is how junior students denied that they were ragged and one of them joined the hunger strike. This brings to light the other problem with action against ragging: Sympathy for the punished students. I do not see any reason for sympathy for the guilty; they require punishment and reform, not sympathy. And of course we know that the freshers who are claiming the seniors to be innocent, were indeed ragged.

Frankly, I am for punishment against ragging, but against the particular punishment meted out by JNU, i.e., rustication of the students for two years from the campus. I believe that for an offender which may show recovery, the punishment should make sure that he/she has a chance to recover and return to the mainstream. In case this does not happen, we encourage formation of an outcast group of losers on the sidelines of a vibrant society. A six-month or one year suspension would have done the job and helped these guys both taste punishment and eventually return to normal life.

My advise to campuses: Open your eyes, See the evil and Remove the evil!

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Is it Ragging or Stockholm Syndrome in our Campuses?

Is it Ragging or Stockholm Syndrome in our Campuses?

Ragging is debated and discussed for ages now but we always stopped short of understanding the hidden psychological mysteries behind it. It has been more than a decade and a half since we started to recognize this problem and hunt for a solution but we are still far way from our goal. At the outset the problem looks very simple but as one enters into it and tries to understand, it becomes more complicated than unfolding the Bermuda triangle mystery.

In our attempt to look for an early solution we perhaps focused too much on the law and order aspect of ragging and ignored to probe on the psychological front. We didn’t bother to unravel the mystery that how a victim who is tormented badly makes his abuser his best pal in a short span of time and starts to follow the same strategy on his junior. May be exploring answer to these questions and awareness of these answers could have led to a better understanding of this problem and have sorted it by now.

In August 1973, two bank robbers in Stockholm held 4 hostages, 3 women and one man, for a period of 6 days. In those six days the hostages developed emotional bonds with their captors and exhibited shocking attitude. They not only resisted the attempt made by the police to rescue them but one of the woman hostages later got engaged to one of the kidnappers and another arranged fund for the legal defense of the kidnappers. This incident baffled many across the world. Psychologists later tried to study the behavior shown by the Stockholm hostages and termed this phenomenon as 'Stockholm Syndrome'. They say that this is a common behavior seen in hostage situation. Psychologists believe that hazing, child abuse, pimp-prostitute relationship, battered spouses’ relationship, etc work on the same psychology and call them 'Societal Stockholm Syndrome'.

In evolutionary psychology, psychologists explain that capture-bonding, or social reorientation after capture, was an essential survival trait for millions of years. The captives who reoriented would survive, and those who did not form social bonds with captors would be killed. Psychologists believe that anyone can get Stockholm Syndrome if the following conditions are met: (i) Perceived threat to survival (ii) The captive's perception of small kindnesses from the captor (iii) Isolation from perspectives other than those of the captor (iv) Perceived inability to escape. Psychologists believe that it typically takes about three or four days for this psychology to take hold of the victim mentally. A more in depth information about the psychology that works in such situations and the effect it has on one's personality can be read in the book 'Psychology of torture' by Dr. Sam Vaknin

Now, when I look back to my ragging days in Medical College, I can easily understand why my seniors, each time during ragging, used to first beat me recklessly for hours without any provocation then show act of kindness towards me and offer me tea, samosa, etc. and promise me of helping me later with notes. Perhaps they were applying this same psychological technique of torture by playing the good guy and bad guy at the same time, trying to break me psychologically- an art they learnt from their seniors. Same pattern in ragging can be seen across the country. Most of the victims just give in to this strong psychological tactics. Fortunately this phenomenon did not work on me; however, I feel that if little less torture had been applied, I would have easily become a victim of it.

Recently I saw a similar situation in an award winning Polish film ‘Your name is Justyna’. This film almost brought tears to my eyes and on several occasions even forced me to change the channel. The film shows a pimp who uses similar strategy to convince Justyna, the lead character in that film, into prostitution. His strategy was to psychologically break her down by simultaneously using torture and kindness. The director of this Film, Franco De Penn, while doing research on this subject found that using this psychological phenomenon, more than one hundred and fifty thousand girls in Europe were taken into prostitution. He says that this experience is so shocking that it takes away the individual's whole personality. Psychologists who have worked on this phenomenon believe that this is not only harmful to the individual who goes through it but also to others around him/her.

This psychology is so long lasting that we can find people around us who went through ragging decades ago but are still under the influence of this psychology. Though because of the Supreme Court guidelines and tragic cases of ragging reported in the recent times they will hesitate to openly show their support. However on talking to them, they would first segregate ragging into mild and severe and then gradually start justifying its need for the initiation of a long lasting camaraderie among students and its need to prepare the students for the 'real world'. Psychologists agree that this phenomenon helps in establishing emotional bond but they call it 'traumatic bonding' and a manipulative behavior which has harmful effect on victim’s personality. We need to ask ourselves that for the sake of bonding, is it justified to go this far and try destructive methods at the cost of one's liberty, dignity and personality. I am sure none of us would agree.

Students are so blind folded by the virtues of ragging that they are not aware of the destructive psychology behind it. Understanding and awareness of this psychology could help in weakening the mass support that ragging enjoys and can gradually put a psychological taboo on it. I believe that asking the students and faculty to do some Google search on such psychological phenomenon might prove more useful than various methods of awareness that we are currently following. After knowing that this is a psychological disorder, many would just hate to be identified with it, many would be forced to rethink about the virtues of ragging they believe in, many would be forced to rethink the justifications they give to support ragging and this might eventually lead to its peaceful and natural death by the simple method of thinking and application of logic.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Ragging- Why the problem still exists?

In July 2008, CURE analysed ragging incidents of past the 5 years and did a comparative study with the cases reported after the Supreme Court judgment in May, 2007. It was shocking to know that even after the SC judgment, 11 cases of death due to ragging and 5 cases of attempted suicides were reported by the media and there was no significant decrease in ragging. After making so much effort to curb ragging, why is the government still not able to successfully deal with this menace?

Let us understand some of the important fundamental issues associated with ragging which need to be addressed if we want to get rid of this social menace. These are the issues which have been ignored or have not been addressed with the right spirit.

Anonymity of the Complainant: This is the first step to solve the menace and one of the key elements if we want to encourage the fresher to report any incident of ragging. There is tremendous fear in the minds of the freshers and huge possibility of backlash because of which the fresher decides to tolerate ragging and as a result almost 99.99% of the ragging cases go unreported and problem remains suppressed. Provisions like putting a compliant box/ setting up helpline number or expecting the fresher to report the incident to anti ragging cell/committee don’t work because such provisions fail to convince the fresher of complete anonymity and his /her safety.

The best possible way to tackle this problem is by making it mandatory for every college in the country to do a weekly/fortnightly anonymous survey of the entire first year batch to find out if any sort of ragging is taking place in their college. The idea is to encourage the students by approaching the entire batch and maintaining absolute anonymity rather than waiting for a whistle blower to come forward and report the incident. Unless we make this important provision, the college authorities will continue to live in oblivion and feel that ragging is not a problem in their institution.

Awareness: This is another key element in solving the problem. Though ragging has been banned but since the time it has been banned there is an atmosphere of confusion prevailing in the campus. There is confusion as to what is ragging what is not; what will happen to the senior–junior interaction in the absence of ragging. Reason as to why ragging has been banned, what are the ill effects of ragging, what is its origin? Where did it come from? – These questions have not been answered. Colleges are unaware as to what awareness on ragging means. Distributing contact numbers of faculty members or information that ragging has been banned is certainly not awareness on ragging. It is very important to disseminate right information about ragging, about its origin, highlight its ill effects, where all it is prevalent, why is it irrelevant in today’s time, etc. Also, we need to introduce alternative and healthier methods of interaction to replace ragging to break the ice between the seniors and freshers.

Psychological Menace: Ragging is more of a psychological problem than anything else. Ragging is perhaps the only Social and Human Rights problem in the world in which the victim himself/herself becomes the perpetrator of this crime in a short span of one year. This problem can best be solved by going into the roots of this menace and understanding its psychology. Psychological concepts like Stanford Prison Experiment, Miligram Experiment, Stockholm syndrome, which have close similarities with the psychology of ragging need to be studied carefully to understand this problem and look for appropriate solution.

Role of Media: Be it publishing a front page picture of a Delhi University boy giving rose to a girl to portray ragging or writing only about the provision of FIR or quantum of punishment with regard to ragging, media has failed to disseminate the right information and essential knowledge about ragging. Since the Supreme Court judgment in 2007, the role of the media with regard to ragging has been more to spread sensation. Though there is a long list of guidelines made in the Raghavan Committee report but media chose to highlight only a few sensational ones. Today all that the country knows about the Raghavan Committee report is about provision of filing an FIR or about provision of sending director of a college to jail but is completely ignorant about the dozens of other important recommendations/guidelines which can be key to solve the problem of ragging.

Hard Approach: This provision should be used as deterrence and as the last resort when all the other softer efforts fail to curb ragging. Firstly, we need to look from a 17-18 year old fresher’s point of view and understand that a young student who joins the college with a dream to become a doctor or an engineer will be extremely scared to use the provision of FIR and later get involved in a court case. Secondly, gathering evidence to prove any ragging incident has always been very difficult as nobody comes forward to testify. Thirdly, we need to ask ourselves that is it easy to de-recognize an institution or stop its fund if it is several decades old and there are several hundred students studying in it? What will happen to the future of those innocent students who were not involved in ragging? Fourthly, successful implementation of hard approach depends largely whether various stakeholders of ragging are convinced that it is bad.

Presently ragging is seen as an age old ritual by the college community, there are conflicting views about ragging, for some it is a painful torture whereas for others it is a healthy interaction or a personality development exercise. When knowledge about ragging is so low then how will we be able to implement these harsh measures?

Unless and until we act on the above issues seriously, college authorities will continue to label ragging deaths as suicides due to academic pressure; majority of the ragging incidents will continue to go unreported; seniors and teachers will continue to believe that ragging is a healthy interactive and personality development exercise; media will continue to report only sensational stuff about ragging; parents, relatives and society will fail to understand the pain of the ragging victim, and as a result of all this, the harsh provision to curb ragging might soon loose its deterrent effect and we may never be able to solve this problem.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Missing Pappu, Missing EVMs, Missing Impact

The ‘Pappu’ and the EVMs are missing for the ragging campaign

Today, the HRD Ministry launched their ‘Ragging-Rodhi Toll Free Number’. This is a much awaited measure, long advocated by CURE, prescribed by all anti-ragging organizations I know of and more recently by the Raghavan Committee.

But given the little experience I have fighting the menace of ragging, I am far from convinced that this would help.


Simple. The ‘Pappu’ is missing and so are the EVMs.

When I heard the ‘Pappu vote nahi daalta…’ campaign, it immediately made an appeal to me and to all my friends; all in the age group of 17-25 years. We liked it, it attracted our attention and without having any statistics to claim how much effect it had on actual voting, I am sure the popularity of the campaign was huge. It had reached out and caught the imagination of everyone.

We need the ‘Par pappu ragging karta hai’ campaign for ragging, which is completely missing. It is what will catch the attention of the youth, not the ‘Ragging Rodhi Toll Free Number’ and all the bureaucratic details around it. A sensitization jingle, imagery or a video together with the toll-free number is what is going to work. Till we cannot reach out to people, it is failure to start with.

In our small ways, CURE launched a ragging song and video last year which became immensely popular. It can be seen at www.noragging.com/video. The key point in the video is that it connects with the youth and has a great emotional appeal. I do not think that in the current format, i.e. the medium, language, duration, it can be retrofitted to the Toll-Free campaign. But it is close to some thing we need and with some work, it can be customized and adapted to to become the ‘Pappu’ of ragging campaign. We need the Pappu!!!!

So, this is my first point, no Pappu means no attention, no attention means we lose on the first step itself!

Secondly, do a thought experiment: the whole country goes out to vote, but the counting agents are corrupt! Is there any meaning to such an election? Without the EVMs, I will not trust the elections.

In my best knowledge, the current format of the helpline is that the complaint with the name of the complainant will be sent to the college principle. It is a no-brainer for any ragging-activist that in more than 80% cases, the ragging victim is victimized further by the college authorities for his/her crime of spilling the beans. Don’t we read in four out of five ragging incidents, the claim of the college authorities that the ragging victim was characterless, he had a personal fight with the seniors, was academically dull or that he/she is just lying! In a most disgraceful case from South India, which CURE closely monitored, the college authorities repeatedly failed the ragging victims for filing a police complaint!

My point is simple; my trust in college authorities is zero. Sending the complaint to the college authorities is the worst you can do to the victim. As my co-founder at CURE, Harsh always say, “If we reveal the name of the candidate or the details of the incident to the campus, the victim is going in for the worst. As soon as they identify the complainant, the authorities and the seniors would harass the person, probably, till he/she leaves the college”. This is not an exaggeration. It happens every now and then, in a way similar to women abuse, which happens all the time but is not reported.

So, what to do on getting a complaint? In my current best knowledge, the government has no clue as to what to do after the complaint is received apart from sending it back to the college and may be the university. Without a water-tight process of relief and justice, a toll free number is useless and could be suicidal for the complainant.

Thus, I see that the EVMs are missing. There is no process to deliver on the complaint. If you go out and complain, there is no trustworthy process which will deliver justice in all fairness.

Without pappu and the EVMs, the Ragging Toll Free Number is a faceless and a spineless move.

A badly thought out plan meets one of the two fates: After a year they will realize that it does not work and scrap it off or they will realize that they have pumped enough resources in it and they need to make it work. Then they will call in Mr. Pappu and the EVMs. I hope against hope, the latter happens.

- Varun Aggarwal
20 June 2009